Milan menswear: the Etro, MSGM, Gucci and Fendi shows

Fashion does and ever did thrive on cults of personality. That's how it happens that legions of men around the world walk around with another man's name stitched into the bands of their underwear.

Fashion's current hero is Alessandro Michele, the multiple-beringed creative director of Gucci, who is winning hearts and minds not only among customers, but also among his fellow designers. His magpie tendencies and thrift-store eclecticism are apparently catching on, and if he has a takeaway from five days of Milan shows, it should be to be flattered, sincerely.

Free spirit

One of Michele's tenets is individualism; the personality he offers his cultists isn't only his own, but a kaleidoscope of wacky plenty. It's a "Free to Be You and Me" spirit that informs everything from the way he puts together outfits (free to be, that is, as long as you're in Gucci) to the way he puts together a runway show.

In broad strokes, his cast is still long, wan and teenaged, but it is not the clone army of fashion weeks past. It is filled with singular characters in a production Michele is staging, and even those designers who have not borrowed a bit of Gucci's aesthetic or a pair of its vintage-style nerd glasses have taken the message to heart.

Kean eye

At Etro, Kean Etro had. He gave his runway over to a mixed crew of friends and family of the house: Milanese editors and businessmen, two of his sons, his brother-in-law, his sister's old school friend. Some were older, some were balder, than the usual stony crew. But the Italian section hooted and clapped, even Mario Boselli, the aged former president of the Camera della Moda, the Milan shows' organising body, as these local celebrities sauntered by. (A few models were thrown in for good measure.)

Not only was the cast inarguable individual – a "circle of poets," Etro said backstage – but he'd taken the idea one step further. He'd allowed each one, he said, to select the outfits he wanted to wear. If you believe that line, every man picked his own ikat trousers or his own belted denim safari jacket from Etro's blue-washed, cross-culturally funky collection, and if he didn't care to wear his shoes, the way Beniamino Saibene, an "urban farmer," did not, he could decline to and take to the runway barefoot.

"There's a lot of wabi sabi, the idea of imperfection, which has always been at home with me," Etro said. "Nowadays, things have changed, and we can go back to imperfections."

Embracing contradictions

To be at home with imperfection is to be ready to embrace contradictions. Since Milan Fashion Week is full of them, that offers a critic hoping to make sense of it all a measure of relief.

How else is one to carom from Etro's show to Massimo Giorgetti's for MSGM, the little-label-that-could that rocketed from Milan to 500-plus stores selling his collections (and six shops of his own) in just a handful of years? The shows happened to be staged next door to each other on Via Piranesi, but Etro was advocating Japanese-inflected Italian tailoring to a Bulgarian folk score, and Giorgetti was preaching acid-bright sportswear, droopy oversize shirts and skinny jeans to a rave.


"This collection, it's about me, my adolescence, where I come from," Giorgetti said backstage afterward.

It felt stuck in adolescence, to be honest, but his playful vision seems to be connecting all the same.

Calvin decline

That may well be because it is personal to Giorgetti, even if it is territory well trod by designers before him. The individual touch does still make a difference. It's what was lacking from the small sampling that Calvin Klein Collection brought out at its offices on Viale Umbria as it treads water between the dismissal of its previous designer (the long-serving Italo Zucchelli, who exited in April) and the appointment of its next.

There was nothing wrong, per se, with the denim jackets redone in satin, the simple suiting, a couple of striped knits. But they weren't the thing to quicken the pulse, either. They felt perfunctory and required, barely worth the trip.

It's one of the odder situations in fashion at the moment: The assumption that Raf Simons will be named Calvin Klein's next designer in the near future is now so widespread and oft-repeated as to be accepted as a settled truth.

Three cheers

But with an impersonal collection, the company (and Simons) offered only this least personal of tidbits: no comment.

There was more energy to be found, and sun before sunset, at Fendi, which ended the day. Silvia Venturini Fendi has been an individualist for far longer than it has been popular, following her own offbeat course wherever it may lead her and her menswear. For spring, she was in a cheery mood, sending out wet-haired models around a long, blue approximation of a swimming pool (the rare designer for whom a spring collection still means a spring wardrobe).

They wore terry-cloth robes and shorts, stamped down the backs of their loafers and laced-up sneakers lightened by cutouts. Their Fendi bags came deck-striped, or appliqued with smiling, collaged faces a la Pablo Picasso, one of the collection's presiding spirits.

Venturini's buoyant cheekiness does sometimes lead her into the realms of the frankly absurd, as when a boy in a bright-green fur flopped with his fellow bathers down the runway. But he was just one individual, as is she.

Free to be – glory be.

Scroll through the gallery at the top to see a taste to the top menswear parades.