This Way to the Pandemic Exit

MILAN – Sometimes it’s the random adjacency that makes you savor life. It can’t be called exactly a coincidence, or even completely unexpected, that one moment during Fashion Week you find yourself sitting at Zegna headquarters watching a menswear show from a venerable fashion house that went public, and abruptly. you ditched your trademark dress for a modular wardrobe monk and the next (well, two hours later) were bombarded with a flood of images in a Dsquared show that epitomizes the school of kitchen fashion.

In just over a mile, as the crow flies, you have crossed an aesthetic universe.

So joyfully and absurdly maximalist was the return of Dean and Dan Caten, the twin designers of Dsquared, to the live shows after two years of deprivation of the pandemic that the direction of fashion was “This way towards the exit from the pandemic “.

Before the show, the designers took to the stage in a hooded sweatshirt and addressed a small, vaccinated and compulsorily masked, crowd.

“We welcome each of you here today, because today is a big deal for us,” they said. “For us, this is a big step forward: we’re alive, we’re excited and it’s good to be back.” The feeling was contagious, and it was mutual.

The Catens make such a pile-on specialty that it’s as if their front barks are connected to Pinterest. The hippie hiker was a vague theme of a show that ran on, for example, tartan punk, Inca wool flap hats, quilted nylon leggings, long knickers, figured sweaters, sequined shorts, dangling scribbles, and wool ponchos. It was all in one dress.

Before Rihanna became a cultural monument and a tycoon, it was the Caten twins who imported her to Milan to sing “Umbrella” in one of their shows. It is typical of them to want to bring the party; are they ready to do it again, and aren’t we all?

At the Zegna show, the mood was less lively during a week when the label’s share price fell below the December initial public offering price on the New York Stock Exchange. “Either now you’re in luxury leisure clothes or accessories now, or that’s it,” Ermenegildo Zegna, the company’s CEO, told me before the show.

Unlike labels with business models essentially based on the sale of fanny packs and key rings, Zegna offers real high quality clothing. The dilemma of the label’s artistic director, Alessandro Sartori, is to find a new format for the dress. The traditional ones that businessmen like Zegna himself once wore by reflex (“I have 50 hanging in the closet,” he said) now tend to look like the costumes for the figures in wax dioramas.

Hence the modular system that Sartori has conceived of multipurpose pieces: oversized trousers, some variations of a chore coat, anorak pullover with a funnel neck, parka and trapeze-shaped pea coat. The palette was as somber as the silhouette: olive green, slate gray, off-white and a muted aubergine. The style, by Julie Ragolia, has been reduced to the monasticism of the Jil Sander era. The same hybrid presentation combined a moody video shot in a Zegna-owned ecological reserve in the Italian mountains and in the studio, followed by a small live presentation.

Much of the eco-preservation footage – models throwing logs on fire, circling questioningly, trudging through the snow – were shot using drones that have become an omnipresent cinematic gimmick. The live segment involved models climbing the robotic ranks as Mr. Sartori approached the microphone to explain how the clothes were designed using the latest in fabric technology and in a spirit of transparency and sustainability that leads the way. for a future beyond greenwashing. It was credible. He was responsible. It was admirable and, in general, beautiful. Looking at it, it felt like being stuck in a graduate seminar.

It takes some fun, folks. Two years of being deafened by the drumbeat of sad news has left us all wishing that some of the fantasy fashion exists in part to stimulate. There is no likelihood that this observer will suddenly transform into a carefree Italian playboy with rolled cuffs and low-cut corduroy, the hue of what Brunello Cucinelli, on his introduction, called “washed sugar paper”. (What is it, exactly? If you have to ask, you probably can’t afford it.) Still, it’s a vicar thrill to step into Mr. Cucinelli’s billionaire dream landscape.

Like those of his idol, Ralph Lauren, Mr. Cucinelli’s origins are humble. (Mr. Lauren’s father was a house painter in the Bronx; Mr. Cucinelli’s father, still alive at 99, was an Umbrian farmer.) Each exploited their class aspirations in companies worth billions. Each in his capitalist heart is a prophet of hope. Maybe in an outlet like Woodbury Common someone like me might one day get lucky with a devalued blazer from Mr. Cucinelli’s chic and carefree collection – modular in its own way and completely removed from anything resembling the current grim reality – slip a handkerchief of linen in your pocket and feel ready to wander on an imaginary yacht moored outside the Piazzetta of Capri.

Sure, it’s a comic book dream. But these are the times of cartoons.

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