Retailers Praise Milan Men’s Fashion Collections for Fall 2021

Gregory P. Daily

MILAN — Retailers are adapting to seeing the collections on screens, and fashion brands are upping the ante on their digital presentations — although IRL events are still sorely missed.

All the shows at Milan Men’s Fashion Week, which closed Tuesday, were streamed, given the more stringent restrictions to curb the pandemic in Italy — but retailers gave a thumbs up to the efforts put forward by designers. Videos by Ermenegildo Zegna, Fendi and Prada were cited as particularly inspiring and their collections ranked among the retailers’ favorites.

“Designers are pushing the boundaries and creating new experiences that allow everyone from industry insiders to our customers to see the collections at the same time,” said Joseph Tang, fashion director at Holt Renfrew.

Loose and fluid silhouettes and cocooning softness ruled, as comfort continues to be key. Outerwear was hailed as especially strong. Trends included belted blazers and dressed-down coats; utility jackets; oversize knitwear and shirt jackets, as well as sturdy boots.

“There was much optimism and hope for better days ahead at the Milan Men’s Collections,” said Saks Fifth Avenue fashion director Roopal Patel. “On so many levels it was a moment of transition in the world that acted as the inspiration behind many of the collections. Brunello Cucinelli talked about a ‘rebirth’ for his fall collection and Alessandro Sartori’s collection for Zegna was called ‘The (Re)set.’ It was a new feeling and spirit as the designers moved us forward with an elevated, less casual approach in the fall collections. There is a sense of ease as we navigate toward the future.”

Here, a roundup of Milan highlights from retailers:

Bruce Pask, men’s fashion director, Bergdorf Goodman and Neiman Marcus:

Favorite collections: The Prada collection, the first [men’s collection] from the collaboration between Raf Simons and Mrs. [Miuccia] Prada, was very compelling, with great color, texture, and proportion play. Oversized, slouchy tech nylon jackets and coats with great graphic knit linings were standout, and gloves with attached zip pockets are sure to be a statement accessory for fall. Knitwear, shaping up to be a very big statement this season, was a through line in the collection, with union suits worn throughout the show and great, colorful drop shoulder geometric sweaters. I am always charmed by Massimo Alba’s collections. They have a great spirit, a romantic eccentricIty that is immediately appealing. He presented his collection in a short film that followed a group of friends romping around the canal-side Navigli area of Milan near his studio, wearing his rich, textured lived-in looking clothing, thoughtful pieces that are sure to become favorites. I was also very impressed by Alessandro Sartori’s collection, created with great sentiment and thought behind it. With the aim of reinterpreting style for a relevance today, he built strong, often monochromatic, looks grounded in deconstructed tailoring that were soft and slouchy, and felt just right for this moment.

Best presentation concept: I have always found Prada to be incredibly innovative with its usage of the digital realm and this season’s collection presentation, though more straightforward than last season’s collaboration with multiple creatives and filmmakers, made great use of the medium, both practically and creatively. Spaces in varied colorful and textural surfaces created an abstract environment that blurred interior and exterior, while multiple camera angles provided a great variety of shots, from full length to close-ups, on important details vital to the collection. Filmed intermittent dance breaks gave a charm and levity to the presentation. A postshow filmed conversation about the collection with selected students and Mrs. Prada and Raf Simons was insightful, allowing a fascinating peek at their collaborative process. Alessandro Sartori at Ermenegildo Zegna is another great innovator of the digital fashion presentation, creating a transportive, sweeping film of his “show” that toggled between indoor and outdoor, epic cityscape and intimate interior, ultimately leading to a surprising reveal of a massive three story “house” that had been constructed minus its exterior wall so we were able to view models roaming from room to room in various vignettes. Also interesting that these two collections both focused on the fluidity between exterior and interior, emphasizing the versatility of the wardrobes on view. I also loved the bright color and graphics in the Fendi collection that featured some especially memorable outerwear.

