This spring, designers were on the move. From Paris to Milan, we were trekking deserts, navigating jungles and crossing cities without ever leaving the showroom. While some labels offered just a hint of a travelling story – poppered pockets on open sleeveless jackets at Nasir Mazhar; backpacks with blankets buckled on at Givenchy – others were telling a full-on tale of journeys across continents. This was unquestionably a season brushed with the collective challenges of our times.
Beyond the not-so-subtle social narrative, there was also a feeling of clothes needing to work harder for men that expect more. This focus showed in the technical fabrics and on-the-go mentality at a number of shows. In a time when the boundaries of being on- and offline, in work and out of the office, are blurred, your wardrobe has a bigger part to play in functioning across every occasion. “The way men dress has changed,” says Dean Cook, menswear buying manager at Browns. “They’re not afraid to pair things in a way that might once have been seen as unexpected. We’re living in a time when climate is so variable and men are constantly busy and active, so this approach makes total sense.”
Miuccia Prada’s boys looked as if they were planning on heading far beyond their own backyards. For starters, they carried the weight of the world on their shoulders. The release of nylon backpacks in 1984 heralded the start of Prada’s ascent to fashion’s highest echelons, redefining the label’s place in the luxury landscape, and that instantly recognisable style was back for spring/summer 2017. With straps wrapped around bodies and laden with hanging boots, bags and jackets at the rear, there was no mistaking the nod to a current political charge; these bags were weighed down as if holding the carrier’s worldly belongings. When you’re crossing oceans seeking shelter, borders mean little, they might have hinted.
Fabrics were technical and functional. Nylon and scuba fabric were put to use on sandals and flexible boots that paid homage to diving and sailing. “The use of breathable fabrics, high-tech Gore-tex and four-way stretch in high fashion is becoming more and more popular,” explains Cook. “The Japanese in many ways spearheaded the experimental approach to technical fabric, incorporating it in their designs, but so many European brands have followed suit.” Elsewhere at Prada, hats tied tightly under the chin and fashioned in gabardine radiated old-school charm. Lightweight and layered were the key messages. A digitised earth print was stamped across coats and jackets. Pixelated in red, orange and blue – as if giving off heat – out of focus and unclear, they seemed to sum up an abstract global mood.
It’s no surprise that Moncler Gamme Bleu led the way in Paris on this wilderness excursion. Built on a history of outdoorsy pursuits, the brand is helmed by Thom Browne and delivered a typically astute line-up, painted in a trio of tones: dusty taupe, checkered monochrome and more formal brown and forest green. The collection offered a relaxed, sentimental vibe that still managed to feel new. Socks pulled up to the knees and knotted neckerchiefs were dripping with nostalgic Cub Scout appeal. These lads were off to erect tents and sing songs around the campfire. The sheer number of pockets – multi-sized and scattered heavily across coats, socks, shoes and trousers – added to the utilitarian appeal of the collection. On the models’ feet, boots and shoes were cast in rugged fabric and took their inspiration from typical hiking styles.
Utility was at the core of the collection. Sure, some pieces won’t cross over to everyday wear (a jacket and trousers combo with every square inch given over to patch pocketing probably won’t be hitting the shelves) but there’s plenty that will work, not least the label’s expertly crafted jackets and shirting. “Moncler is a brand that the Browns customer really responds well to,” says Cook. “They have introduced this marriage of function and fashion without it being a gimmick. They’re clearly very influenced by sport, but they show how acceptable it now is to mix these kinds of pieces with high fashion.”
From Silvia Venturini at Fendi, accessories were the key to travelling in style. The Milanese catwalk was awash with sturdy suitcases, camera bags and zipped pouches swinging from the neck. Hats too had a presence, struck with super-slim stripes that were all the more obvious as they were pulled low over the brow of stony-faced models. Sliders nodded to jaunts at the pool, while laced open-top sandals in chestnut brown, taupe and navy were made for exploring cities. Terry, or “sponge” as the brand referred to it, made an appearance thanks to Venturini’s artistic inspirations: from Picasso’s Côte d’Azur style to Albert Einstein’s holiday get-up, Fendi’s backstage mood board was replete with pictures of gents on vacation, dressed in one of fashion’s less typically stylish fabrics. It gave the collection a seminally casual appeal, and a brilliant ease to clothes that will translate well to the street.
Spring/summer 2017 menswear was a voyage of discovery, capturing the current zeitgeist of political and social upheaval and reframing perceptions of what clothes need to provide to match lifestyles in an era where travel is commonplace. “It’s natural that people would want their clothes and fashion choices to evolve with the rest of their lives,” says Cook. “People are looking at how they can make their lives more efficient. Fashion has a clear part to play.”