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The versatile man

Strip away the flights of fantasy, and that light, laid-back aesthetic moves easily from cubicle to cafe.

July 05, 2009|Adam Tschorn

PARIS AND MILAN — The Spring/Summer 2010 men's runways in Milan and Paris had no shortage of fantasy. From the seafaring dangerous dandies of Vivienne Westwood to Galliano's Napoleon meets Lawrence of Arabia desert dwellers, they told the tale of escape and exploration through bold prints, bright pops of blue and kilometers of embroidery.

But there was also something noticeably different this season. The trappings of character and flights of fantasy were layered as lightly as the gauzy Arabian headdresses, and it wasn't difficult for even the casual observer to strip away the fantasy veneer from the runway looks and see solid, versatile and commercial pieces that would be key components of most modern men's luxury wardrobes (if that modern man doesn't mind showing a bit of leg, as close-cropped, ankle-baring trousers were nearly ubiquitous). Most notable were the linen pieces -- jackets and pants in gray pinstripes and Prince of Wales checks -- lightweight nylon jackets and ultra-thin suede and denim shirt jackets.

Don't think the season was devoid of spectacle. Few in the crowd of the packed John Galliano show, staged in a long-abandoned, graffiti-covered municipal pool on the edge of Paris, are likely to forget it -- especially given that it closed with Michael Jackson's "P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)" less than 24 hours after the pop singer had moonwalked off this mortal coil. But even Galliano, one of the best showmen in the business, seemed determined to deliver a collection that didn't require much mental energy to translate from catwalk to cafe.

That left buyers less than bowled over but still bullish on the practicality of what they saw on the runway. "As a fashion director, you want to go and be completely surprised and blown away," said Durand Guion, vice president and men's fashion director for Macy's Inc. "This year, there wasn't as much flash -- but there were a whole lot of wearable clothes; less craziness and silliness and more job-getting, career-making clothes. A real return to tailored wardrobe pieces."

Durand cited Giorgio Armani as one example. The designer showed one of the most classic and elegant collections in recent memory (indeed, he dubbed it "Classicismo del 2010"). Exquisite three-piece suits in his signature tailored silhouette reminded you why the phrase "Armani suit" is a byword for "power suit" (one favorite was in a Prince of Wales check, and King Edward VII, the man behind the pattern, would almost certainly have it in his closet were he alive today). There were also unlined shirt jackets in distressed leather, crumpled linen blazers with white contrast-tape lapels and lightweight treated denim that looked surprisingly upscale in casual suits (that such pieces didn't look laughably cheesy are evidence of Armani's mastery).

The collection was grounded in shades of gray (a utility player in the male wardrobe), but Armani used this season's blue accents to provide visual pop in pinstripes, geometric prints and leather bomber jackets, cementing next summer's Armani man as one cool operator.

Likewise, it didn't take too much mental capital to translate the pieces of John Varvatos' sophomore runway show in Milan into something that could kick it up a notch in a cubicle near you (though we'd opt out of the cuffed short pants). Also working from a gray palette (with the occasional subtle accent shade of pale yellow or red), he served up a relaxed version of traditional English suiting in glen plaids and checks in crinkled cotton, wool and linen textile blends.

"If there's one seasonal fabric, I'd go with the linen," said Macy's Guion. "There's a lot of these new blends and treatments, so it doesn't get as wrinkled as it might otherwise -- which is great for a beach weekend but not in the office. And the pinstripes and Prince of Wales checks we've seen means it can really be dressed up or dressed down. That versatility is really going to be key for next spring."

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'Wow' factor

But luxury isn't just about making sure you've got clothes to cover you up for every occasion (or we'd all be wearing Louis Vuitton burlap sacks). It's also about making an emotional connection -- the must-have "wow" factor that makes some things covet-worthy. And that's what Michael and Sara Dovan, owners of the Traffic boutique in the Beverly Center, are placing their focus on for Spring/Summer 2010.

"We're going to leave the basic stuff to H&M and the Gap," Michael Dovan said. "We're really looking for something special, something new and fresh. It needs to be really amazing."

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