Trendspotting: We are certainly seeing a continuing focus on clothing that is comfortable and relaxed, but with an added sophistication. There is a welcome slouch and ease that is informing many collections. Knitwear is a dominant category and also a preferred underpinning to most soft tailoring given its comfort and versatility. Sweaters in colorful marled yarns are especially strong. Items like the shirt jacket that have durability and an inherent versatility are key. We are also seeking a utilitarian influence in collections, with elements of the uniform appearing in outerwear and the cargo pocket having a bit of a resurgence. Designer sneakers, especially those inspired by classic basketball court play, continue to dominate.

General comment on the season: What we choose to wear has been dramatically altered by conditions imposed due to the pandemic, with an overwhelming focus on things comfortable and comforting. The desire to feel relaxed will persist and continue to inform our wardrobes even as we re-enter society post-vaccine, but I also believe that there is a pent-up desire to dress up, to honor an occasion, even if it’s just a dinner out. There will be a celebratory aspect, an appreciation of being able to be together again.

Roopal Patel, fashion director, Saks Fifth Avenue:

Favorite collections: Zegna, Prada, Fendi, Brunello Cucinelli, Balenciaga and A-Cold-Wall.

Top trends: Knit dressing extends from the traditional sweater into head-to-toe knit looks. Top knit trends include long johns, head-to-toe thermal knits, knit hookups, intarsia knits, as well as knit coats and vests. There was no shortage of great coats and statement outerwear on the runways this season such as quilted and robe coats, peacoats, intarsia knit bombers, and more. Robe coats and soft, belted jackets are an updated take on pajama dressing that offers a new option for both work and loungewear at home. We saw new and fresh takes on the jacket in different textures and shapes including classic tailoring, as well as wrap, cardigan and knit jackets. The new leisure, or sport-luxe dressing, includes updated hookups in monochromatic tones, minimal windbreakers, nylon bombers and more updates to the casual sport looks we have seen in seasons past.

Must have item: One of this season’s statement outerwear pieces.

Best presentation/virtual experience: Miuccia Prada and Raf Simons’ conversations with students were very engaging and authentic. They began this intimate conversation during the women’s spring 2021 collections and opened the conversation up to students around the world for fall. Creating this connection, forum, and community is so needed right now. It was inspiring to hear Mrs. Prada and Raf Simons connect with the next generation of designers in such a transparent way.

Trends to say goodbye to: Overstated logos. It’s all about a subtle logo, as seen at Prada.

Joseph Tang, fashion director, Holt Renfrew:

Favorite collections: Raf Simons’ first men’s wear collection with Mrs. Prada was a standout from the Milan shows. Anchored around graphic knit intarsias and jacquards, the collection offered a bold array of outerwear perfect for our Canadian climate.

Best presentation concept: Designers are pushing the boundaries and creating new experiences that allow everyone from industry insiders to our customers to see the collections at the same time. Whether it’s the traditional fashion show format or the produced fashion film, this way of presenting the collections allows collaboration and innovative ideas to shine through. Key standouts were Ermenegildo Zegna and Prada — both designers played with architecture and textured backdrops to complement the collections.

Trendspotting: The casualization of a man’s wardrobe was more prevalent during this Milan Fashion Week than ever. From Brunello Cucinelli to Ermenegildo Zegna, all brands offered solutions to at-home dressing: relaxed silhouettes, deconstructed soft shoulder jackets, and oversized knitwear. The colors this season are muted, featuring rich pastels and head-to-toe monochromatic palettes.

Must-have item(s): Prada’s Re-Nylon oversize bomber jacket paired with the gloves accessorized with a pocket. Any of the nylon bags from Fendi.

Buying process: We continue to buy remotely through virtual appointments, and after a season of working like this we have all been able to adapt to the new way of navigating through market. Seasonal swatch books and enhanced online showroom portals continue to get better and we are looking forward to seeing the product we bought virtually in real life in our stores.

