23-Nov, 06:52

17:10, January 17 642 0

2017-01-17 17:10:10
Critic’s Notebook: At Milan Men’s Fashion Week, Prada and Versace Take It Down a Notch

MILAN — Was it only Americans in the audience looking longingly at the beds provided as seating for some at the fall 2017 Prada show for both men and women? Or were others also secretly wishing they could lie down and yank the covers over their heads?

In general, the surprise outcome of the United States presidential election has been greeted philosophically by many Italians in the fashion business, who say that, having lived through decades under the thumb of a media-savvy businessman bully — the former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi — a long view helps.

Still, the conservative designs that have dominated the season suggest an overall mood of caution. Despite a postelection spike in stock prices and strong retail sales, designers are playing it safe.

Retail may be “on fire,” Nick Wooster, the Instagram personality and industry lifer, claimed as he stood ankle-deep in a mound of artificial snow covering the set at the Moncler Gamme Bleu show. Yet Mr. Wooster is aware that department stores are flailing, with malls ousting them as anchor tenants; that Macy’s has announced the laying off of 10,000 workers; and that Neiman Marcus posted dismal year-end results for 2016.

The appetite remains strong among consumers, particularly male ones, for the life-affirming satisfactions of fashion, Mr. Wooster said, citing a boom in beauty, grooming, accessory and apparel sales: “That toothpaste isn’t going back in the tube.”

Following a London fashion week characterized by an almost Dickensian grimness brought on by designers’ pulling out, the mood here was, if not buoyant, then resolute.

Italian designers, both at the big Pitti Uomo trade fair in Florence and here in Milan, signaled a determination to ride out an uncertain future by reining in their most flamboyant impulses, focusing on core brand identities and, in general, going small.

Naturally, it was Miuccia Prada who articulated the new reality best when she evoked a need for simplicity and what she termed “essentiality” in design. Abandoning the immersive sets often used for her shows, Ms. Prada and the architect Rem Koolhaas’s AMO studio chose instead to install sinuous wooden partitions lined with bench seats not unlike those seen outside confessionals. And they added some beds.

Claiming to Vogue.com that her inspirations were too complex and varied to enumerate, she suggested that her current aesthetic disposition was best described in terms of what wearied her: “The big deal of fashion, the big deal of art, the big deal of everything.”

That bloat presents a cultural menace is something we can probably all agree on. The demagogues and bobblehead behemoths dominating public life inspire in all of us a degree of soul-searching, an examination of core values. This notion was once taken up by the filmmaker Jean Renoir in a letter to the actress Ingrid Bergman. “The cult of great ideas is dangerous,” Mr. Renoir said, “and may destroy the real basis for great achievements, that is the daily, humble work within the framework of a profession.”

Of course, it remains the case that Ms. Prada’s are the big ideas driving her luxury goods label. Yet teams of humble, anonymous people keep her brand and Italian fashion alive, a point that was one unexpected takeaway from her show on Sunday.

Replete with slacker-meets-normcore affectations — beige corduroy trousers and back-belted jackets, button-down shirts, suede-paneled blazers, pimp-style fur belts, fur shoes, hippie totem necklaces of scavenged horn and shells — the Prada collection looked like a snapshot from a liberal arts college campus of the ’70s. It was a familiar Prada trip, a voyage via hot-tub time machine, vintage in inspiration, yet so shrewdly literal it looked fresh.

What elevated the clothes, and kept them from seeming like props from a Macklemore video, is Italian craftsmanship. Here (and throughout the fragile Schengen Area) workers still retain the skills to transform what appear to be bargain-bin finds into covetable luxury goods. Ms. Prada knows that banality as an aesthetic default works only when you have skilled fabricators to realize your vision. Jeff Koons doesn’t make those shiny bunnies himself.

The women heading many big brands in an industry dominated by family-owned enterprises often have a particular challenge when it comes to heritage. Take the zigzag knits developed by Angela Missoni’s parents in the 1950s, which probably constitute one of the most enduring brand identities. Better than a logo, the Missoni knit patterns are also something of a design albatross, since if you alter them too radically you become just another knitwear label. Repeat them ad infinitum, though, and stale redundancy yawns.

If it has taken some time for Ms. Missoni to grow into a design role she initially took on with some reluctance, the slow-burn confidence she developed is now paying off. One of her best to date, Ms. Missoni’s collection was filled with lushly hued, slouchy, rich-slacker clothing easy to imagine on a Trustafarian playing hacky sack in Paepcke Park in Aspen.

