Text by Adam Lehrer
I’m firmly backing Milan again. Of course, we are all familiar with Alessandro Michele’s came changing work at Gucci, but it feels like Italian luxury heritage is more important than it ever has been. With the mega-packed fashion schedule demanding designers create at paces that consumers simply can’t keep up with, there’s more in-demand for luxury products that you can count on to last a lifetime. It seems exceedingly silly to fork over $2,500 for some cutting edge coat by some hot shot designer when it could be looking stupid on me in six months, especially when I can buy a perfect coat from an Italian house like Brioni for the same amount of doh. And Brioni ain’t ever going out of style.
FW 2016 was a strong season in Milan. With staples like Prada and Bottega Veneta both offering sharp new creative directions, luxury kings Zegna and Canali offering just odd enough takes on mega-sharp style, and injections of youth from Damir Doma and a re-invigorated Iceberg.
Designer Alessandro Dell’Acqua, who was an Italian fashion staple in the ‘90s, came back on the scene with new line No. 21 in 2010. Though perhaps best known for his womenswear and footwear, the No. 21 FW 2016 menswear collection was the best assortment of male products the designer has ever put out. From the very first and highly desirable piece seen, an oversized silhouette military hoodie jacket, Dell’Acqua presents a highly wearable form of conceptual luxury. Dell’Acqua seems to be seeking a decidedly Italian take on Haider Ackermann’s punk rocker gone bourgeoisie. There are leopard print coats, billowing tight cargo trousers, and a whole range of muted but eye-grabbing colors. I had never before even though much of Dell’Acqua as a menswear designer, but there were more pieces in this show that I wanted than any other show of the season.
Lead by creative director Brendan Mullane, a former menswear designer at Givenchy, Brioni has become one of the most intriguing high luxury menswear brands in the game. The clothes, for lack of a better term, look perfect. Mullane has done some really awesome things with the house, noting it as a label of interest for aristocratic creative men. Last year Autre favorite artists John Armleder and Seth Price were part of a Brioni campaign. Mullane’s FW 2016 collection, set to a rousing Bjork soundtrack, captured the DNA of the brand, few surprises but nothing less than utterly desirable. The sandblasted plaid suits and coats made me want to grow up. The wool mockneck sweatshirts were pieces that I wanted to wear everyday; with jeans or with trousers. Brioni is about the clothes, and doesn’t impose its brand ethos on the customer. Anyone would look amazing in these pieces.
Now that Tomas Maier has helped usher in sportswear into luxury, it’s time to abandon sportswear in luxury. Maier is a futurist at heart, and what is the future if not a luxury? Instead, jet black and austerely architectural suiting took over the runway for Maier’s FW ’16 collection. The coats were some of the best Maier has ever put out. Black trench coats with flowing locks of fabrics and attached sweater like structures were only bested by the baggy elongated shearling jackets. Leather in fantastical colors of reds and blues solidified Maier’s reputation as a master designer of leather silhouettes. If I ever struck it rich, I’d wear this everyday.
Even at his most accessible, Thom Browne remains willfully and exuberantly conceptual. Projects like his Brooks Brothers label saw him honing in on a specific point; a story that he wanted to tell. He doesn’t mince ideas or his labor. His work with outdoor wear behemoth Moncler Gamma Bleu has been mutually beneficial for the designer and the brand. The brand, knowing it’ll sell well regardless, allows Browne to really throw a wild show and bring some experimental flair to it. Browne, interested in brands like Valentino’s attempts at using camo to stand out instead of blend in, took that idea to its umpteenth conclusion. The Moncler FW ’16 collection featured models in riot helmets covered in garish camo prints like some sort of out and proud death squad. Vogue admonished the show, calling it “garish stage dressing.” But I think that’s more or less the point. With his own label, Browne has redefined how professional men dress. With Moncler, he’s able to bring his name to the brand and inject some vitality into it. For his efforts, Moncler allows Browne to poke some fun at the idea of a fashion show (and pay him fuckloads of money to be sure).
When you think about the designers that have had the most influence over contemporary menswear, there are a few no-brainers: Raf Simons, Rick Owens, Thom Browne, Junya Watanabe. Then there are those who you might not think of right away, but agree with as soon as they come up: Acne Studios’ Johnny Johannsen, A.P.C.’s Jean Touitou, and the like. Whatever the case, at some point Calvin Klein’s Italo Zuchelli will take his rightful place on this list. Most style conscious guys, those that live in the real world and not in street style blogs, dress fairly minimal but nevertheless care about the quality of their clothes. No one does minimal or quality quite as uniquely as Zuchelli. His FW ’16 collection played with all sorts of menswear and Calvin Klein house codes. Perfectly tailored suits were clung to the taut bodies of some of the world’s most beautiful female models: Iselin Steiro, Jessica Miller, and Gemma Ward among them. His experimentations with denim this time around were especially striking, turning the fabled Canadian tuxedo into a white jacquard jump suit. Not since Helmut Lang has denim seemed so much like high fashion as high fashion, and not high fashion aping streetwear.
Though he might still be viewed as something of a cult designer, Damir Doma’s brand is growing strongly (I bought some pants of his at a Century 21). The sculptural designer wants to tell more stories, staging his FW ’16 collection next to a high-speed train. His vision has really matured since taking it from Paris to Italy last year, moving away from Rick Owens-lite into a structured and high luxury Italian version of austere and gothic garment manufacturing. There was something of the setting for this show too. Developed under the rule of Mussolini, it has since become one of the most efficient train stations in the world. Perhaps a metaphor for Doma’s breaking free of the shackles of Paris’s high competition schedule, he’s allowed to really tap into something that he does uniquely: shape. Doma is able to take garments such as bomber jackets and kimonos and cut them into shapes that make the perfect amount of sense. They look familiar, somehow. The palette was decidedly Kubric, off-white and black and khaki. Great show for Mr. Doma.
Though Alessandro Michele’s FW ’16 collection didn’t update anything he had done the first two seasons, he further cemented the new Gucci world. Though I highly doubt this new Gucci is targeting its new “Gucci man,” the business is climbing because people are thoroughly fascinated at this world that sales are climbing. People want to buy into this: a jacket here or trousers there. Whether or not you could ever see yourself wearing this stuff (I wouldn’t, to be sure) it’s amazing to see how Michele has not only brought Gucci back to life, but also brought attention back to Milan altogether.
Though it wasn’t technically part of the Milan schedule, Korean label Juun J’s FW ’16 collection was the best the label has ever offered. Prada’s FW ’16 collection offered all sorts of textures, layers, and the ever-noticeable Prada look. So good on that. And Stefano Pilati, one of the most underrated designers in menswear, flexed his suiting muscles hard with the Zegna FW ’16 collection, making the most black of black suits look like pieces or architectural wonder.