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Watch That Runway

Make note of it -- 2008 could be the year men's fashion finally breaks out.

January 06, 2008|Adam Tschorn | Times Staff Writer

The world is turning. Menswear, often treated like a brand extension of the larger, more lucrative women's collections, has been emerging from the shadow of its big sister, and the fall/winter 2008 shows in Milan, Paris and New York have the potential to establish it as a growth engine of the fashion economy instead of an afterthought.

Which makes this year's round of fresh faces and sophomore efforts worth watching from the time the first model takes to the catwalk in Milan on Saturday through the final bow in New York City. This time around, designers are switching up schedules, venues and formats, showing the same level of effort and attention on the men's side as they've long lavished on the ladies'.


Last season's Gianni Versace collection was the first to bear the unmistakable influence of new menswear consultant Alexandre Plokhov (late of Cloak), who managed to inject a sense of excitement into the men's offerings, which included military-influenced straps, buckles and cargo pockets and a visually tricky lapel worthy of M.C. Escher. If Donatella Versace gives Plokhov free rein for fall -- where his utilitarian approach would dovetail nicely with heavier seasonal outerwear pieces -- it could generate some buzz.

The house already has a new, buzz-worthy face: Patrick Dempsey, featured in the new Mario Testino-shot ad campaign (Versace scrubs, anyone?). While Dr. McDreamy may seem a ho-hum if high-profile choice for the quirky Italian house (for fall '07 it was Marlon Brando's grandson Tuki), Dempsey's at the top of his game, and his selection underscores the importance of the men's side. The burning question here is whether he will turn up in a front-row seat for Saturday's runway show and make it to the Golden Globes' live telecast in Los Angeles the next day.

Ermenegildo Zegna, a high-end label with the quality and prices of Armani, Prada and Versace but not the same cachet, has long anchored Pitti Immagine Uomo, a menswear trade show that unspools in Florence a week before the Milan shows, and this year for the first time has decided to present its Ermenegildo Zegna and Zegna Sport lines in a new Milan showroom on Via Savona during fashion week. Judging from the positive response to its younger-skewing Z Zegna collection -- which debuted in New York last season -- a fashion week presence is a smart move that can only raise the profile of the brand.


Yohji Yamamoto is a designer who brings out the best in collaborative efforts -- from the ongoing Y-3 collection (with Adidas) to the jewelry he designed for Mikimoto in 2007. His latest clothing line, which will be unveiled in Paris, is described as super casual and will include an accessories collection for men and women called Coming Soon, part of new partnership with SINV Spa (which currently licenses Moschino Jeans, McQ Alexander McQueen and R.E.D. Valentino). Although the new line will not bear the name or label of Yamamoto, it will doubtless bear his aesthetic, which manages to make laid-back sportswear worthy of the runway.

Kris Van Assche's first outing at the helm of Dior Homme was a voluminous and pleated affair about as far away from predecessor and mentor Hedi Slimane's razor-thin aesthetic as possible. His sophomore effort is shaping up to be a full-fledged runway show -- and in the honored spot of closing the week (as Dior had in seasons past). The Belgian designer got mixed reviews for his spring/summer collection, which was full of roomy pleated pants inspired by '40s- and '50s-era zoot suits, but he is a rising star, and it will be interesting to watch his next step and see whether he can be as influential with his dramatic new silhouette as Slimane.

As Dior returns to the runway, Yves Saint Laurent has decided to skip it. Creative director Stefano Pilati has decided to forgo the Paris catwalk in favor of a more private format -- an invitation-only dinner that will allow press and buyers to get a more in-depth look at the collection. Pilati was ahead of the pack last season with his paint-splattered suits and shoes (the artsy theme was a through line in the women's spring collections too), so we'll see what hand he plays this time.

The biggest news in fashion anywhere this season is Valentino's retirement (he's bowing out after the women's couture collection later this month). He's already passed the torch on the menswear side, to Ferruccio Pozzoni, whose design resume includes stints at Brioni, Prada and Miu Miu. And with Valentino's spring tableaux of sharply tailored ankle-baring as the highlight of the Milan shows, Pozzoni has some seriously stylish shoes to fill. But his first collection will be presented by appointment only -- and at the label's Place Vendome showroom in Paris instead of in Milan. The venue change signifies "a more formal initiative by the House of Valentino in menswear," according to a company rep. Similarly, Belgian designer Dries Van Noten, who had decamped to Milan for a season, is back in the Paris fold.

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