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Menswear moves beyond the Instagram effect

An awful lot of what turns up on runways lately looks less designed than crowdsourced. The street has been calling the shots in fashion for some time now and Donatella Versace's show Saturday was a stellar example.

[MILAN] An awful lot of what turns up on runways lately looks less designed than crowdsourced. The street has been calling the shots in fashion for some time now and by street, to be clear, what is meant here is also the old information superhighway. Easier to stop the tide than to resist the influence of Instagram, the effects of which now wash over most every aspect of visual culture.

It's old news that designers stage their shows specifically to pop on the screen of a smartphone and strain to come up with looks that are destined to garner the most likes.

What feels different is a growing sense that — much as has happened in journalism and other forms of media — designers' messages are not delivered to, but created in collaboration with their consumers.

Donatella Versace's show Saturday was a stellar example. Staged on an elevated glass runway in the open-air courtyard of her company's 18th century palazzo in central Milan, it featured a trellis draped with 3,000 lilac-blue wisteria imported from South America and a cast of male and female models (Kendall Jenner and Bella Hadid among them) that come with their own sizable social media followings.

It was presented for the news media and buyers, of course, but also an audience of clients so passionate about the label that they had turned themselves into Versace cartoons.

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Mashup may be an overused term for the seemingly random combinations that by now have become all but formalized in menswear.

Yet there again were the familiar anomalous blends: denims with suit jackets — in this case oversized ones with wide lapels and in familiar pinstripes; tabloid print T-shirts in Pop colors played off work wear; squeaky vinyl short sets and trousers that had you reaching the imaginary tin of talcum; giddy microfloral prints followed by fluorescent suits that, in context, seemed to have come out of nowhere (although, in terms of antecedents, see please: Italo Zucchelli's spring 2009 men's collection for Calvin Klein.)

A thoroughly fun show for viewers, it was silly and sexy, and had a playfulness not often associated with Versace, who gave the appearance of having tuned into what the kids are doing on social media, and the custom young people are developing of collaging any random element of dress with any other, never mind their historical contexts.

And while Versace appeared for her customary bow wearing an hourglass dress that looked punishingly constricting, the show itself suggested a designer who has loosened her corset.

Childlike and sometimes goofball effects have long been a trademark at Marni — a label that, in retrospect, now seems to have anticipated quite a few of the irreverent features that have contributed so mightily to Alessandro Michele's runaway success at Gucci: his fur shoes and anomalous pairings, his explosions in the costume trunk.

And so it was as if in thrall to a tyrannical tyke that the fashion flock obediently followed the Marni designer Francesco Risso down a ramp leading to the bowels of a landmark 1950s Brutalist structure, the Torre Velasca, to see his spring 2019 collection. Though the theme was sport, it seemed somehow less than sporting on a sweltering summer day to sit everyone in un-air-conditioned parking bays on inflatable Bosu balls and then subject them to a soundtrack of what sounded like the squeaker squeals of a recorded squash game.

As Risso later explained to the Italian journalist Tiziana Cardini, he had been thinking a lot lately about body image and the narrow restrictions of the physical stereotypes that fashion prefers and all but enforces. Here again it was possible to see the positively democratizing effects on design of social media, where it is a lot tougher to enforce stigmatizing in-crowd rules than it is in the real world.

To uniform the "imperfect and flawed and vulnerable" anti-athletes who Risso felt have been shut out by fashion, he devised nerdy high-waist skater shorts in felted mohair; nylon windbreakers rolled and knotted at the waist; floaty bathrobes printed with patterns drawn from the work of the US painter Betsy Podlach and checked cabana suits, whose wide legs were lopped off at pedal pusher height.

There were also summer puffers patched together from violently clashing camouflage prints; droopy blazers right off the sad dad rack at the thrift shop; oversized newsboy caps that looked like post-hangover ice bags; squishy sneakers more reminiscent of wrestler shoes than of the Balenciaga Triple S pontoon boats that are the current rage in sneaker footwear; the occasional crown of laurels; and actual shower shoes because … why not?

As memorable as the designs themselves was Risso's decision to show the collection on models in a real array of shapes and sizes, including one thickset young guy whose fixed look of distaste was either the result of indigestion or a rebuke to those of us who unthinkingly capitulate, one season after the next, to a single fashionable body ideal: that of the pretty male starveling.


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