Milan Fashion Week: Stop-and-Shop the Runways

Wanting what we do not need (and what, in a biblical sense, is not ours) is at the core of luxury-goods consumption. And want, more than anything more evolved or cerebral, was the emotion stimulated by the men’s wear shows in Milan this season. Does the world require a linen field jacket with Breton stripes or a navy blazer made from terry cloth piped in white or a safari jacket styled as evening wear and worn with Gurkha trousers and a slightly ludicrous shawl collar waistcoat? It does not.

Yet viewing this stuff at a Ralph Lauren Purple Label presentation at the designer’s elegant palazzo here spurred an irresistible fantasy in this viewer to inhabit a sphere in which Chris Pine is seen wandering through a drawing room in high Gatsby drag, and Colman Domingo is observed resting an elbow, clad in a double-breasted navy suit jacket, on a marble mantelpiece, and Usher saunters by wearing many shades of taupe, a loose-weave sweater casually knotted across his shoulders.

This did, in fact, happen. But though it was in no sense the real world, it was an indication of what fashion is intended for. That is — as nobody has ever understood better than Mr. Lauren — to transport us from our real circumstances.

“Dressing for me has always been an adventure,” Mr. Lauren said in preshow press notes.

Name the person who, while trying on clothes at a store (remember those?), does not temporarily depart from sanity and venture into some unlikely scenario. In one dream scene you are that colleague sauntering into work nonchalantly laying waste to the office competition by wearing, say, one of Silvia Venturini Fendi’s gloriously nothing balmacaan coats in muted madras-cloth patterns.

Or are you that guy in a wonderfully engineered trapeze jacket the color of port wine by Sabato De Sarno at Gucci who coolly strolls into Balthazar? (Is this the place to mention that, despite rumors of Mr. De Sarno’s imminent departure from the label, he more than held his dignified own? This against the provocative backdrop of his predecessor at Gucci, Alessandro Michele, having unexpectedly dropped a first collection as creative director of Valentino titled “Avant le Debut,” of well over 100 resort looks so frilly and granny and echt-Gucci that some wags termed the collection Vucci.)

Or are you that person styling your hair in shoe-blacked spikes and putting on a khaki JordanLuca flasher coat to show the cookie-cutter Dimes Square stereotypes — in their Etsy-adjacent Bode or earnest Evan Kinori workwear — how it’s really done?

Or, finally, are you that plus one at a Julia Fox dinner at Jean’s wearing an oversize JW Anderson quilted bomber with a floating hem, barelegged but for a pair of lace-up boots? Slay the house down, as the ballroom children say.

Unseemly emotions are the underbelly of fashion desire. The critic Anne Hollander pointed out long ago that we must, of course, dress to cover our nakedness. Beyond that, there are agendas. RuPaul said it another way: You’re born naked, and the rest is drag. On my imaginary shopping trip through the Milan collections, with an agenda of being imaginarily more stylish than I in truth am, I was assisted by David Farber, the men’s fashion director of T: The New York Times Style Magazine.

It was Mr. Farber who guided me through Matteo Tamburini’s confident men’s wear debut as the creative director of Tod’s, choosing for me an elegant all-purpose trench coat to be worn over an untucked pocketed work shirt and a pair of white denim jeans in Goldilocks-perfect proportions: not too wide and not too lean. Have them wrapped and sent.

“I’m a pragmatist,” Mr. Tamburini said. “I look for solutions.”

Brunello Cucinelli does, too. It so happens that the people for whom he is providing solutions could buy and sell most of us 1,000 times over. Objectively speaking, it does not matter. In the same way that fashion insiders go bananas for Phoebe Philo’s nothing-looking designs or that hedge-fund types will pay a fortune for the anonymous and yet perfectly judged, Zoran-inspired garments from the Row, Brunello Cucinelli sets standards of not only taste but consumption.

We have established that “quiet luxury” is about as subtle as a bullhorn. Still, Mr. Cucinelli’s collection, as much as anything on view in Milan, made it plain that if you have “Succession” money, you would do well to follow where he leads.

“I was remembering ‘Miami Vice,’” Mr. Cucinelli said at his preview, held in the gilded salon of Napoleon’s onetime bolt-hole, the Palazzo Serbelloni. What he meant was, essentially, that moment when linen suits in so-called tropical colors signified to American consumers the epitome of Medellín kingpin-era cool. Mr. Cucinelli provides his version of Giorgio Armani pastels apparently beloved of Miami drug lords. That in itself went a long way toward keeping his presentation, and his label, oddly relevant for his owner-class clientele.

Mr. Cucinelli’s color palette happened to be toned down 1,000 decibels from the brash hues of Don Johnson’s heyday. That is to say, he showed linen suits with wide lapels in double- and one-and-a-half-breasted styles, unlined and slouchy yet so delectably louche one would go willingly into credit card debt to possess them. And isn’t that, in the end, the luxury-goods sucker punch?

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