Silver-threaded sweaters and funnel-neck, double-face cashmere toggle coats at Jil Sander. Ski vests lined in wildly patterned wool at Missoni. Three astronauts walking the runway to the theme of 2001: A Space Odyssey at Dolce & Gabbana. Carciofi, carbonara, and vitello tonnato at Torre di Pisa (with French Vogue's Carine Roitfeld in one room and Franca Sozzani of Italian Vogue in another). Off to Burberry to see a perfect pale-gold evening trench and curious fur mittens; Versace for a series of clerical-collared black overcoats; Brioni for classic tailoring and multiple James Bond references. Then to Da Giacomo for grilled prawns, stuffed artichokes, and Champagne—no, Prosecco!—in the Hotel Principe di Savoia lobby. And that, was day one. Welcome to men's fashion week, Milan-style.
It makes all too much sense that Milan—home of La Scala, the most revered opera house in Europe—would spawn something so fueled by wardrobe, music, diva-tastic egocentric behavior, and raw drama as men's fashion week. Twice each year the people who conceive, design, buy, and sell the clothes that men will wear in the coming season convene here for this oversexed opera. Milan, so staid and conservative throughout the rest of the year, a place of business, of gray walls and dreary streets, is transformed. If you are in Paris or New York during fashion week, you would probably never know it was happening. There, the shows just disappear into the sweep of things. Not in Milan. Here, the modest-size metropolis is overrun and the energy of the week is everywhere, from the hotel bars to Via Montenapoleone to restaurants large and small. It's a city where every person you see seems to have thought about his appearance, trying to project a bella figura. That man may be riding a bike, but his suit is custom Caraceni.
All week fleets of Mercedes-Benz limos whiz through the streets with the urgency of United Nations delegations, ferrying fashionistas from venue to venue and Clive Owens to Armani. One after one they emerge dressed to kill, clutching invitations. There's the click-clack-click of il paparazzi and then it's kiss-kiss, Ciao! Ciao! as they push their way past security, creating a gigantic designer-swathed scrum, and take their places (excuse me, I'm in the front row). The real stars of it all may be Fabio and Fausto Covizzi, identical twin security guards who make jaded editors wonder how one person can be in two places at the same time.
Sober, stark, and somber, inspired by the church and the military. Yes, we are talking about the Versace show. Ten years after her brother Gianni's death, Donatella Versace is talking about a cleaner, more modern vision for the company. It was there in the clothes—black peacoats, simple three-piece suits, double-breasted slim-cut black coats, dark trenches—but it can also be seen in the revamped interiors of the boutiques, where the mosaic Medusas have been replaced with sleek white leather lounges. This fall the new Plaza Hotel condominium will include two Versace-decorated apartments with a soft, neutral palette and sharp lines, and the house will soon open the Palazzo Versace hotel in Dubai, with its own climate-controlled beach. Even the scents are more subtle; the recently introduced women's fragrance, Versace, has top notes of dewdrops, wisteria, and lilac. "Every fashion house with a history needs to rethink itself," Donatella says. "It takes a lot of courage, but if you don't do it, you die." And how did she feel after a fall men's show that clearly presented the next era? "After every show I am incredibly lonely. But only for about five minutes. Then I am fine."
Bests of Show
At Gucci the theme was après-ski, with wool check suits layered over chunky merino knit sweaters in rich jewel tones like emerald and ruby. Missoni also sent out a brigade of mountain men. Here they were sportier, mixing iconic patterns in zigzag prints with nylon vests in bright techno colors. Prada's charcoal and black suits incorporated a material- and color- degradation method that allowed the fabric to alternate between wool and mohair and from dark to light. The metallic astronaut suits that opened the Dolce & Gabbana show may have been strictly for entertainment (we hope), but the copper silk suits were surprisingly wearable. At Burberry Prorsum the sharply tailored military-inspired trenches and overcoats were offered in wool and lined in mink. Giorgio Armani focused on velvet in shades of chocolate and midnight blue. In typical Armani style, clothes were deconstructed to reflect the kind of trademark Italian ease the designer has built an empire on.
