Having a ball in Italy

Footbal fever kicked off men’s fashion week in Milan, as Italian designers juggled their two great passions, soccer and fashion.

Dolce and Gabbana, who kitted out the Italian team in sleek off-field uniforms, were sweating on a victory against the Socceroos in Monday’s World Cup match. “Of course Italy will win!” a patriotic Stefano Gabbana crowed as he crossed his fingers backstage.

Donatella Versace postponed her runway show to let guests follow the match in a live broadcast beamed on to the catwalk.

And Giorgio Armani – who dressed the English team – sent a squad of models, wearing silver shorts and bearing gilded soccer balls, jogging out to Queen’s anthem, We are the Champions.

The designers’ fixation with football may have jinxed the match but at least it produced wearable wardrobes. The 2007 spring-summer collections are a cool change from fashion’s fussy formality.

The stuffy tailoring, dandy detailing and pretty colours of summers past are fading from fashion. Bohemian mix-and-match is making way for a more modern, monochromatic look, in macho colours and lived-in fabrics. The bloke is back in style.

Versace showed creased suiting in sun-faded colours, and brightened white shirts and boardshorts with stripes like the beams from neon strobe lights. One slim-lapelled linen suit was creased like a brown paper bag.

Armani’s nonchalant models sauntered out in monochromatic city suiting, worn with dapper cream and brown two-toned loafers. Inspired by the muted colours in the designer’s homes in New York and Italy, the collection featured luxurious wool or silk-blend fabrics showing a subtle sheen, with one grey suit imitating brushed steel. Self-belted trousers buckled to the side, shirts featured Nehru collars, and waistcoats were paired with drawstring silk trousers.

“Men have a psychological block when it comes to changing the way they dress,” Armani said. “But a man can be modern without looking ridiculous.”

For the sportier Emporio Armani line, he found a neat way to beat the summer heat, chopping pinstriped suits at the knee.

Backless waistcoats were strapped over sleek T-shirts, and braces held up silver soccer shorts.

“Short pants, if you have good thighs, are OK if you work in a certain type of office, in the creative sectors,” counselled Armani, who surprised the fashion flock by taking his bow in a pair of blue shorts. “But you need the legs.”

Bottega Veneta brought back the leisure suit, with impeccably tailored yet slightly crumpled linen suits. Cool linen vests or unlined jackets were paired with matching loose-weave trousers.

Presenting his first men’s runway collection for the Gucci-owned label, German creative director Tomas Maier said global warming meant even Europeans needed to dress less.

“Besides, I like to dress very quickly in the morning; I’d rather have more time at the table having coffee and reading the paper.”

Gianfranco Ferre showed sleek, monochromatic suiting with quirky touches such as white shirts dyed black, as if someone had knocked over an ink pot.

Fluorescent shoes, coloured as if by highlighter pens, flashed along Fendi’s runway. “It’s an urban collection,” designer Silvia Venturini Fendi explained backstage.

“I think fluorescent is a colour of the city, like neon lights.”

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