The menswear collections in Milan revealed a playful mood among designers. But will the customers want to play?
Men in almost-suits at Milan Fashion Week
Andy Warhol would have loved it. When Dolce & Gabbana's D&G spin-off collection was shown in Milan last week, Campbell's soup might only have been found on the occasional spectator's tie, but the knitwear on the catwalk came emblazoned with cut-and-paste retro motifs of Coca-Cola and Mickey Mouse.
This - the infantile made chic for adults and bright, bright shades of magenta, orange and green - is what the duo, pushing an otherwise American collegiate style in terms of cut and garment, are suggesting men wear come the dark days of winter.
They are not alone. Moschino puffa jackets come in rescue orange, with even sober blazers trimmed at the collar and breast pocket with a slice of sunshine. Alexander McQueen - now designed by Sarah Burton - opts for dramatic overcoats in ochre, or asymmetric waistcoats boldly trimmed with red.
Bottega Veneta's usual dark, understated luxe is underscored with unexpected leaf-green trousers. Then there are whole suits in mustard yellow or cerise, or knitwear in electric blue - and these from Jil Sander, a brand known for its ascetic devotion to monochromatic minimalism.
It would all be just right under cloudless blue skies - which even the UAE, as we have seen in the past week, cannot guarantee every midwinter day. Whether it would be just right on every man is another question. With colour accented top-to-toe, designers continue in their attempts to rehabilitate the happier hues as a grown-up choice.
But they are hedging their bets. The strongest shade of the new collections? Every permutation of grey - at Gucci and Canali, Costume National, John Varvatos, Missoni and Armani - with beiges, browns and tans thrown in for relief, but nothing to frighten the camels.
This is not to say that Milan did not see standout trends other than block colour: fur trims on lapels and collars, from Roberto Cavalli and Burberry Prorsum, among others; lots of leather, including shearlings from John Richmond and Salvatore Ferragamo; checks, from the overstated to the micro; a certain outbacker-meets-wild west look, from the likes of DSquared and Etro; and plenty of hats, from bucket styles to berets and fedoras.
There are standout collections too. Vivienne Westwood maintains the menswear designer Andreas Kronthaler's recent consistency in wearable reinvention rather than rehashing, with outsized penny-collar shirts, 1930s US football sweaters, asymmetrically fastened tailoring of a high-buttoned Edwardian feel and paisley jacquards. These also feature for Etro, where mismatched layering of prints and rich fabrics, from cowhide to jumbo corduroy, makes for similarly appealing eccentricity. And John Varvatos's aesthetic for the coming season seems to be a studied version of how, given half a chance, many men might dress: all beaten, crumpled, time-worn, unlined, untucked and artfully unbothered.
The general tone of sporty classics and charcoal seems to give men barely any reason to restock their wardrobes. Yet, whether driven by recessionary necessity or not, the designer menswear industry is catching on to the idea that many customers, while shunning the silly, can have their wallets piqued by plays with proportion. It moves a recognisable style forward, but not too much.
So for autumn/winter expect the bluntly truncated jacket - moving on to the double-breasted with mainline Dolce & Gabbana's dinner style, as well as from John Richmond and Emporio Armani - and a longer style exaggerated through a strong, square shoulder line and nipped-in waist.
Nor is the trouser department free of play in proportion. Cropping to various degrees - from the radically shortened, requiring investment in some long socks, down to the now more common, Italianate ankle-skimming style of the 1960s - has, over recent seasons, become a staple trope of high-fashion menswear. And for winter it is here again, from the likes of Westwood, Versace and Iceberg, often updated by being much roomier around the hips than the pip-squeaking cut the look has favoured.
But what was that at Gucci? The trouser style that dare not speak its name? Yes, it takes a brave brand to revive the flare, however apt it may be in an all-out 1970s collection of suede-trimmed cardigans and mohair sweaters. In fact, it is only when a designer revisits a decade that has not been endlessly reimagined as some sartorial golden age that the radicalism of such a move shines through. Gucci's autumn/winter collection does, indeed, stand alongside the more challenging, futuristic styles of the new season - Versace's long-line leather tabards, worn over tailoring, for example, or the sparkly, bottle green Lurex V-neck over matching crew-neck, worn with cropped trousers at Prada.
So futuristic is this look that it has a touch of the Star Trek uniform about it, a feeling only underpinned by the decision to give each of the Prada models a Mr Spock-like pudding-bowl haircut.
The Trekkie look is certainly not one that would be easy to pull off at the local bar, yet, for all that, is not entirely ridiculous and is one of the most memorable of the new-season catwalks.
That is indicative of just what a fine line menswear must tread to move on. To stylistically go where no man has gone before might mean putting up with the occasional raised eyebrow, Vulcan-style.