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Fashion designers show their rugged and campy sides

Designers were all over the map at the men's runway shows in Milan, where they began showing their 2010 fall/winter collections. Here are our first impressions of some hits and misses.

January 24, 2010|By Adam Tschorn
  • Preppy and Prada
Preppy and Prada (Peter Stigter / For The Times )

Alexander McQueen piled up his lovely bones with a collection based on the lives of seafaring folk who dwell in the harsh conditions near the North and South poles.

The result was trompe l'oeil ice-print shirts, melting-ice jacquards on wool-silk suits and water-droplet jacquards on leather. Mohair suits, leather parkas, bags and gloves were printed to look as if they'd been made from fur.

McQueen's signature love of skulls was in evidence, manifesting itself in a repeating print that evoked the neatly stacked piles of bones found in underground catacombs, and there was a recurring motif of twisted interconnectedness through Celtic knot patterns and chain-mail prints on felt, cashmere and leather coats.

Despite the designer citing the rugged knitwear of hardy fishermen as inspiration for the collection, only one chunky cable-knit sweater graced the runway: a voluminous gray knitwear piece with a detachable fur-trimmed explorer hood. But with an immense knit skull and crossbones across the torso, it was enough -- especially when one takes into account the legendary origins of these cable-knit designs. As the story goes, back in the day each fisherman's sweater had a unique design so that when bodies that had been swept out to sea washed ashore, they could be ID'd by the sweater remnants and returned to their families for proper burial.

Salvatore Ferragamo and Vivienne Westwood hit their gaucho marks -- each offering looks that riffed on the style of the pampas-dwelling cowboy of the Argentine plains: ponchos and wide-brimmed, high-crowned hats. The most interesting part was how the vastly different labels got to the same place.

The Ferragamo show started to the sound of clip-clopping horse shoes and explicitly referenced the "adventure-loving gaucho" roaming the grassy plains of the South American pampas in poncho-sized cardigan sweaters, shearling jackets and toggle-button blanket coats, accessorized with sturdy leather riding boots, high-crown hats and scarves -- some voluminous knits, others in lightweight silk with fringed edges. Jackets in paisley-printed velvet and tartan, as well as wide-striped trousers lent some looks a dandy flair, almost as if the gauchos had been on a Carnaby Street holiday.

The Westwood show began with a homeless man crawling out of a cardboard box at the top of the runway, with a blue silk sleeping bag around his shoulders and baggy pants tucked into thick woolen mid-calf socks. Other ponchos were cobbled together from cast-off windowpane check hoodies and what looked for all the world like repurposed animal skin rugs. Models sported high-crown hats so crumpled and worn they could have been sourced from the dumpster behind the "Bonanza" set.

Drawing on a famous U.K. cold snap from the winter of 1978-79 (part of Westwood's global warming call to arms, a theme that ran through the collection), Westwood wasn't inspired by the romantic vision of the high-plains cowboy but rather what she called "the roving vagrant whose daily get-up is a battle gear for the harsh weather conditions."

Given the sheer amount of shearling that's been sent down the runway this season, it's likely we'll see more of the rugged, high-plains drifter on catwalks to come, but the wildly divergent takes on the same iconic male silhouette illustrate just how much open space there is on the grasslands of style.

The quality of a fashion event's laser light show seems to be inversely proportional to the quality of the collection -- and Versace put on one hell of a light show.

Explicitly drawing inspiration from "Tron" (yes, the 1982 Walt Disney film) and William Gibson's 1984 novel "Neuromancer," the Versace collection seemed to be just as heavily influenced by "Terminator" and the dispersive prism album cover art of Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of the Moon." Clearly there had been no small amount of technical fiddling to get the fashions of the future off the ground; one jacket looked as if it had been shaped out of crumpled aluminum foil, which might have made it a wacky, cool concept piece if that's what the designers used. Instead it required (as the show notes explained) "fur dipped in a proprietary dye to resemble silver foil."

According to the notes, luminescent fiberglass played a supporting role -- something about adding brilliance to the chalk stripes.

There were folded, darted leather jackets, leather bags and jackets that looked as if they had been studded with ball bearings, and wool felt trousers and jacket lapels coated to a mirror-like finish with polyurethane (which basically made it look like . . . you guessed it, patent leather).

We learned what things look like at the corner of Prada and preppy (darn good it turns out). Miuccia Prada managed to mine the American preppy canon alongside bold street-wear patterns that included colorful puzzle-piece camouflage and dizzying geometrics on what appeared to be ballistic-nylon outerwear and bags.

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