MILAN — On the heels of a strong Pitti Uomo season in Florence, retailers in Milan were in an expectant mode. They weren’t disappointed, as designers went out of their comfort zone, experimenting with fabrics, colors and shapes.
Activewear continued to be a strong influence, driven by the influence of traveling. Languid tailoring and softer constructions were solid trends, as were technical fabrics and sporty silhouettes.
“Despite a light show schedule, the designers who did present [in Milan] were at their best. It’s obvious that Gucci’s Alessandro Michele has had a great influence on this city, as designer collections showcased more color and shapes continued to evolve,” remarked Kevin Harter, vice president for fashion direction of men’s and home at Bloomingdale’s, adding: “I have great admiration for Gucci and how Michele continues to push the envelope. Giorgio Armani’s collection stayed true to its heritage while still feeling modern by offering loose sportswear and updated takes on tailoring. As did Missoni, which offered one of the season’s most beautiful color palettes and dynamic prints. Finally, Miuccia Prada reenergized the brand with her take on active sportswear that felt like a great return to the brand’s Nineties history.”
Among the less-established brands, Harter singled out Davide Morello’s second collection for Boglioli and said, “We were also impressed by Sunnei’s young and fun take on street style.”
He also emphasized the relevance of Pitti Uomo. “Pitti was incredibly strong this season. While I wouldn’t say that it overshadowed Milan, it was great to see the contrast between the runway shows and the fair itself. It truly felt like one could get a good scope of menswear in one fell swoop.”
“The efforts of those brands that took the biggest risks paid off,” observed Eric Jennings, vice president and men’s fashion director of Saks Fifth Avenue, quoting Prada as an example. “The re-see of the collection just blew us away. Also, Gucci and Fendi showed a very clear vision, really moving the needle.”
Most other brands, he said, concentrated on evolving their signature pieces, which brought few surprises in the fashion department but was good from a commercial perspective. Among trends, the retailer listed the idea of trekking and discovering the world, which translated into interesting utility pieces.
“Polo shirts are back,” he added, “which plays into this retro-eclecticism, also seen in accessories such as tinted Seventies-frame glasses, hip bags and soft hats.”
Jennings was also excited about how Pitti Uomo “enhanced” Milan this season. “The fair really got our appetite wet — first via the runway shows, then through the brands we discovered at the trade show and had re-sees with in Milan, which led to big orders.”
United Arrows cofounder and creative director Hirofumi Kurino argued that Florence was ahead of Milan, “because of their flexibility and diversity,” while Milan has become “very static and conservative,” but he still thought it was a good season.
“Many brands had lost their way and, to survive, sometimes [took] too much influence from others. But this season reflected a positive mood,” with brands striving to be more “original, different and to follow their own way.”
His favorite collection was Prada, which he described as “a fantastic brand, always more than one step ahead of other people. [The brand] showed a good mix of elegant city attire, like summer wool suits for men, or shiny little dresses for women, together with a [mountaineering aesthetic].”
Among the most salable trends Kurino listed sneakers, such as those from the Adidas by Raf Simons collection, and rubber sandals, polo shirts or polo knits, as well as full-cut, relaxed-fit shirts.
“The Milan collections seemed divided into different camps: some leaning toward looks that could be mistaken for fall, and others — like Fendi, Cifonelli, Ralph Lauren — which clearly thought about what you’ll need for spring-summer,” noted Tom Kalenderian, executive vice president and general merchandise manager of men’s for Barneys New York.
Among the trends, he listed “much-needed shorter outerwear silhouettes, shirt-jackets, shorts, sandals and lighter and brighter colors; all signaled what to wear when the winter is over and seemed to add a lift to what were otherwise dark collections that lacked the lighter feeling we need to stimulate sales when spring arrives.”
The retailer singled out Gucci, Cifonelli, Fendi, Boglioli, Tod’s and Ralph Lauren as his favorites. “You could say that the Milan collections took a backseat to Florence this season. Unquestionably, the Pitti organization did an amazing job animating the week with fantastic presentations and powerful shows such as the [Karl] Lagerfeld photo exhibition, Raf Simons, Gosha Rubchinskiy, Visvim and Lucio Vanotti. However, thanks to provocateurs such as Lapo Elkann and Renzo Rosso, with the unveiling of their automobile collaboration in Lapo’s amazing gas station, they quickly reminded us that Milan is a center for creativity and entrepreneurial discovery.”
He said he was also “moved by Mr. Armani’s sincere generosity, by which he supports young designers such as Miaoran, whereby he enables them to show their collections in such a grand manner and garner the attention of the international press and buyers. Miaoran showed a collection that was at times probably too complex for commerce, yet revealed a deep talent and promise for some point in the future.”
Andrew Lepp, divisional vice president of men’s wear at Holt Renfrew, said that Milan was “looking good,” although “a little quieter than past seasons and certainly quieter than Pitti, but the quality of what we are seeing is excellent.”
Lepp said “it was refreshing to see the boundaries being pushed, but in a way that is still relatable for the customer,” which led him to be “optimistic” about the spring 2017 season. “Certainly, pricing and exchange rates are always important at this time with our dollar,” he observed. “This said, we are finding excellent-quality garments at prices that our customers will accept, while maintaining our margins.”