General comment on the season: Overall COVID-19 has created a much needed disruption to the buying cycle and fashion week calendar. It will be interesting to see how we soon adapt to the new normal once the pandemic passes.

Karen Vernet, men’s fashion director and e-business development director, Printemps:

Favorite collections: Prada, Fendi, Etro and Ermenegildo Zegna.

Best presentation concept: Prada “Possible Feelings” experience 3D show was wonderful! It unveiled a colorful and very strong collection presented in a multi-room space designed with upcycled materials, worn by models dancing to the music of Richie Hawtin, who became Plastikman again for the occasion. Very Raf Simons we must say. All our senses were indeed awakened for Raf Simons and Miuccia Prada’s first joint men’s wear collection.

Trendspotting: Very strong outerwear, mostly oversize and textured, layering, slim-fit tops (roll-necks, polo and shirts), knitwear, large pants, fatigue pants, cozy and comfort styles, utility jackets, pop-colors, black, patterns and logo, and suits.

Must-have item: Prada gloves featuring attached purselets.

Buying process: We are and we’ll stay in Paris so this fashion week will go virtual this season again, and except for a few brands who will open their showrooms in Paris, we’ll buy online as well. We’re really missing fashion weeks’ energy and can’t wait to go back to showrooms. However, we feel it is important to point out that brands have done a very good job and have been innovative enough to allow us to buy the collections in the best possible conditions.

Lee Goldup, men’s wear buyer, Browns:

Favorite collections: My favorites from Milan were Prada, Fendi and Ermenegildo Zegna.

Best presentation concept: I thought the set design for the Prada show was incredible. I loved the colors and textures and the music that went with it all. The Fendi set was also really good, with the florescent lighting and infinity mirrors. Again, the soundtrack fitted perfectly.

Trendspotting: The new normal, with a lot more loungewear and home comforts coming through in the form of dressing-gown coats, long johns and loose-fitting knitwear.

Must-have item: Powder blue wool overcoat at Prada or the Noel Fielding logo overcoat from Fendi.

Buying process: The buying process for us is much the same as for spring 2021 with lots of video calls, look books and fabric swatches. We remain digital for now and hopeful that we will be returning to a mixture of physical and digital in the latter half of the year.

General comment on the season: I’m looking forward to seeing what 2021 brings us, staying positive and excited to see how our brand partners engage and experiment digitally alongside some new and interesting trends.

Franck Nauerz, men’s fashion director, Le Bon Marché:

Favorite collections: Zegna. A contemporary twist mixing tailoring savoir-faire with a work from home spirit. Beautiful warm color palette (sand, maroon, heather grey, bottle green). A cocooning feeling translated by the softness and richness of the materials. A heritage brand with a fresh take on what does it mean to be an elegant man in 2021.

Best presentation concept: Prada. The emphasis on the feeling of the material used in the clothing was beautifully translated into the presentation. A series of infinite paintings, perfectly combined with the runway look and the color palette. Fresh, simple and Instagram ready. Bombers with extra long sleeves were strong.

Trendspotting: Work from home is definitely the main trend in today’s collections. A new vision of what does it mean to be stylish and comfortable while staying at home and multitasking. We can underline a strong will to feel at ease at any moment. The silhouette keeps becoming looser and more fluid, while the material is richer and softer. We can also pinpoint the more low-key silhouette by the neutral color palette, in line with the slow fashion movement due the world situation.

Must-have item: The tailoring bathrobe inspiration with shawl collar and a belt. So chic and elegant in any material. Preferably in neutral colors.

General comment on the season: Men’s wear keeps evolving season after season in the infinite conversation among slow fashion, outdoor, work from home and an increasing need to go back to basics.

Budgets: In progress.

Buying process: Through virtual tools (unfortunately!).