But a lot of less privileged (though still prosperous) men would look equally good in one of Ms. Missoni’s zip-up sweaters or jackets; her skater-baggy houndstooth pajama pants; her stitched cashmere coats of many colors (70 different hues deployed to create one jacket); and particularly the heavy Aran Island sweaters overdyed in degraded rainbow stripes so alluring they made this viewer want to revisit his hippie youth.

It suggests something about the anxieties induced by the current political climate that Donatella Versace — another powerful woman designing for a storied and family-owned label — elected to bypass the flamboyance of previous seasons (togas and grommets, patterns and patches, stormtrooper coats and bovver boots) to produce a collection focused on suits.

If the cyclical nature of fashion suggests the inevitability of suits staging a return at some point, a consensus among men’s wear designers still holds that the traditional suit has yet to develop much allure for a generation raised on hoodies and sneakers.

Ms. Versace is betting otherwise. Or, at least, you would think so after viewing a collection that leaned heavily on suits in a subdued and office-ready palette; on smartly tailored double-breasted topcoats; and on shirts worn with, of all things, a tie.

Sure, there were trousers notched at the hem to fit over boots with Vibram lug-soles, patent leather backpacks, a few roomy overcoats patterned in an elegant serrated Jacquard weave and others in crinkled, wet-look vinyl.

And, yes, there were belted trenches that seemed designed for a gangster with a sideline as a flasher, and trousers in crayon red leather and blanket plaid puffers cinched tight enough to endanger circulation. Yet the overall mood of the new Versace collection was one of sobriety. Forget flights of fantasy and kitting yourself out for an extravagant club binge. Keep that interview suit pressed, Ms. Versace seemed to suggest. Take an uncertain future one day at a time.

Pragmatism seemed to seesaw with extremes of costly impracticality during a week that, for all the recent designer defections (Gucci and Bottega Veneta will show men’s and women’s wear together next month), was still jampacked.

On Saturday, at a presentation staged by Tod’s at the historic Villa Necchi Campiglio, the designer Andrea Incontri updated his continuing project of creating apparel that fits plausibly into a business built on footwear with what he called a “utility wardrobe” organized around a down-stuffed waxed leather “Pash” jacket and — perhaps more interesting — a group of handsome bomber, field, peacoat, caban and Montgomery jackets in leather laser-etched in a way that lent them some resemblance to Ms. Prada’s corduroys.

Then, on Sunday, for a Moncler Gamme Bleu presentation, the designer Thom Browne mounted another of his winter spectacles, this one an Alpine scene featuring tons of imported fake snow, pine trees and dozens of models wearing Moncler puffers adorned with climbing rope laced through carabiners attached like embroidery elements to the clothes.

Objectively elegant as was the effect, the whole rigmarole was rendered fairly silly by Mr. Browne’s decision to hobble the models’ legs together with bondage knots that made them walk at a death-march pace. Glancing at the screen of a person seated next to me during the interminable show, I saw him thumb-tapping a plea for help: “Take these ropes and strangle me now.”

Then on Monday, the designer Silvia Venturini Fendi, ever the contrarian, waved away a reporter’s questions about the current anxious climate in a brief backstage chat. “I don’t know why everyone is so scared,” Ms. Fendi said brusquely. “I’m optimistic. The future is now. I’m not someone who ever thinks things were better before.”

Behind her stood a mood board adorned with images distinctly of the past: urban cowboys from the ’70s; Elton John and Rod Stewart in their flamboyant younger days; a dandyish Salvador Dalí in the ’60s wearing a woolen beanie and, almost inevitably, the cover of “Buffalo,” a 2000 volume dedicated to the influential Scottish stylist Ray Petri, who died in 1989 of AIDS.

Lined up near Ms. Fendi was a posse of models like Miles McMillan, Felix Gesnouin, Serge Rigvava and Abiah Hostvedt, handsome guys with a specific brand of sexy insolence that helps them put across even the most absurdly luxurious runway stuff.

And that is saying a lot when you are talking about topcoats with lapels of multicolor mink in a sprightly tile pattern, sleeveless dusters worn over leopard-stenciled bombers, fur shower shoes incised with the Fendi logo, sable neck pillows to wear on the Gulfstream G650, and overcoats of fur and rubber bonded so they can be worn either right-side or inside-out.

“These particular pieces are fully reversible,” the practical-minded Ms. Fendi said. “Luxury clothes, two in one.”