Comfort, familiarity and nostalgia were the watchwords coming out of the fall-winter 2009-10 men's collections in Milan last week, a not-unexpected response to the great gray swirl of unknowns surrounding the global economic free-fall. Indeed, shades of gray carried the day, though the somber hues were punctuated with pops and dollops of reds that spoke to the hope of brighter days ahead.
Even for fall collections, the male form was more padded, quilted and protected than usual, which made it the perfect time for French outerwear label Moncler and American designer Thom Browne, the sultan of short pants, to unveil their cold weather collaboration -- which they did by sending models schussing down an indoor ski slope to the tune of "The Lonely Goatherd" from "The Sound of Music," the high-camp high point of the week.
The après ski crowd a year from now will find suits draped and wrapped, silhouettes loosened and jacket lapels a bit wider, and the fall collections were crammed with turtlenecks and voluminous knit scarves. But the comfort coda was about more than just quilted tuxedos and padded jackets. Many collections went deeper, trying to pad the psyche and insulate against what President Obama called in his inaugural address the "gathering clouds and raging storms" in which we now find ourselves. That opened the door to a wide range of trends, which included embracing the old-school cardigan, escapist excursions to the past and designers' own return to their roots. Plus, a fascination with blankets rarely seen this side of a slatted crib.
Giorgio Armani sent simple, gray, blanket-weight coats down the runway. At Roberto Cavalli, woven Indian blanket patterns adorned trousers and slip-on shoes. Alexander McQueen revisited the wrapped blanket-coat theme from last fall, mixing it in among caped, can-wielding street toughs (and what is a cape really, but a blanket with a collar and some hardware?). Etro offered blanket-weight cloaks in hound's-tooth and glen check suiting fabrics over-printed with Art Deco designs. And at Woolrich Woolen Mills (which presents its fall collection here), designer Daiki Suzuki repurposed Woolrich's traditional jacquard weave blanket fabric into a camouflage polo coat, and took inspiration from Hudson Bay blankets for striped wool vests and hunting breeches.
At Burberry, where the brand's heritage has seemed more of a liability than an asset in recent seasons, creative director Christopher Bailey surprised a lot of people at the shows when he sent models down the runway wearing shirts in a version of the familiar Nova check pattern, and closed the show with a catwalk full of Burberry scarves.
Alexander McQueen took refuge in his enfant terrible MO, referencing it in a collection filled with Victorian-era thugs, and even a few real-life London pugilists to help model his collection of abattoir chic, which included ominous-looking leather aprons, with crimson spatters on black Victorian leather.
The cardigan was king this season (though the cable knit wasn't far behind). Bottega Veneta used its soft-shouldered shape as inspiration, and by the time the bearded, white-haired gents in the model lineup at the Etro show hit the catwalk in this sweater-filled season, it felt like the shift change at a beatnik bookstore.
Offering the sartorial equivalent of a "staycation," some fall collections dealt with the glum reality by heading the other direction. Gucci creative director Frida Giannini set the way-back machine for the 1980s -- the skinny ties, black and white geometric patterns and bright purples and electric blues made the House of Gucci seem like the luxury-brand equivalent of Benjamin Button, getting younger as it ages. Moschino and Dsquared both screen-printed boutonnieres onto lapels -- bright red blooms at Dsquared and white roses at Moschino -- that took the photo-realistic printing a step further and created the jacket lapels that graced a sport coat. Another model ambled by wearing a navy blue pullover sweater with a pen and glasses woven into the nonexistent breast pocket.