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Where Are Italy’s Fearless Wunderkinds?

In Milan, new names filled the schedule, but most of them lacked the ballsy fearlessness that made legends of the last generation, reports Angelo Flaccavento.
This season, the talk of the town was United Standard, seen here backstage | Source: Getty Images
  • Angelo Flaccavento

MILAN, Italy — Co-ed shows are killing men's fashion week. They work well for certain brands (Gucci) but not so much for others (Missoni or Etro) and, in general, can dilute the message a designer is trying to send down the runway. But most of all, co-ed shows have a devastating effect on the men's calendar as a whole. It was evident over the past weekend — that's how short Milan Fashion Week has become. The action started on Friday evening with Zegna Couture's mega-production at Stazione Centrale, quite a sensational affair with some brilliant tailoring. And by the early afternoon of Monday everything was over with the week's last show: Fendi. That's exactly a weekend — a longish weekend, to be sure — but not a week.

The calendar, however, was full to the brim with new-ish names — some local, some imported — framed by a smattering of behemoths like Prada and Emporio Armani. But it was frankly not enough to keep things fully afloat. A calendar is a complex system of interdependencies. Imagine the effect that a Bottega Veneta standalone men's show would have. If the bigwigs are missing, newcomers are, of course, freer to take the stage, but the risk is that Milan becomes one of those peripheral fashion weeks only attended by locals, head-hunters and rabid researchers of the new. Milan, moreover, has never been a place for nurturing renegade talent — like, say, London — so a schedule full of unknowns sounds less like a strategy and more like a tragedy.

But, there are other downsides to co-ed shows. Having men and women on the catwalk together might sound good on paper — a reflection of real life and a rounder expression of the vision of a designer — and certainly very efficient in terms of cost-cutting in these uncertain times. Yet co-ed shows are also confusing. You don't know where to focus. The stronger part of the collection swallows the other, and, in general, it is womenswear that does the swallowing. Menswear falls victim and the overall effect is saddening.

Take Missoni: their menswear is relevant and the image of men it propels is meaningful and original, but when you see it during the women's shows it literally disappears. Ferragamo is another case in point, not least because here the creative directors for the label's menswear and womenswear are different. Truth be told, Paul Andrew and Guillaume Meilland work brilliantly together, but the risk is that the men's section of the show passes almost unnoticed, and it's a pity because it deserves more visibility. On the other hand, when women abound on a men's catwalk — like at Prada, let's say — they tend to appear as accessories or eye candy, which is no good.

Of course, creating separation when masculine and feminine are merging in the wider culture may sound anachronistic. Yet, such separation is effective in terms of the narrative and impact of a show. But, enough with the rant.

Where to start for some meaning, and solace, in the men’s fashion week that closed today? Let's begin with the new kids on the block. There is plenty of talent, that's for sure, but the current vanguard of Italian creatives lacks the ballsy, fearless wunderkinds that became the legends of the last generation. The fashion schools don’t produce them anymore, taming rather than liberating the youth. Of course, there are quite a few names to bet on, but next season they might be a total disappointment. Or not. It's a cultural thing: slow generational turnover has turned Italians into a hoard of sons and daughters, making the imprint of the next generation weak.

The current vanguard of Italian creatives lacks the ballsy, fearless wunderkinds that became the legends of the last generation.

Dorian Tarantini, the mastermind behind M1992, and Luca Magliano are definitely talents to keep an eye on. So is Miaoran, a Chinese twentysomething who has made Milan his hometown. Their respective shows were not free from missteps — there was too much Gaultier in the air at Magliano, while the Miaoran show needed a robust trim — but all of them are, for different reasons, full of potential. Miaoran is an off-kilter classicist who already sells purely-designed transgenerational product to a roster of hi-end boutiques.

Tarantini progressed from the trenches of the underground into something more grown up, but keeping a subcultural vibe. This season his blend of Sixties and Nineties Cool Britannia felt like a well-judged move, and it will be interesting to see where his path leads afterwards. Luca Magliano is a provocateur who distorts masculine staples under the motto: messing up the wardrobe fundamentals. His take on tailoring is joyously brutal. In distorting blazers and coats and trousers, he draws on the hyper-sexualised image of a crook that is utterly amusing and, quite frankly, uplifting.

Compared to such cockiness, Sunnei's rarefied take on urban dressing felt positively childish. Simone Rizzo and Loris Messina have taken long strides with their young brand, establishing a fashion language that looks as simple as it is energetic. Their style is so vague, it is impossible to define, like a street-savvy watercolour, which adds another layer of charm.

But this season, the talk of the town was United Standard, the fashion label devised by multimedia artist Giorgio Di Salvo (the graphic designer that collaborated with Marcelo Burlon on the launch of County of Milan and developed the prints that proved integral to its early success.) The scene, complete with a gritty suburban location, a mess at the door and a gathering of Milan's coolest underground kids (some well into their forties, because this is Italy after all) was massive but the proverbial mountain gave birth to a little mouse, so to speak. The core theme of the brand is a mix of futuristic fabrics and functional lines, but apart from a few noteworthy lab-like pieces, the outcome did not move the conversation forward that much. The presentation on models cast from Di Salvo's circle of acquaintances did not help, too: despite the scope, it all felt small and insular.

Compared to such frontal assault, there was an uplifting sense of pureness at Sartorial Monk, the minimalist label headed by Sabato Russo, who is a mature newcomer well into his forties.

Over in more established areas of the fashion sphere, the new-ish kids on the block are making their voices heard. At Marni, Francesco Risso is particularly at ease with the menswear, which he has shaped over his very own, poetically bonkers persona, to outstanding results. At times, it can all feel a little contrived, and the babble attached to it is often quite delirious, but Risso has a voice. It is lysergic and playful, with quite a classic base. This season, Risso decked a posse of atypical kids in varying shades of ginormous tailoring, psychedelic layering and pimp-like swagger, delivering both fun and substance.

Meanwhile at Pal Zileri, Rocco Iannone found a balance between opulence and precision, cutting sharp tailoring in luscious brocades and opting for dense, painterly hues. There was a whiff of Scott Crolla in the air, and a lot of decadence, but it all felt present, rather than nostalgic, confirming that Iannone is one to watch.

But enough with the kids. When it came to the big wigs, Milan did deliver some punches. Punches, however, that felt diluted by the consistency of the offerings. Basically, the established houses keep delivering endless reiterations of their respective codes. What’s missing in originality is certainly made up in consistency.

In this sense, Prada's sturdy-shod monsters were just another take — a catchy one, with silly whiffs of Comme des Garçons grotesque — of Prada-ism, with a bevvy of tricks that will sell like hotcakes. Donatella Versace keeps rolling at a very Versace pace, and Giorgio Armani felt authentic at Emporio.

Silvia Fendi was in top form, too, exploring the quintessentially Fendi theme of duality from a newly-found formal angle that felt on point. In fact, Fendi's insouciantly sharp take on elegance was one of the best proposals of this slow down season of playing it safe. It reminded us that staying true to codes is not synonymous with stasis. House codes can be a starting point, not a burden. That's a good point to ponder in order to build the future of Italian menswear in the coming seasons.

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