Details, Details, Details
How extraordinary can a ready-to-wear suit really be? That was designer Tomas Maier's self-imposed challenge for fall. The Bottega Veneta show, held in the fashion house's intimate Viale Piceno headquarters, began with a charcoal three-piece suit with roll shoulders, deep vents, and trim waistcoat and ended with the week's most exquisitely fitted tuxedo. In other words, mission accomplished. "Italy has an amazing tradition of men's tailoring," says the German-born Maier, who joined Bottega in 2001. "It's quite different from British tailoring, more focused on the body, with an incredible level of craftsmanship." And while the suits Maier showed did follow the Neapolitan school (rolled shoulders, creased sleeves, and fitted silhouette), their accompanying accessories made them pure Bottega: Madagascar crocodile totes, Caiman crocodile suspenders, a hand-painted python bomber jacket, pale gray suede driving gloves, silk pocket squares, woven gold cuff links, a camel-hued shearling overcoat. Then there was the ubiquitous deconstructed tuxedo, except via Bottega Veneta—black cashmere cardigan, straight-leg and fitted black evening pants, unknotted silk bow tie. It made us swear we'd never put on a tuxedo jacket again. That is, until model Noah Mills appeared in the double-breasted Nero Smoking suit. All this formality came down the runway to Iggy Pop and Debbie Harry's raucous "What a Swell Party This Is." And it certainly was.
Eat, Drink, Shop, and Get Sleepy
La Dolce Vita
In Italy food is never far from the drama. During fashion week Milan's legendary restaurants—and a few of the secret, in-the-know joints—turn into dinner theater, where long, wine-fueled suppers burn into the night and every table seems to be a mad mix of characters. (Don't look now, but Donatella just walked in. Was that Carlos de Souza at the next table extolling the merits of Ashtanga yoga?) The circuit always includes at least one stop at the Big Three. Da Giacomo (6 Via P. Sottocorno) is known for its mountain-high plates of scampi and gamberi that are as big as your hand, paper-thin pizza, insanely great salt-crusted sea bass—all watched over by the charming Signor Giacomo Bulleri. The more traditional Da Ilia (1 Via Lecco) is always buzzing, especially in the summer, when its courtyard is open and the rosé is flowing. Alla Cucina delle Langhe (6 Corso Como) serves outstanding veal milanese and is particularly crowded during lunchtime, due in no small part to its proximity to Carla Sozzani's 10 Corso Como boutique.
This being Milan, designers have also gotten into the game. At his block-long retail compound, Giorgio Armani has Nobu. And recently Dolce & Gabbana opened Gold (2 Via Carlo Poerio), a gilded over-the-top extravaganza. For late-nighters craving a bowl of rigatoni strascicati or a fantastic roast chicken, there's Santa Lucia (3 Via S. Pietro all'Orto), a great little place where the walls are covered with head shots of Italian actors and opera singers from the fifties and sixties. For the best meatballs in the city, it's Dongiò (3 Via Bernardino Corio). Torre di Pisa (21 Via Fiori Chiari), a Tuscan-style trattoria secreted away on a quiet side road in the Brera neighborhood, serves a delicious sliced bistecca alla fiorentina and roasted potatoes. At Controvapore (3 Via Goldoni), owners Cristina and Alessandro Mantovani treat the place like home. Predinner snacks and cocktails are taken at the Four Seasons lobby—we suspect it has something to do with the legendary fried stuffed olives—or at Radetzky Café (105 Corso Garibaldi), where the bartender says that they tell him he looks "like Italian George Clooney." On Sunday, when many dining rooms are closed, the entire scene seems to decamp to the Bulgari Hotel's bountiful mozzarella brunch. On any given day there are cappuccinos from Sant Ambroeus, a panzerotto from Luini's, and biscotti from Pasticceria Cova. And, if you're lucky, you'll spot two fashion editors snacking on prosciutto and Parmesan in the backseat of a Mercedes after a between-show raid at Peck, a three-story gourmet emporium on 9 Via Spadari that is to food what 10 Corso Como is to fashion.
Which gets us to the city's other consuming passion. Shopping in Milan veers from the devoutly traditional to the cutting edge. For every deliberately built upside-down Viktor & Rolf boutique, there is an umbrella store, say Maglia Francesco (194 Via Ripamonti), where for the past, oh, 200 years members of the Maglia family have crafted handmade umbrellas. Spazio Rossana Orlandi (14 Via Mantello Bandello) and Nilufar (32 Via della Spiga) are temples to design, while over at Max Bernardini's shop on 2 Via Caradosso, vintage luxury is for sale, such as a fifties Patek Philippe watch once owned by Saddam Hussein's half-brother as well as a Moynat and Christofle picnic set created for the backseat of a convertible Bugatti. G. Lorenzi (9 Via Montenapoleone) is a paradise of men's grooming, featuring horn-handled straight razors and mother-of-pearl-tipped scissors. The Caracenis (22 Via San Marco), who made all of Gianni Agnelli's suits, are still open for business, and AD56 on Via Fatebenefratelli does bespoke ties handcrafted from fabrics that range in patterns and colors from an übertraditional Prince of Wales check to one in Day-Glo fuchsia. For the past two years we've been carrying around designer Alessandro Dell'Acqua's directions to Cinema Anteo, where he swears there's an antique-movie-poster shop "di fronte a Teatro Smeraldo." We finally found where it was, but alas, we still have not figured out when it's ever open.