If there was a common thread running through the Milan spring-summer 2011 menswear shows that ended last week it was the notion of light — in every sense of the word. There was a lightness of attitude — not the cautious, bet-hedging, whistle-past-the-graveyard sort seen last season, but what seemed to be a genuine sense of optimism.
It started the night before the official run of shows began, with Missoni's garden party presentation of patchwork knits, long-waisted grandfather shirts, cardigans and eye-popping acid greens, lemon yellows and vibrant-hued, color-blocked suede deck shoes against a palette of beige and khaki.
It ended on the last day of the shows when Giorgio Armani sent a fashion designer's version of a smiley face emoticon down the runway: slate gray suits paired with pale blue dress shirts and knit vests, a scattering of subtle microdot patterns, and punctuation marks of vivid yellow shoes, belts and pocket squares.
There was lightness in fabrication and construction too: lightweight washed silk, linen and hemp trousers with drawstring waistbands or rope belts at Dolce & Gabbana's 20th anniversary menswear show, shown with shirts in poplin and muslin cotton, unlined jackets with raw seams and rope sandals that gave the luxury brand a rumpled, sun-drenched, post-beach feel.
There was also a kind of uncomfortable, intense light at times. Prada's collection was a preschool paint class full of bright colors, intense blues, bright orange suit jackets and sweaters with playful bold stripes. The show was staged on a raised metal grid-like runway sandwiched between banks of fluorescent tubes, creating a post-apocalyptic nuclear-powered assembly line, a notion underscored by the futuristic wraparound sunglasses the models had slung around their necks.
And then there was the eerie spotlight effect that was used on a handful of pieces in the Alexander McQueen presentation (the first menswear collection to be presented since the designer's death in February, under the direction of his longtime head of design, Sarah Burton). It used printed trompe l'oeil shadows beneath collars and pocket flaps and created the look of faux bright spots across the shoulders to create the distinct impression of a high-powered spotlight shining down on the wearers from directly overhead.
But this same collection also included a pair of military-inspired stretch trousers with utility pockets near the knee, a variation on the season's most noticeable trend, the entrenchment of the workingman's cargo pocket in luxury trousers and shorts, as well as its multi-pocketed up-torso cousin: the safari-inspired jacket, like those at Gucci. One silhouette or the other was present in nearly every collection in Milan.
Asked about the preponderance of cargo pocketry, Missoni's creative director Angela Missoni spoke of her customer, saying: "When you travel, you need lots of pockets for things, and these are my urban travelers — my tribe."
In past seasons, designers were all too happy to get strappy with shoulder-slung bags or to accessorize models with Santa-worthy satchels. This season they seemed to be jettisoning the man baggery in favor of blousy, technical-looking pockets. The man of 2011 is on the move, but he's unencumbered and pared back. He's got no baggage — of any kind.
There were some head-scratching moments: notably an Emporio Armani collection that was reptilian, dark and brooding, including crocodile scales and a Lady Gaga music video clip cameo in advance of the jack-booted backup dancer costumes (everyone but the Lady G herself was dressed in Emporio Armani in her "Alejandro" video).
But even if you question the potential luxury consumer appetite for a rockabilly-themed Versace collection, or D&G aloha-print shirts, it's hard not to look at those collections — metallic fringe and eye-bending optical prints among the former, picnic blanket prints and Johnny Depp's photo circa "Cry-Baby" among the latter — without thinking the designers are eager to inject a little fun back into men's fashion again.
And they're banking that by the time spring-summer 2011 comes around, guys will see the light too.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times