The return to elegance by Italian designers in summer 2008 collections on the Milan catwalk this week is right down Giorgio Armani's alley.
The designer, whom men turn to for that perfect suit, calls the current trend a "restored discipline of form" and looks to Sicily for inspiration.
"Sicily is part of a world I've always loved," Armani, who has a summer home on the island of Pantelleria, told reporters.
Armani highlights, in his collection presented Tuesday, Mediterranean mystery, from the salty sexiness of a fisherman to the genteel sophistication of Sicilian nobility. Symbols such as volcanoes, temples and mosaics were projected on a screen at the end of the runway.
Armani is also hosting an exhibit at his headquarters of photos from a coffee table book "Shot in Sicily" by Vanity Fair fashion director Michael Roberts, published in conjunction with the designer.
The show opened with 15 clean-cut fellows in perfectly tailored suits, and had a feeling of calm throughout: from the incredibly soft fabrics and leather to the muted palette drawn from sun-faded colors.
Jackets with a classic cut and a thin lapel are often paired with Armani's new shirt-vest, sleeveless but with a generous cowl collar. Most trousers have a casual cut. There were few shorts.
Many of the models sported tussled hair styles, like hair blown by the wind during a fishing expedition.
The only sharp note of the collection was the pointy-toed soft loafer in showy python leather. The same snakeskin was also used for traditional sneakers.
Until Armani's dip into that part of the Mediterranean, Dolce & Gabbana seemed to have the exclusive on Sicilian style, particularly with Domenico Dolce drawing inspiration from his years growing up as a child near Palermo.
This time round the designing duo set aside Sicilian lore to concentrate on prosaic heavy metal - as in nuts and bolts, bought in a hardware store and stitched on to bleached denim by the hundreds.
Aside from these gimmicky jeans sure to be a hit with fans of "do it yourself," D&G, the duo's second line presented Tuesday, offered T-shirts embroidered with cozy teddy-bears, sweat shirts covered in tulle, cotton tuxedo jackets and sandals wrought in metal.
Far from hard feelings, Domenico welcomed Armani's fascination with his homeland. "Sicily belongs to everybody," Domenico said after the show.
If Armani stayed away from the tough guys, Frida Giannini for Gucci resurrected the Hollywood versions: John Paul Belmondo, Alain Delon and Italian favorite Marcello Mastroianni. Her Monday evening show spoke of a 1950's bad boy lover from his checkered suit to his sporty cap and super pointy-toed shoes.
As is usual with Giannini (who also does Gucci's womenswear) the core of the collection was a class act - couture-cut suits, with a close fitting jacket and slim trouser, and a series of luxurious tuxedo jackets with glittering embroidery. For those looking for something farther out, there were snakeskin bomber jackets and footwear dipped in silver.
Fendi, and its second-generation designer Sylvia Venturini Fendi, courted a latter-day dandy on Tuesday. This gent likes his wardrobe to fit with pajama-like softness in styles ranging from cotton Bermudas to a see-through nylon pullover or an embroidered leather jacket - all in pastel shades.
Wherever he goes the Fendi boy takes his new bag with him. Simply called "shopping bag" fashioned in leather, cotton or straw intertwined to create a myriad of Fendi logos, the bag is sure to be coveted by the ladies as well.
Later Tuesday, Calvin Klein, designed by Italian Italo Zucchelli, presented a collection based on sportswear, a department virtually ignored in this round of preview showings which have been bent on a return to dressing up.
The jumpsuit - sure to be a popular item next summer judging by the many versions presented this week - played heavily in this show geared to American style. While the work pants were raised to fashion heights in black leather or fancy pearl gray - the symbol of sophistication - the tuxedo was brought down to earth in plain old khaki cotton.
The male sandal, dubbed by some the `mandal' is the favorite footwear for next summer. Thonged or strapped, in leather or metal, it showed up almost everywhere during the five-day preview showings which ended Wednesday.
As if summing it all up, Byblos on Wednesday morning offered up a sandal so complicated it should come with instructions. Made up of shin guards, leather straps, thongs and open toed knee socks it combines to look like footwear for a latter-day centurion.
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