Federica Montelli, head of fashion, Rinascente:

Favorite collections: Prada, Ermenegildo Zegna, Fendi, Etro, MSGM and Sunnei.

Best presentation concept: Ermenegildo Zegna’s “at-home” concept is completely aligned with the current period we are all living – the collection itself felt “familiar” and “intimate” and easy to wear in the current environment while still focusing on a timeless approach. Miuccia Prada and Raf Simons’ interview at the end of the Prada show, featuring fashion students from all around the world, has also been very interesting and showed their opening to conversations about the entire process of creation and their respective views. It’s this personal approach to fashion we are all craving, at a time where we all live through a screen. The connection towards this new digital way of living was also present in Fendi’s show, which featured a Skype call from Silvia Venturini Fendi.

Trendspotting: There’s a sense of comfort which is still very strong mixed with a need for timeless pieces and style. You can see strong research around fabrics and textures, highlighting their tactile features; it’s interesting to note the juxtaposition between natural and tech fabrics as well as casual and tailored wear.

Must-have item(s): Oversize bombers and coats from Prada; knitted vests from Etro, Fendi and MSGM; padded sets from Fendi. We have also seen a lot of belted blazers and coats, hybrid hiking shoes and chunky-sole booties all around. Knitted pieces like cardigans and roll-necks confirm a heritage trend, while hoodies, baseball hats and jogger-style pants underline the need for comfort and easy-to-wear pieces.

Buying process: Our buyers will of course not travel for this season and also local campaigns will be performed digitally. We have now gotten used to this new way of buying and brands and showrooms are more and more organized in their digital experience.

General comment on the season: During this pandemic period the overall challenge for designers and buyers is to strike a balance between providing consumers with a sense of familiarity and keeping them engaged with enough novelty.

Riccardo Tortato, head of buying departments and men’s fashion director, Tsum, Moscow and DLT, St. Petersburg:

Favorite collections: Brunello Cucinelli

Best presentation concept: Ermenegildo Zegna couture.

Trendspotting: Desire to dress up as soon as we move forward from COVID-19. Quality, style and no streetwear.

Must-have item: Prada gloves with pockets.

Budgets: Optimistic.

Buying process: From the beginning of COVID-19, I have been pushing to continue to buy in showrooms, when possible. Even this season, my incredible buying team is in Milan, committed to buying the best products in showrooms. We thank all the amazing Italian brands that even this season opened their doors to us and allowed us to do our work in the best way possible.

General comment on the season: I think we reached the limit and the system can’t hold one more season with all these limitations. I hope that the next fashion week will be “normal” and that all my colleagues will come back to Milan because the economy needs the support of all of us.

Sam Lobban, senior vice president, designer and new concepts, Nordstrom:

Favorite collections: I loved Alessandro Sartori’s Ermenegildo Zegna collection. It felt forward thinking but wearable, and like luxury reimagined for a new, modern customer. The fabrications, shapes, color palette, and styling felt super relevant when reimagining what guys will want to wear when the time comes to properly get dressed again, since we’ve all spent a long time not really needing to. It was exciting to see Miuccia Prada’s and Raf Simons’s first joint men’s wear collection, which was also very strong. The idea of iconic men’s wear codes that have been reinterpreted and pushed forward in color, fabric and shape within their collection, while built around the knit long john. The patterned knitwear was excellent on its own, especially when used as the lining in the Re-Nylon parka and oversize bombers. The peacoats and diagonal cord overcoats were great too. Finally, I thought Fendi’s tactile approach to a new soft and comfortable luxury by the use of beautiful fabrics was visually exciting, but also looked like it would be very nice to wear.

Best presentation concept:  I really liked the multiple video camera format of the Prada show with the numerous rooms all furnished differently, and the interspersed models dancing. It reminded me of a multi-room techno club, albeit a very fashion one, and it’s been a while since I’ve been to one of those!

