As the London Olympics draw closer, designers hit the runways of Milan with their athletic efforts, writes Georgina Safe.
Sport and technology were two of three key themes to emerge from Milan men's fashion week - the third being cold, hard cash.
Both Prada and Ferragamo are going public. Prada shares start to trade tomorrow in Hong Kong, followed by Ferragamo's in Milan next Wednesday, transforming family companies into global concerns. Luxury outerwear company Moncler, founded in France but now based in Italy, is also selling a 45 per cent stake, worth $US611 million ($577 million), to French investment firm Eurazeo. The international boom in the Italian apparel industry lent a decidedly upbeat air to the four days of runway shows, which ended on Tuesday.
Moncler's core business of puffa jackets and sportswear means it usually sits outside contemporary runway trends but this season it was front and centre as sporty looks were championed by labels including Vivienne Westwood, Prada, Jil Sander and Gucci.
London designer Westwood clearly had the city's 2012 Olympics on her mind when she presented the most literal interpretation of athletic wear, with a collection that included striped track jackets, T-shirts emblazoned with gold medals and Olympic torches, and liquid gold tops incorporating three-dimensional Grecian wreath details. Westwood deserves a gold medal for enthusiasm - she even referenced individual countries, including Japan and the US, as well as London - but the more whimsical aspects of the collection would be better suited to a Winter Olympics routine by flamboyant American figure skater Johnny Weir than they would for ''the gentleman sportsman'', which was her inspiration for the range.
Alexander McQueen designer Sarah Burton also appeared to nod to the London Olympics, with several outfits combining the red, white and blue colours of the Union Jack, which were teamed with feathered hats and red-tipped winklepicker boots.
Golf was an unexpected starting point for Miuccia Prada, who teed off with her usual idiosyncratic approach to an aspect of the cultural mainstream. ''I was using golf as an excuse to make it eccentric,'' she says. ''Even if I hate golf and don't play, it is completely international.''
Models walked down a bright green artificial turf runway to the strains of Cole Porter's Summertime, clutching floral golf bags containing Prada-branded golf clubs and wearing golf caps and riveted shoes.
But beneath Prada's styling there were pieces wearable beyond the club house, most notably tailored shorts, jackets and trousers in a largely neutral palette paired with random overblown floral shirts best left to of-a-certain-age fans of the sport in Hawaii.
Only the most confident Australian blokes would attempt Jil Sander's see-through plastic raincoat at a Swans game but Gucci delivered several more understated cover-ups for sporting spectators, including a knee-length textured trench coat, a brick-red coat with black trim and buttons and a colour-blocked parka in red and grey.
A fascination with technology was the other big preoccupation in Milan and Calvin Klein's Italo Zucchelli combined it with athletics in his collection, inspired by classic US sportswear. Zucchelli has long been obsessed with high-tech materials and finishes, which this season included bonded leathers, waxed jerseys and rubber tiles that were affixed to mesh in a two-button blazer. A colour palette of crisp white, cerulean blue and grey enhanced the sporty feel of the collection, which featured shorts, track pants and print T-shirts. Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana were inspired by social networking technology, hence a collection focused on net (geddit??) in all its forms, from fine mesh to the chunky netting of soccer goals. It was all too much and felt too forced. A group finale is always fun, however, so thank you Dolce & Gabbana for closing your show with 60 hot young models, all in white netted T-shirts and tanks and shorts.
At Jil Sander, Raf Simons gave his models iPod carriers to wear around their necks, while Burberry's Christopher Bailey streamed his show live on the internet and allowed customers to purchase pieces from it afterwards via his brand's website.
Ironically the theme of Bailey's collection was avowedly anti-technology, celebrating as it did the dual concepts of craftsmanship and history.
''This collection started with our iconic heritage as the foundation; we really wanted to emphasise this feeling of handcrafted pieces, celebrating craftsmanship but always with this playful element,'' Bailey said in his show notes.
Wooden beading, tribal-like prints and raffia hats complete with pompoms were among the eclectic elements in the Burberry collection, which also included crochet, embroidery and nubbly knits. The fisherman's knits, along with pieces such as a khaki anorak with wooden toggles and a tan leather coat with sheepskin collar, made one very much aware that summer in Britain is a different affair from the warmer months at Bondi Beach.
But overall, there was plenty to enjoy in Burberry's charming and beguiling collection.
Wide-leg trousers, the colour blue and the new super-light silk tailoring are the other trends from Milan that Australian men might consider adding into their wardrobes for next summer.
Milan was awash in a sea of blues, from the palest sky hues to inky navies and petrol. The best were at Emporio Armani, where they ranged from icy blues to cobalts and an ocean-blue denim shirt worn with a pair of pleat-front silk trousers for added sophistication. Roberto Cavalli also featured cobalt and a suit in a purply blue, teamed with a pale blue shirt and a bright yellow belt to inject an extra pop of colour. Bottega Veneta showed suits in aqua as well as grass green and a somewhat confounding pair of pants that combined both colours with black racing-car stripes down the side.
Thankfully, the reign of super-skinny pants appears to be over, with the more buff examples of manhood on the runway this week perhaps requiring more generous trouser cuts than the waif-like male models of previous seasons. Emporio Armani showed several examples of the new wider-leg trousers, as did Salvatore Ferragamo, where the easy linen jackets and floppy pants had a safari-meets-Pablo Picasso feel.
Calvin Klein's voluminous track pants with elastic at the ankles were more showpieces than every day options, unless you're planning a ''look at moi'' designer bogan trip to Fountain Gate or any other western suburbs shopping mall.
Light-as-air silks supplemented the usual woollen approach to tailoring at Ermenegildo Zegna, Prada, Canali and Emporio Armani. Emporio Armani's relaxed silk jackets exuded a louche cool when teamed with the aforementioned pleat-front pants, while Ermenegildo Zegna chief executive Gildo Zegna told The New York Times he wanted to ''make silk the cashmere of summer''.
Soft silk suiting and trench coats in putty, icy greys and pale greens were sometimes intentionally wrinkled, as they also were at Emporio Armani, lending the Zegna collection a breezy ease that would be perfect for a Sunday lunch at Icebergs or Otto.
And despite this season's more relaxed approach to fashion, Milan's men still had a chance to shine, quite literally at Gucci, where gleaming black and silver jackets were worn with white shirts and bowties, and at Roberto Cavalli, where a bright yellow cropped leather jacket had a sheen akin to fresh paint.
If Paris is acknowledged as the fashion capital for womenswear, Milan undoubtably remains its world equivalent for male show ponies.
Additional reporting Associated Press