He added, “We will be focusing on the overall casual vibe that we are seeing both on the runway and in the showrooms in Milan.” Lepp listed Gucci, Neil Barrett and Marcelo Burlon as among his favorites.
Bruce Pask, men’s fashion director at Bergdorf Goodman, described the Milan season as “very robust, with a lot of excitement and compelling trend statements,” as well as newness in tailoring and luxury sportswear. “There is a languid, casual mood to tailoring this season, reflecting shifts in the rigor of the workplace wardrobe. Relaxed shapes and softer constructions have loosened up the suit while still maintaining an elegance. Importantly, fabric development has been tremendous, especially with linen blends in tailoring offering great utility and seasonality, with more breathability and travel friendliness,” he said.
Athletics, he added, continued to be a big influence, with an emphasis on technical fabrics and sporty silhouettes. He pointed to Prada’s show, “with its brilliant layering of performance gear” and Gucci’s “smart re-appropriation” of the brand logo on T-shirts and crewnecks. Pask also highlighted Prada’s “kaleidoscopic innovative, techy take on the sporty layering;” Thom Browne’s “terrific scouting jamboree at Moncler Gamme Bleu,” and Alessandro Michele’s “joyful tribute to the traveler.” The enormous amount of product development [at Gucci] is extraordinary.”
Bosse Myhr, director of men’s wear and technology buying and merchandising at Selfridges, called the season “theatrical and experiential,” playing with the idea of what a fashion-show format means now and the power of introducing a new idea to reach a wide audience. He talked about Etro, which tapped family and friends to walk alongside models in the show, allowing them to wear their favorite outfits from the collection. He also called out “extraordinary productions with real entertainment value” at Moncler and Philipp Plein.
Myhr pointed to “travel and exploration — connected to a sense of creative freedom and change” as the big trends, coming through loud and clear at Prada, Gucci and Moncler in particular. “Milan was all about standing out this season. From a basketball court at Philipp Plein to Thom Browne’s campsite set for Moncler, Milan impressed in scale, energy and sense of fun.”
Fiona Firth, buying director of Mr Porter, said Prada was an unexpected surprise, “namely for its concentration on sportswear, mixing fine wools, neoprene, and rip-stop fabrics.” The site will carry Prada for the first time as of fall 2016. She also called out Neil Barrett, who presented “strong Seventies-inspired sportswear using a color palette of browns and blues,” and highlighted Missoni’s display of Guatemalan- and Cuban-inspired elegance, in earthy tones.
As for the fact that brands such as Ermenegildo Zegna and Bottega Veneta did not show, Firth said it was not an issue. “The collections were on view in the showrooms. This is only a pause for this season,” she said.
Jo Harris, general merchandise manager of men’s wear and sports for Harrods, said the “big powerhouse brands such as Gucci and Prada continue to push the boundaries with bold statements and eccentric designs. Milan has always challenged the norm and broken down boundaries with aspirational creativity — and that stole the week.” She pointed to the sportswear at Prada and Versace and the “eccentric flare” at Gucci as standouts, along with the soft tailoring at Boglioli, Giorgio Armani and Brunello Cucinelli. And she pointed to Giorgio Armani “for its notable relaxed elegance and wearable wardrobe essentials.”
Harris said one of the most interesting additions was Philipp Plein’s new collection for Billionaire Couture. “At Harrods, we stock both brands very successfully and are excited to see how this new venture appeals for our customer,” she said.
David Witman, Nordstrom executive vice president of men’s wear, said he approached Milan with curiosity. “We were struck with the progression of Alessandro Michele’s romantic vision at Gucci. It felt familiar yet more evolved and accessible, with gorgeous color and pattern combinations and an amazing array of references that mixed together beautifully.”
Witman observed that Prada “felt unexpectedly optimistic, and we were compelled by her new take on travel. The mix of utility and trekking and activewear ideas with traditional men’s fabrics and plaids and colors was inspired, and the shoes and accessories are going to be on everyone’s most-wanted list.”
He also noted Marni “presented a charming view of the modern man, intelligent and almost nerdy, but also chic and sophisticated. The classic palette of khaki, navy and olive was made new with pops of burgundy and rusty orange, and we loved the velcro detailing and loose pant silhouettes.”
Nelson Mui, men’s fashion director of Hudson’s Bay Co. and Lord & Taylor, said that “after the energy and newness of the past couple of seasons, Milan was definitely in transition and evolution mode. The Gucci journey was fully under way, and its influence was felt across the market.”
Nylon stood out as a strong trend. “We love all the refined technical fabrics, crinkly/parachute or shell materials interpreted with function, embellished with shine and print, and in super-lightweight pajama, anorak and shirt styles that adapt spring outerwear — nice layering pieces. We’ve seen the traveling theme before, with beautiful African and Latin American prints and colors, but the hiking twist, with the utility styles, rucksacks, hiker sandals, etc. looked fresh.”
Mui also said that on the more sartorial side, “we’re getting behind anything that imbues comfort and athleisure into tailored — jersey suits, unlined, knit, stretch and technical fabrics. Looser pants and larger volumes. Awning stripes lent an accessible graphic statement.”
His favorite collections included Prada, Versace, Fendi and Marni.