Andrea Selvi, buying manager men’s, LuisaViaRoma:

Favorite collections: Ermenegildo Zegna because it was great to see a gender fluid silhouette for a 100 percent men’s wear brand and Fendi for its pop-colored puffers.

Best presentation concept: Federico Cina for his very artistic video.

Trendspotting: Leisurewear and sportswear are still the strongest trends.

Must-have item: Knitwear, in all different shapes, from jackets to turtlenecks.

Video format: It’s always an interesting exercise for an artistic director, but it has to be an innovative presentation and not just footage of a runway show.

Budgets: Thanks to a fantastic fall 2020 season, we increased the budget for next season.

Buying process: We will continue working through remote platforms, but this season we will try to have some physical appointments in the showrooms.

General comment on the season: Milan is missing some big brands so it is not easy to identify the biggest trend here: Let’s wait for Paris!

Sam Kershaw, buying director, Mr Porter:

Favorite collections: Raf Simons and Miuccia Prada’s men’s wear debut did not disappoint. Rooted in tactility with clashing patterns and oversize coats, it was a sensory collection that brought pure delight. I also really enjoyed the artisanal aesthetic in the first collection from Federico Curradi and Nick Fouquet, it was effortlessly authentic.

Best presentation concept: The claustrophobic faux fur walls and flashes of boys dancing in Prada’s presentation was a creative technique to highlight how we’ve all been feeling over the past year. It’s also great to hear that the brand plans to up-cycle this set into special product installations and pop-ups.

Trendspotting: Relaxed and comfortable tailoring, oversize, dressing-gown style outerwear, long johns and bold patterns and motifs.

Must-have item(s): Tod’s green wide leg trousers or Ermenegildo Zegna’s wraparound cashmere suit; both the perfect work-from-home ensemble.

Buying process: Our teams will be not be traveling this season so we will be conducting all our buys through remote appointments via the digital showrooms.

General comment on the season: This season felt as though designers encapsulated the mood of our times through incorporating a breezier way of dressing and paying homage to the impact of lockdown on fashion. Alongside this, many brands explored interpretations of what we will all be wearing post pandemic. I expect we will see more of these reconsiderations of “normality” for the future and a sense of optimism as the autumn/winter season unfolds.

Damien Paul, head of men’s wear, Matchesfashion:

Favorite collections: Milan has shown some interesting collections against the ongoing unusual global backdrop with everyone adjusting to watching everything through a screen. We have seen some strong looking ideas from the likes of Prada, Fendi and Zegna. The key narrative seems to revolve around responding to the pandemic, and the way in which clothes can make us feel.

Trendspotting: We have seen a sense of the tactile, such as Prada’s bodysuits and fantastic knitwear, the idea of comfort dressing with the likes of Fendi’s dressing-gown coats and there was a sense of cocooning softness in tailoring at Zegna. Clothes that can ease us back into real life perhaps? There was also, as we’d expect for an autumn/winter season, a strong display of confident coats in various shapes though there is a definite trend for styles generous in fabric and color or pattern. Brunello [Cucinelli] naturally delivered a strong wardrobe of classics that find that line between tradition and comfort, elegance and sport, which is something that we definitely look for from some of our Italian labels season on season.

Must-have item: In terms of Milan as a taste of what is to come for the season, I think that we are definitely going to see clothing that feels good against the body as an overarching trend, alongside a certain soft easiness. I just don’t see that people will want formal stiff fashion when the world starts to open up again. Though of course they’ll almost definitely want to dress up and I think we also need some quirks: two Milanese examples are surely Prada’s colorful leather purse-gloves and Fendi’s Noel Fielding collaboration.

Video format: This season, there is definitely so far a more directness about the video presentations with more of a focus on looks, clothes and styling than some of the films we saw last year, which were more mood pieces.

