2023 was supposed to be a year of promise, with analysts back in 2020 forecasting the post-pandemic recovery would be a thing of the past. Yet the start of this year feels anything but promising. While some parts of the world are battling a resurgent coronavirus, like China, in other regions, like the Ukraine, war rages onward, with no sign of peace after a year bombing. Globally we are walking a tightrope, with no easing of supply chain woes, a compounding cost of living crisis and no significant advancement on climate change.
So what about fashion?
The fashion industry is fighting for its place too, with consumers tightening their belts in critical economic times. As Miuccia Prada said of her FW23 men’s collection: “In serious moments, one has to work seriously and responsibly. There can be no room for useless creativity. Creativity makes sense and is only useful when it discovers new things.”
With a collection aptly titled ‘Let’s Talk about Clothes’, Prada never shies from the realities, this season reducing the collection to its purest forms, without forsaking any Prada-isms. Prada-isms are the elements that bring gloss and design to its pared-back aesthetic, and Raf Simons as co-captain has elevated Prada's menswear to new audiences. Sharp tailoring, with an emphasis on the jacket which was squarely cut and slightly longer in length, hugged shoulders and was worn with a slim-legged trouser, which was almost a uniform. Peaking underneath jackets and tops were exaggerated, pointed collars, in Prada’s colourcard of yellow, beige, blue and green. Indeed this was a silhouette focused upwards of the waist, with bomberjackets either grossly oversized or neat on the hip.
Outerwear and accessories were two of the brand’s strongest categories, which, with a fast growing e-commerce channel – online sales were up 29.1 percent in H1 last year – should bring plenty of newness for its digital shoppers.
An octagenerian, Mr Armani shows no sign of slowing down in his 8th decade. Having established his take on deconstructing suiting in the 1970s by reworking the traditional men’s jacket into a softer silhouette, his signature has never been more relevant than today.
For FW23 the show opened with a series of looks in a Prince of Wales check that were equally refined and relaxed. At Armani, the luxury of good fabrics move with the body, rather than the other way around. Where there was leather or cashmere, lines were always supple.
This season Armani wove his EA7 sub-brand into its FW23 show. Mr Armani, while a designer pur sang, is also an astute businessman. Having surpassed the 2 billion euro revenue mark last year and after consolidating some of its lines, EA7 is the group’s sportier sibling that resonates with a younger consumer and has earned its spot on the catwalk too. It’s also where the money is.
If FW23 is the season of simplicity, JW Anderson stripped the looks to its bare bones, opening the show with just underwear, boots, rolls of fabric and bare bodies. Next came looks with models holding pillows, as if they were waiting to be dressed. Mr Anderson is one of the few designers who steers clear of archetypical masculine and feminine tropes and has continually challenged the notion of gender-specific garments since his London Fashion Week debut. In Milan the show’s non-binary casting wore clothes without gender restrictions or specifications.
For the fashionistas who loved Balenciaga’s Crocs, Mr Anderson introduced frog-style slides and boots in collaboration with childrenswear brand Wellipets.
Not every brand needs to show on the catwalk to make an impact during Milano Moda Uomo. Italian suiting brand Corneliani, owned by Investcorp since 2016, debuted its second collection by British designer Paul Surridge.
The result is a selection of garments conceived as 'archetypes' of the male wardrobe, drawing from the brand's heritage, Mr Surridge told Italy’s Pambianco News. “This is the continuation of the 'Circle' capsule created for the summer season. I played with the archetypes again and put a northern soul in it, which is part of my background. We find the typical volumes of men's tailored clothing but in a fresher, more informal key".
Mr Surridge is tasked with revisiting Corneliani’s classic menswear archetypes focused on tailoring and sartorial separates, but through “modernized silhouettes, comfortable textures with an understated color palette.”
The first collection by creative director Marco De Vincenzo was aimed at a confident customer, one who is not shy of paring a tangerine embroidered sweater with a checked trouser and studded clog. Etro is house built on fabric, and here the brand excels with its exquisitely bold prints, intarsias and embroidered silks and wools.
The Como-based company transported its warehouse to Milan, where the show took place amongst its fabrics and scraps thereof.
A bold start under a new creative director, Etro has been under the watchful eye of LVMH for several seasons, according to Italian news outlet Il Sole 24 Ore. A family-run business, Etro has a global retail network of mostly mono-brand stores, where it also offers home furnishings and accessories.
FW23 is an interim season for Gucci, with the brand cleaning the slate for its next creative director. After the previous design stewardship of Alessandro Michele, Gucci needed to cleanse the palette, without doing a revolutionary turnaround to not alienate any of its customer bases.
As such, this was a highly anticipated collection, but at the same time not one to shift the fashion dial. In high fashion, especially in the camps of Kering and LVMH, reinvention means revenue. While conversations about the high turnaround of designers remains relevant, it is the brand owners who are less content with the ebb and flow of fashion’s natural tides, instead favouring high tide, all of the time.
Gucci CEO Marco Bizzarri appointed Alessandro Michele, then an unknown designer back in 2015, to achieve great, soaring success. Kering owner Francois Pinault is banking on it that he will do it again.