A Polemic Season of Menswear in Milan


Robb Young | July 01, 2011

What the critics are saying about the bellwether luxury labels for spring/summer 2012

Versace SS 2012 Milan Fashion Week – men’s collection

If the standout show at the latest Milan fashion week is any indication, the time is ripe once again for luxury brands to hark back to their golden era – even if that golden era already had its ‘moment’ years ago. The case in point being Versace’s baroque and brash collection for the S/S 2012 men’s season, which came to a close last week.

What seems to have got the critics raving was the fact that, after several years of trying to reinvent – or at least – reinterpret the brand’s signature, Donatella Versace has finally given up and gone back to Versace’s heyday for inspiration.

Granted, the circumstances and timing of Versace’s return to her roots may be rather particular but it does suggest that other brands floundering in their mission to revitalize themselves through a new direction might have better luck going down the route of a revival instead.

“ Brands floundering in their mission to revitalize themselves through a new direction might have better luck going down the route of a revival instead. ”

The mood was summed up by American Esquire magazine’s Nick Sullivan who called it, “pure, distilled Versace, with a renewed self-confidence that said simply, ‘This is what we do. Like it?’ Or as’s Tim Blanks put it, “Donatella Versace has come to a critical realization: She doesn’t have to reinvent the wheel, she just needs to remind the world what the wheel looked like in the first place.”

It’s this very same conundrum that Sarah Burton must certainly find herself in from time to time, particularly with regard to the men’s collection of the Alexander McQueen label. It’s something that the International Herald Tribune’s fashion critic Suzy Menkes seemed to see as a potential weak spot for the designer going forward.

“The designer Sarah Burton mixed the hard with the romantic in a very British way. She added floppy ribbons at the neck of a striped shirt (think of a young Mick Jagger dressed girly in Hyde Park), and embroidered flowers on a shirt front. To temper that, a jacket printed as if on fire, and a coat with streamers that looked like blood added a touch of the macabre,” wrote Menkes.

“But does Ms. Burton have any of that Stygian gloom that Mr. McQueen found in the Victorian era for his menswear shows? She added some voodoo accessories, like a tooth necklace. But this show was as upbeat as you might expect from a designer who pulled off such a coup with the now world famous royal wedding dress.”

(L to R) Burberry Prorsum, Trussardi, Ermenegildo Zegna, Dolce & Gabbana (Milan Fashion Week SS 2012)

As for the Italian luxury stalwarts, the consensus was that Prada and Bottega Veneta pressed ahead into their respective directions with verve and vitality. For the former, it was a whopping dose of eclecticism while, for the latter, it was his successful blend delightful discretion.

Guy Trebay of the New York Times said that while “rigor and humor [are] two qualities you don’t see much of in Milan, [they] were the marquee features in two assured presentations bracketing a day that didn’t lack for stimulus.”.

“Leave it to Tomas Maier at Bottega Veneta to reframe the agenda, with a typically low-key show that blew the suit apart and reconstituted it with skewed proportions… And that’s how the best of luxury goods should be: close to invisible,” he lauded.

“Who besides Ms. Prada could rummage through a veritable Fresh Kills landfill of random fashion imagery and dredge up Lilly Pulitzer prints, jeweled cowboy grommets, cotton puffers and tricolored patent leather golf shoes and shake them all up to conjure the show everyone else must now try to beat.”

(L to R) Giorgio Armani, Prada & Bottega Veneta (Milan Fashion Week SS 2012)

Meanwhile, the reaction among some of the most influential critics who sometimes scoff at luxury menswear labels like Roberto Cavalli, D&G; and DSquared which use high octane maximalism and extravagance appears to softening – indeed perhaps because it’s seen as a seminal moment for the look at Versace this season.

“It sounds extreme, but when a combo of zebra-meets-yellow-gold pants and matching shirt appeared on the Versace catwalk, after disco dragoon pants and a shirt printed with a blend of swirls and zebra stripes, the audience actually burst into applause,” wrote Godfrey Deeny of the Financial Times.

“This being fashion, there was of course a yin for every yang, and one monochrome riposte to the riots of colour came courtesy of Jil Sander, where the mood was modern-day film noir in a Berlin nightclub. Similarly, Giorgio Armani’s favourite hues for spring were pale greys, putty and powder blue. But even at Armani such sobriety was leavened by a casually upbeat new jacket – truncated, narrow, tight-sleeved double-breasted – that displayed a deconstructed relaxation that marked the entire season… Thus at Brioni an unpadded shoulder injected youthful insouciance into beautiful seersucker jackets and linen cricket blazers…”

(L to R) Gucci, Jil Sander, Umit Benan, Costume National (Milan Fashion Week SS 2012)

Elsewhere among the big names in men’s luxury ready-to-wear, WWD’s team of reviewers smartly encapsulated a few of the highlights as follows:

Gucci appeared to have left the rag trade daily feeling that the designer is continuing to build on her success, albeit in an overly sensible and cautious way. “Although Giannini tapped into many of the season’s key trends, she eschewed the longer, looser tailoring that is emerging. Gucci’s man is a traditionalist at heart, and there’s nothing wrong with that.”

At Marni, “A fresh and edgy spin on the classics is Consuelo Castiglioni’s specialty, this time seen in color-blocked jersey T-shirts and shorts, often shown mismatched together for a stronger impact. Shirts sprouted jersey collars and sleeves. Worn head-to-toe or individually, these clothes certainly have something to say.”

Etro, however, garnered a more balanced conclusion: “It’s a bold look for the jet-set individualist, though certain elements, such as the polka-dot suits and paisley silk pants, are only for the truly adventurous.”

But perhaps most surprising was WWD’s meagre treatment of Umit Benan, who is widely viewed as Europe’s rising star in the world of luxury menswear. Instead, it was left to Tim Blanks at to give the pronouncement:

“If there wasn’t much that spoke about menswear now, Benan has always been quick to reject the notion of ‘fashion’ in favor of his own brand of confident, unconventional elegance. [The collection’s inspiration Nino] Cerruti himself, who was in attendance, attributed it to what he felt was a designer’s most valuable asset: a point of view. And Benan’s has been unwavering. His new creative role at Trussardi would suggest the outside world is waking up to him at last. Add to that Cerruti’s blessing and the young Turk might be turning into a standard-bearer for the next generation of Italian menswear designers.”

Bally SS 2012 Milan Fashion Week – men’s