The fashion shows that just ended in Italy — those of Pitti Uomo in Florence and those of the Milan Fashion Week, dedicated to fall/winter 2024 menswear collections — painted a decidedly critical picture of the fashion scene, raising many questions and providing some very interesting answers.
For the Italian luxury sector, 2023 was a year that began well and ended very badly, with a decline of 7.2 percent compared to the previous year and forecasts for 2024 that are not exactly encouraging. The causes are many and uncontrollable: the wars in Ukraine and Gaza, the Chinese real estate bubble, and finally the rise of inflation in Italy that makes exports, especially those to the American market, less competitive. After the explosive prior year of 2022, everyone’s expectations were considerably lowered, and this changed everything in terms of product.
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Return to Classicism
The dominant thought of the marketing and design departments was to push for a return to classicism, to sartorial taste, to well-made and durable things, turning clothes into a kind of safe-haven asset in which to invest the little money left over, trying to stay far away from any distraction or aesthetic excess. It’s a recipe that had an excellent staging in Succession — winner for best TV drama series at the last Golden Globes and Emmy award shows — a series about a very rich dysfunctional family with a taste in clothes as traditionalist and regressive as their political views and ethical choices.
For a long time, there was talk of fluidity and breaking down the gender barriers, but right now there seems to be a counter-reformist, reactionary movement, hoping to put everyone back in their place and all back together at the starting blocks. For almost all the brands that paraded between Florence and Milan, this was the theme to be tackled, but the elaborations were very different from each other, some remaining on the surface of the problem, others exploring it in depth to bring out its more regenerating and therefore newer side.
Sabato De Sarno, Gucci’s new creative director, has been the most resolute of all. He has gotten rid of every sensory stimulus, every trace of emotionality that the brand had accumulated during the years of his predecessor, Alessandro Michele, and he is trying to create a new language, more composed, serious and confident, from scratch. It is all simplified and comprehensible, classic but reassuring, commercial, marketable. A choice that entailed a profound break from the Gucci people knew up until now and that may or may not be accepted by the market.
Prada, led by Miuccia Prada and Raf Simons, is a brand that has always, unlike Gucci, stood at the roots of minimalism but which, in its history, has also had long moments of maximalist exaggeration and eccentricity. The arrival of Raf Simons has erased them, taking the core of Prada towards a cold and almost ascetic detachment, typical of the Belgian culture from which the designer comes. In this collection, menswear staples such as jackets, shirts, trousers, ties and coats are so reduced to the bone that they lose their historical bourgeois and patriarchal significance. They are no longer symbols of power, but they open up to the younger generation and become simple clothing objects, dynamic and new. Optimistic.
Fashion With a High Level of Eroticism
Dolce & Gabbana have also ditched the colorful prints and references to Sicily to return to their minimalist origins of the early ’90s. With an almost completely black collection, they have re-focused on men’s tailoring, disseminating it with a very high rate of eroticism that does not betray their DNA and explores perhaps the greatest repression that exists when it comes to men’s fashion: sex.
Very interesting is the path undertaken in the last few years by Zegna which, with Alessandro Sartori at the helm, took the liberty of completely abandoning the classic male language of rigidity and formalism, to deconstruct it, soften it, make it sweet, almost tender. A successful experiment that made it possible for the company to be listed on the New York Stock Exchange with extraordinary results. Seeing Sartori’s men (and women) on the catwalk gives a very precise idea of how “male” can become an adjective with hitherto unthinkable attributes, a way of narrating a masculinity that is not toxic but rather open to change.
Then, there are the new designers, the emerging generations who have much more radical and extremely interesting, perhaps even decisive, points of view.
The first of them all is Luca Magliano, guest designer at Pitti Uomo, who last year was awarded the prestigious Karl Lagerfeld prize by the LVMH group. Magliano, 36 years old, founded his brand in Bologna in 2016 and has quickly become a solid reference in menswear (although this term is becoming increasingly blurred).
He, too, has a classic preparation, but it is unformed, overlapping and deconstructed. Completely losing all rigidity, Magliano’s collections speak of a group of poetic outsiders who do not want to get involved in male power games but feel the need to build a credible alternative on the fringes of society and fashion. It is an open critique of all that is mainstream and dominant, a form of resistance with a political undertone that always also manages to strike a chord.
Setchu (from “Wayo Setchu,” which in Japanese means “compromise between East and West”) is designed by Satoshi Kuwata and last year was the winner of the LVMH Prize, the world’s most important award for emerging talent. Kuwata is of Japanese descent, but he has long since settled in Italy and pursues the perfect fusion of European classicism and Japanese desire for deconstruction in his work. For Setchu, the difference between male and female is almost imperceptible, and clothes are built with an expressive freedom that makes them transformable and interchangeable. Strange objects of desire that tell, again, a new story.
When Fashion Is Geometric Simplicity
The latest is Mordecai, a totally new brand, launched in February 2023 by Ludovico Bruno, who accumulated a great deal of experience working for brands such as Moncler. Here too, there is a profound influence of Japanese style, of the geometric simplicity of kimonos, which makes Mordecai’s sportswear fluid and spontaneous, with no constraints or gender distinctions.
The journey of men’s fashion thus seems to be an attempt to escape the restrictions, the rules, the impositions of 19th-century categories. Many are, perhaps for the first time, seeking a profound way to rethink a centuries-old language that has now lost all meaning and to turn it into something new, something contemporary.
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