The world of menswear has had a turbulent year. From Burberry announcing that it will, from September onwards, combine its mens's and women's shows and that the resulting collections will be immediately purchasable; to the game of 'creative director Tetris' happening across the Alps in Milan (tailoring stalwarts Ermenegildo Zegna, Salvatore Ferragamo, Canali and Brioni have all recently shaken up their creative teams), there's been a lot going on.
The air of change was palpable in steamy Milan, where in place of major runway shows many brands decided to show their collections in a presentation format, encouraging editors and buyers to get up close and personal with the clothes. Sure, the big boys still put on blockbuster runway extravaganzas - you won't see Versace or Gucci paring back their output anytime soon - but on the whole, the mood was one of re-calibration.
The clothes themselves reflected this sense of flux. At Prada, Miuccia's army of sylphlike boys and girls paraded clothes and accessories designed specifically with a perilous journey in mind (after the show Mrs Prada revealed that her concern for the plight of the Syrian refugees had been a trigger for the collection's core message). Synthetic leggings looked gym-ready, papery windcheaters were printed with Google Maps-inspired motifs and black nylon backpacks came laden with chunky hiking sandals; Prada-branded water bottles and torches; and in some cases an entire change of clothes.
At Gucci, creative director Alessandro Michele was also inspired by travel. A bright yellow sou'wester was finished with intentional stains and signs of wear to suggest the garment's journey from factory to runway. Elsewhere, Asiatic-style silk pyjamas traversed continents, combining as they did classical Far Eastern embroidery with a chipper Donald Duck motif. Extraordinary in its breadth of influence and output, some of the best pieces in the collection were among the simplest. A bright red reversible trench coat came lined with layers of printed silk, loose midnight track pants were finished with slick white blood stripes and a teal car coat with a smart drop shoulder went straight to the top of this editor's wish list. And who wouldn't carry one of Michele's seventies-inspired Gucci branded holdalls? Show me that man and I'll show you a liar.
At Ferragamo, travel-inspired pieces came in the form of slim-cut pewter and ivory safari suits, over-sized leather backpacks and slouchy bumbags laden with patch and bellows pockets. Where the models at Ferragamo looked a bit like super stylish boy scouts, at Moncler Gamme Bleu creative director Thom Browne took the Baden Powell reference to another level. Some forty models entered the brand's cavernous show space (dressed to resemble a campsite) sheathed in taupe sleeping bags, before being undressed by a pair of models in beaver outfits (obvs) to reveal the look beneath. Sleeveless jackets, field coats and caban jackets in macadamia-hued silk, chocolate astrakhan and mochi gabardine came teamed with many-pocketed hunting vests, cargo pants and utility shorts in corresponding shades and fabrics.
Where many brands focused on utility, at Versace, Donatella went for a sportier look. Though, on the surface, a little less sexed up than usual, the clothes may have lacked much of the hardwear seen in previous seasons but the bodies beneath them were as hard as ever. Knitted leggings came teamed with beautifully fine knits in modest shades, fly-away silk parkas (are you sensing a trend?) were teamed with classic suits, while sneakers were worn throughout.
The slouchy mood continued at Etro, where Kean Etro showed one of his best collections to date. Worn by real people from the world of fashion (including founder of Solar magazine Igor Ramirez Garcia Peralta and the head of the cultural cabinet of Florence, Tommaso Sacchi), Etro allowed his models to dress themselves. The resulting looks directly reflected the current menswear mood. Floaty trousers finished with ikat prints were worn with sandals, smartly cut suits were worn with soft-handle knits, and open neck shirts and shorts came teamed with oversized tunic shirts. These clothes were less about the journey and more about what you should be wearing when you reach your destination - so long as you're going somewhere hot.
At Milan's other tailoring powerhouses the story was similar. Mauro Ravizza Krieger's SS'17 collection for Pal Zileri was more focused on traditional tailoring than in previous seasons (no ostrich skin shorts to see here), but his use of rich shades of cumin and paprika on pieces such as silk camp collar shirts and slouchy mohair suiting felt modern. This richness of colour was also present at Canali, where the brand's design team showed an accomplished collection - the first since the departure of creative consultant Andrea Pompilio. Brunello Cucinelli, the crown prince of slouch, introduced a new tailoring concept whereby he will - from Spring Summer '17 onwards - be offering each of his impeccably cut suits with both a pair of tailored trousers and a pair of track pants, both cut from the same fabric as the jacket. Clever.
Traditionally a haven of highly-constructed tailoring, Ralph Lauren's Spring Summer '17 offering also had a sporty edge. Suiting in shades of periwinkle and graphite was soft shouldered and light; while traditional cutaway shirt, tie and pocket square combinations were few and far between, replaced instead by crew neck jumpers, Cuban collar shirts and Tees.
This season's overriding themes of sports-inspired softness and action-ready utility wear came together in perfect harmony at the final show of the week, Giorgio Armani. The master of soft shouldered, soft legged, soft...everything really, Mr Armani pulled out all the stops for his Spring Summer '17 collection. Serviceable trench coats, trackpant-esque suit trousers and chunky fringed sneaker-walking-boot hybrids all fell neatly into the utility bracket without feeling gimmicky. The classic waffle jackets, rippling linen suits (worn shirt-free, of course) and oversized pleated trousers, on the other hand, felt smart-yet-sporty; elegant-yet-relaxed. In short: exactly the kind of clothing men want to be wearing right now. The world of menswear might be having a wobble, but if Mr Armani is anything to go by, sticking to what you do best (and doing it well) is about the only way to go.