Budgets: It’s still quite early in this particular season but we are definitely seeing an increasingly visible mood split in men’s wear between clients who want to invest in super luxury staples that edge toward wardrobe classics and those who want to continue to explore the kinds of eccentricities that pop when you’re on a Zoom call or a Google hangout. Naturally, we’re excited to see how designers continue to find clever ways to cater for both.

Buying process: As a buying team we are certainly finding it can be challenging to make our selections via screens in lieu of being able to touch garments or see them move in person and while there are some virtues to video presentations, when it is safe to do so, the return to runways, presentations and appointments in showrooms will be in the main welcomed.

General comment on the season: As the fashion calendar evolves both in terms of responding to the pandemic but also with brands moving toward showing men’s and women’s together, the lack of certain brands from this Milan schedule is not such a surprise. In many ways, having the shows and presentations spread out a little seems to give designers a bit more of an opportunity to reach wider audiences and tell their stories in a less noisy environment; it will be interesting to see how this past year will affect the scheduling in the longer term.

Chris Kyvetos, buying director of men’s wear, Mytheresa:

Best presentation concept: Prada. The reuse concept is great to see.

Trendspotting: Teddy coats for men.

Must-have item: Prada Teddy coat.

Buying process: We are working in the same way as our clients do — everything is done so online instead of in-person buying.

General comment on the season: It’s early to say; however, it’s shaping up well for us as we continue to focus on what’s most luxury.

Justin Berkowitz, men’s fashion director, Bloomingdale’s

Favorite collections: At Prada, the first men’s wear collection in dialogue with Raf Simons was hotly anticipated. It served up a mix of jacquard knits and many takes on both long johns and oversize outerwear that managed to find an intersection of the sleek and the cozy. Alessandro Sartori at Ermenegildo Zegna offered a slightly cleaner and more subdued take on cozy, featuring some excellent belted jackets, overshirts, and soft volumes that I think our customer will be interested in as he looks for new work wardrobe options this fall. Massimo Alba and Federico Curradi proposed some excellent, wardrobe ideas that personally appealed; both played with artisanal dye techniques, but it was the knitwear in each collection that really soared. It’s a season of statement sweaters, and theirs were some of the ones I coveted most.

Best presentation concept: Prada and Ermenegildo Zegna used video in ingenious ways to show their collections at scales different to how we would normally experience them in person at a runway show. In the case of Prada’s, the tighter shots of furry walls and dynamic dance sequences lent more intimacy. At Zegna, the digitally rendered buildings and sweeping views felt more expansive and monumental. That said, the human connection of an audience taking in these experiences is important. While both video presentations were excellent, they simply couldn’t replicate that kind of excitement.

Trendspotting: While I hope we’re not quite so homebound come fall, many designers in Milan are thinking we will need a soft reentry into society. A big through line of the collections this season is lounge, whether that be through piping or pajama details, a robe — like coat or jacket, or knit long johns. Further on the knit front, the statement sweater is also having a major moment. Crewneck, V-neck, cardigan, or vest — if it has texture, color, and is a little wacky, it felt cool. Lastly, and perhaps as a nice counterpoint, workwear inspired pieces, overshirts and barn coats were often featured — adding a little structure to all that softness.

Must-have item: Prada’s pocketed gloves, the perfect size for hand sanitizer and your keys. It’s a perfect combination of style and utility Bloomingdale’s customers will love. In a world of mobile payments, who needs a wallet?

Buying process: We at Bloomingdale’s have continued buying virtually this season. While it may not be anyone’s first choice, most of our partners are using every ounce of technology available to them to show what they’re doing in the best way possible. We work in this industry because we have a passion for product and for building relationships with our vendors and partners, so we all are missing that part of the experience. And if we can’t touch a physical garment, for now, a swatch, a video chat, (and sometimes, a hologram) will just have to do!

See also: 

As Pandemic Continues, Retailers Need to Meet Shopper Expectations

What Are International Retailers Looking for on Pitti Connect?

Physical vs. Digital Presentations: Assessing Investments Through Milan’s Best Practices

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