MILAN – Mocking the pleasures of being “well, but simply, dressed” is how Brunello Cucinelli describes the design brief that turned him, the son of an Umbrian farmer, into a self-made billionaire.
It goes without saying that simplicity at Cucinelli’s level is not cheap. For a delicately tailored Cucinelli cotton jacket—one, say, from a clever new heavy-duty collection, which looks like a Brooks Brothers gingham bag as redesigned for Gianni Agnelli—you can expect to pay $4,000.
You would think that such numbers would make even the wealthy (a wealth manager – speaking as a “high net worth individual”, defined as someone with liquid capital of at least $1 million) think twice before slapping an American Express Centurion. However, the initial sticker shock didn’t stop the publicly traded Brunello Cucinelli brand from navigating the pandemic (after the initial slump during the first lockdown in 2020); Expand and open stores in Tokyo, London and New York; Or enter a bear market with bullish confidence.
“Men want to wear clothes again,” Mr Cucinelli said Saturday during a presentation in a studio in Milan’s Chinatown.
And his own money, he added, is on wealthy Gen Z consumers – or at least the kinds of CEOs who Cucinelli’s gaps in – willing to swap out Allbirds and their bonnets for the kind of apparel he’s so good at. “Neutral elegance” is the phrase he prefers to describe the intended effect of his structured, unlined, yet unexaggerated suits; light in appearance, although still acceptable in a conference room; Faithful in tone to the neutral color palette that is the default security of the new fortune.
It should not be mistaken for a “sprezzatura”, that premeditated overbearing disposition that even Italians rarely attract with any success. Mr. Aneli, let’s face it, often looked rather silly in his impractical denim ski suits, saggy driving shoes, and wristwatches that he wore out of his cuffs.
What Mr. Cucinelli was alluding to was something universal rooted in both self-awareness and adherence to decency protocols in public spaces near the Capote. Can it be restored? It’s hard to say anymore especially after two years of living in futon and waist-enlargement clothing. Exaggerating the idea that dressing is as civil as it is a personal business requires some effort.
However, posters with different fonts indicate a willingness to seize the opportunity. In some ways, it felt as though this week in Milan was the menswear version of the Hail Mary aisle. Not to draw a cliched metaphor, but the designers here have moved the ball down the field.
In a show held outdoors under mercifully shaded walkways on the Bocconi University campus, Ken Etro delivered what was perhaps the best show of his decades-long career. Designers sell mood and ambiance as much as clothes, see Etro models, many of them barefoot and wearing gold toe rings, striping concrete in ruffled summer shorts, lace-up openwork-patterned shirts, flowing jossamer capes, and soft suits, all in muted colors. Or melting prints felt like a plus in one of Luca Guadagnino’s dreamy homages to filmmakers like Michelangelo Antonioni.
Wherever those models were wearing like this, suddenly I wanted to follow them. People often joke about retail therapy. However, the effectiveness and necessity of a form of escape from reality is underappreciated.
Does this mean this critic is ready to apply for a visa to Versaceworld? Mostly not. Yet for a brief period in the garden of the 18th-century mansion house, we were transported to another world as models, probably wearing Versace bowls and vases, or donning espresso cups as belt adornments, wandering through cobbled walkways past rotating columns. Crowned with gilded busts. After all, the Cockamamie classic is a signature of a Medusa-branded house.
You probably wouldn’t have found five people in the crowd able to name any of the 58 World Heritage Sites found in Italy. The house’s prints still telegraph with something clearly antique, like Michelangelo’s David depicting fridge magnets. Needless to say, they are outrageously barbaric. However, its broad embrace of borderline vulgarity is what Donatella Versace finds so humorous and sweet. The result was a ensemble comprising oversized snakeskin-print pants, latex raincoats, tailored jackets, men’s twill and models with hair trained in Roman bust waves painted in gold shimmer.
Giorgio Armani is a designer as rooted in heritage as anyone. Continuing to design into his ninth decade is in itself a tribute to a painful personal history as a child in World War II. Mr. Armani reached his mature style early on and rarely deviated from it. Although he was a hit in the 1980s, when the wider world discovered his finely crafted designs in the 1980 film “American Gigolo,” the overall style of his career was cautious and methodical. Theme and difference are his style of work, and if at times this risks monotonousness, when you stand back you can notice that what he is looking for is something as durable as a tightly woven basket.
Appropriately, the Emporio Armani collection actually features delicate weave prints, most notably rendered in a stretchy Wave shoe moulded in a coarse weave – eg. A jacket with a palm tree on it. Aside from the hairstylist’s mistake that put models of different races into Cornrose, the show seemed to be well judged for a cultural moment when consumers, regardless of gender, retreat in the direction of imitation clothing.
The point was brought home in the Giorgio Armani show set in a theater in an eighteenth-century palace where the designer lives, as it were, above the shop. After a presentation to us, a senior editor asked how some of the hottest labels currently proposing a new generation soft suit borrow primarily from Armani innovations half a century ago.
“When I see Armani now, I see Amiri and Fear of God,” I replied, referring to pieces that were tidy but felt as comfortable as the luxurious sweats produced by designers Mike Amiri and Jerry Lorenzo. The editor took a spit: “I’m wearing my prince now.”
It might seem odd that a designer rallying to 90 (Mr. Armani’s 88th birthday next month) seems more in tune with his moment than someone like Miuccia Prada, who for decades has demonstrated the gift of a fortune-teller for predicting what’s next. The Prada collection is styled with Raf Simons, black one-and-a-half-breasted skinny suits, denim coats, and zip-front leather shorts with a Ledderhosen slit. Within minutes of the show ending, Instagram was flooded with nearly identical source photos from the kink world.
Although there is no knowledge of how harmonious the business partnership between Mr. Simons and Mrs. Prada is, it sometimes seems to this observer that what she needs in her working life is not so much a fellow designer as a conspirator. Until her death in 2015, that person was Italian photographer and style great Manuela Pavese. It does not serve someone of Mrs. Prada’s talent to suggest that she needs a crutch. However, in the absence of the Khmer spirit of a woman, designer Jonathan Anderson, himself a Prada graduate, was once described as having an eye so mysterious and unrestrained that one would automatically want to recognize her, The atmosphere of the Prada runway is getting a little rough.
Her presentation looked like the antithesis of the charming Gucci capsule collection, designed by Alessandro Michele with Harry Styles (Gucci is called HA HA HA HA, for his initials). The 25-piece ensemble of wide blazer suits, grumpy teddy bears and cherry print T-shirts, designer pajamas, hats, and ties wide enough to attract a pozzo was cheerful and cheerful.
The mood of the presentation, set in a famous Milan flea store, was so ambiguous that when Mr. Michel and Mr. Styles met Design, they must have been content like two little children in a mud puddle. Maybe Mrs. Prada could use her own Harry Styles. They may start with a play date.