The overall message of Milan Fashion Week this season could have been summed up as “East meets West”. Indeed, the vast majority of designers had the similar idea of paying homage to Asian culture’s influence on Western dressing.

A cynical mind would say it was more a case of appealing to the Asian consumer’s wallet. As such, the continent is still the fastest growing luxury market in the world, and brands are more eager than ever to expand within a territory that has already proven so profitable. In that context, a nod to the Orient is not so unexpected.

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Giorgio Armani got it very right at his Emporio show. Mr Armani referred to the collection as a “fusion” of cultural references. The oriental elements were seamlessly incorporated into the brand’s well-established vocabulary, mostly through the use of mandarin collars and embroidery. The color palette (mostly mutted blues and greys) combined with minimalist cuts were pure Armani. As such, what made this “fusion” so successful was the fact that the references to the East were used sporadically, respectfully and in a way that was true to the brand’s own identity. It made for one of the strongest Emporio Armani collection in recent years.

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The danger when playing with another country’s heritage is that one can easily fall into cultural appropriation. The Dolce and Gabbana show was a prime example of that fact. The design duo’s heavy use of bold kitschy prints (using stereotyical Chinese imagery) translated into a narrow-minded touristic vision of the East. The references were not so much integrated into the collection as they felt copied and pasted onto garments, China acting as this year’s substitute for the brand’s usual display of Spanish/Sicilian folklore. In the end, this misguided proposition was simply irrelevant in a globalized 21st century context. One had trouble imagining either Western or Eastern men wanting to wear those clothes.

It was a blessing then that not all shows were looking so directly at our Asian friends for inspiration.

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It may not be one of the most talked about labels out there, but Marni has mastered the art of surreptitiously moving the status quo. This season, the brand staged its first proper men’s runway show, but it still retained the quiet intellectualism it is known for. Designer Consuelo Castiglioni is always great at creating a sense of false normalcy and this season did not disappoint. Shirt collars came oversized as to be bigger than the jackets’ lapels, shoulders seams on vests and tops extended well beyond the body and sandals were deliciously worn with chunky socks. Additionally, shirts came with elasticated cuffs to offer a variety of styling possibilities. Off-beat without being unrealistic, that is the winning Marni formula.

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Finally, Milan Fashion Week would not be complete without some good old fashioned tailoring. Although there was nothing dated at Ermenegildo Zegna. For S/S 16 head designer Stefano Pilati focused on cut, with an emphasis on draping and fluid shapes, taking his inspiration from womenswear. Minimalism was the word for a collection that moved from an all-black opening to a check section (madras featured prominently), closing with a white finale. The clothes were cut as precisely as ever but this new sense of ease made them particularly modern, not to mention appealing.
Martin Signature

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