MILAN -- By now, the two Milan Fashion Weeks dedicated to menswear have transformed themselves into platforms for co-ed shows and up-and-coming brands beyond the menswear stalwarts.
The little more than three days of previews for next fall and winter that launched Friday evening include 52 collections in 27 runway shows and 25 presentations. Eleven brands are showing mixed men's and women's collections during the less hectic week dedicated to male apparel.
While menswear tends to create less of a spectacle than the womenswear shows, the lines still carry bottom-line weight. Italian menswear registered a turnover of 9.5 billion euros last year, a 1.5 percent increase over 2017.
Here are highlights:
VERSACE'S DARING MAN
The Gianni Versace fashion house has changed ownership, but not style. Donatella Versace explored bondage in the fashion house's latest collection, the first since being bought by the U.S. fashion group Capri Holding Limited.
The opening look had a bondage image printed cheekily on the front of a shirt, worn over dark trousers and with a leather overcoat. Repeated as a motif, bondage became as banal as a bandana print on a blouson. Then, there was winter bondage for her, underneath puffer jackets, and office bondage for him and her, with the back of suit jackets held together with O-rings, showing off colorful satiny prints.
The looks also veered toward cozy, with warm scarves and fuzzy sweaters bearing a new Versace logo, a V encircled by a G. But the Versace man also is not afraid of feminine touches, like colorful boas peeking out of suit jackets, bejeweled broches, crystal encrusted jeans and least of all, colorful embroidered silken boxers with a prominent Versace label peeking out of trousers, or on their own with a sober black suit jacket and button-up dress shirt.
Versace said in her notes that the image of masculinity has evolved since the 1990s "when there was a specific idea of 'A' man."
"What I wanted to show in this collection are the different faces of a man, who... has gained the courage that he didn't have before. If I had to find a word that defines today's men, it would be daring," she said.
Versace also previewed a collaboration with U.S. carmaker Ford, including the oval-shaped blue Ford logo on leather jackets, trousers, sneakers, hoodies and button-down shirts. The latter was layered kinkily with a silky lace top and a leopard-print fur coat. For good measure, the model's hair was colored in leopard print.
Underlining some of the feminine touches, Versace sent out women's looks worn by top models Bella Hadid, Kaia Gerber, Vittoria Ceretti and Emily Ratajkowski. Actor Luke Evans and Italian rapper Sfera Ebbasta were in the front row, along with fellow rapper Fedez and his wife, fashion blogger and influencer, Chiara Ferragni.
ZEGNA'S GLOBAL CITIZENS
Menswear fashion house Ermenegildo Zegna showed Friday evening under the cavernous arched ceilings of Milan's fascist-era train station, offering cups of mulled wine to warm spectators before the show.
The space in the entrance hall was replete with symbolism. Thousands of commuters and travelers rush through each day. But the hall's mezzanine was also used as a way station for thousands of migrants who had arrived by sea in the south and were making their way to northern Europe from 2013-2015.
Designer Alessandro Sartori seemed to have both in mind, writing that he chose the venue as "a place of arrivals and departures, but also integration and acceptance of diversity."
The collection aimed at Sartori's vision of a "multicultural generation of global citizens" combined classic suits, sportswear and military detailing. For the traveller, the looks were finished with easy-striding footwear including Zegna's first sneaker, called Cesare.
A purple suit closed slightly asymmetrically, the tight silhouette completed with a riding cap and a leather bag with Army-surplus volume. Cropped puffer jackets and rich pile hoodies added volume over slim trousers. An oversized plaid notched-lapel bomber jacket paired with matching cargo trousers gave a neat daytime look. Military detailing included ribbed knits, calf straps and a touch of camouflage.
DOLCE & GABBANA MAKE DANDY COMEBACK
If Dolce & Gabbana are still stinging over a backlash in China, they sought to salve it in Milan with quiet elegance.
The runway show Saturday was the brand's first major outing after being forced to cancel a Shanghai show in November amid accusations of cultural insensitivity. The pace of the Milan show was slow and determined, as designers Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana subbed out Millennials for millionaires.
The collection contained an array of timeless looks for the global dandy, from an American Great Gatsby, a Sicilian noble or, yes, even a Chinese tycoon. The designers put the focus on workmanship, with tailors cutting and stitching in the background.
From backstage flowed silk twill robes and pyjamas, brocade suits whose patterns were inspired by Italian cathedrals, rich velvet day coats over trousers and warm, sequined knitwear bearing geometric motifs.
Coats, jackets and trousers were expertly tailored with herringbone, Prince of Wales and hounds-tooth patterns. Looks were finished with touches like sheepskin outerwear, fringed silk scarfs or elegant umbrellas with grips carved in animal shapes.
There were some signs of the fallout from the China controversy. Gone were the Asian fans that once swarmed a tram station outside the duo's venue, and some seats were removed to shrink the showroom capacity.
But the crowd inside showed their appreciation with a rare round of applause during the show at a series of jackets with sequin embroidery and warm applause for the designers at their curtain call.
M1992 BRITISH GLAM FLASHBACK
The fifth collection by the M1992 label founded by former DJ Dorian Tarantini featured sophisticated streetwear looks that appeared at home against the pastel shaded ballroom of one of Milan's most elegant hotels, the Principe di Savoia.
The hotel was also where the late Gianfranco Ferre showed in the 1970s and 1980s.
Tarantini said the collection was inspired by the British subculture of past decades, with equal part glam, tartan and sport.
The co-ed collection was more likely to bare male midriffs than female, with slightly short sweaters barely meeting the low-waisted trousers. Women wore mod 1960s printed tunics and leggings finished with dizzying platform shoes. An Austin Powers' velvet suit with peek-a-boo ruffle on the shirt sleeve was for the man not afraid to declare "Danger is my middle name."
"This collection recalls my adolescent summers spent in London learning English, but also to research music," Tarantini. "This is a reawakening of London, a city I love and that I visit often. I wanted to bring this touch to Milan. It is not a form of appropriation, but it is part of my background."
BILLIONAIRE AND THE GAME OF KINGS
German designer Philipp Plein staged a game of polo in the center of the runway for his Billionaire collection, giving a plug for his sponsorship of the Monte Carlo Polo team.
For four minutes, polo players on horseback played a fast-paced match on a courtyard covered with faux snow in what is likely a Milan Fashion Week first. More horses were brought on to the field after the match, forming a central runway for the models.
It was little surprise, then, that the collection for mature men featured equestrian looks, including tight-fitting jodhpurs, reptile riding boot and matching caps and even saddles. Blazers had leather or fur lapels, and fur coats draped over silken pyjamas, perhaps to take a last look at the stable. Flashier looks include bold medallion print suits featuring the Billionaire logo alternating with the stallion profiles. They were worn with leather gloves, a neckerchief and a blanket draped over the arm.
After the show, the fashion crowd had to be directed away from the horse droppings on their way out.
NEIL BARRET CELEBRATES 20 YEARS
British designer Neil Barrett celebrated his 20th anniversary with an exploration of what he called "the uniform of rebellion."
The co-ed show was set against a video projection of a city scape with office buildings lit up and a plethora of flashing neon, which were reproduced in bright prints on trousers and trenches. Worn together, they formed a moving cityscape.
The collection also featured tartan and animal prints, leather and fur accents, with references to the British punk scene of the 1970s. The silhouette was crisp and disciplined, with cuffed trousers and long blazers, or transparent PVC trenches easily transferring from men to women.