Fashion criticism, if you’re privileged enough to do it, is a pretty cool practice. It brings you into constant contact with creativity and beauty. It allows you to think and write about the ways that what humans choose to put on their bodies affect almost everything about how we move through social and cultural space. Often enough, it’s fun.
Yet there’s a flaw in the process, and it is that, unlike those who write about art, music, dance, architecture and, especially, food — fashion critics approach their subjects at an unfortunate remove. We look at clothes all the time, and yet seldom do we experience them as intended by their creators. We do not wear them.
Thinking about this during the Milan men’s wear shows, I decided to view the collections less as critic and more as a consumer, allowing myself to respond emotionally to individual looks, to imagine possessing them. In short, I went shopping. This, then, is not a strict review but a somewhat random list of stuff I bought for my fantasy closet.
Let’s start with Prada and a roomy swing topcoat in charcoal wool styled to be worn over faded jeans with a faded denim shirt and, from what I could make out, an equally distressed blue tie. The look was Canadian tuxedo apotheosized (with apologies to Canada), and this critic wanted it immediately. Add to cart, accept all cookies.
At Fendi, there was seemingly so much to covet on first viewing that I found myself quickly filling up a mental shopping bin. Then, when I went back over my accumulations, I experienced that change of heart familiar to anyone who ever became delusional at a sample sale. Back went the seemingly cool replicas of the classic L.L. Bean camp moccasins that turned out, on closer examination, to be made of leather stamped to look like crocodile. Back went the barn coats in exotic fabrications because, after all, what’s wrong with the barn coat I bought at Tractor Supply? Back went the chocolate leather car coat with zippers and snaps that opened the show because, honestly, it probably costs as much as a secondhand car.
I could easily imagine myself wearing the slouchy elegant overcoat in gray wool with dropped shoulders and oblong leather buttons, but even in fantasy, that, too, is beyond my pay grade. I did, however, imaginarily purchase an accompanying Fendi wool trapper hat.
Ever since his long-ago days designing at Prada, Neil Barrett has been a coat king. I defy anyone (man or woman) to come away from a Barrett show without hankering for some outerwear. This season, for this viewer, it was a tossup between a jacket with bracelet-length sleeves worn over a T-shirt and grape-colored trousers and a weighty wool bomber with curious vertical pockets zippered close to the armhole and styled to be worn with pervy leather gloves that strapped at the knuckles. Channeling my inner Peter Marino, I chose the bomber.
At Zegna, there was a ton of stuff to admire and desire, the label’s creative director Alessandro Sartori as usual showing plenty of blocky, layered clothes created with obscure industrial recovery techniques. Take, for instance, the oversize sweater in wool the color of a martini olive or an ensemble of wide-cut charcoal trousers styled with a mid-gray sweater and a gray band-collared jacket buttoned only at top.
While I liked each objectively, what I found myself mentally acquiring was nothing from the run of show but the outfit Mr. Sartori wore to take his bow. A zippered black bomber jacket, it was layered by the stylist Julie Ragolia over charcoal wool trousers, a dark turtleneck and sturdy black double-soled shoes. The second Mr. Sartori came out on the runway, I clicked and added his look to my basket.
At Giorgio Armani, the designer typically takes his bow in a black T-shirt and dark trousers intended to showcase a physique that is still pretty buff for a guy crowding 90. There were a whopping 82 looks in the Armani show, and though I hankered for a number of things, it ultimately came down to a choice between a practical dropped shoulder, double-face wool stadium coat with eight buttons that would stand up for years or for an outfit that, in pure fashionese, is termed a hero piece. The second was a snap-fastened black velvet topcoat and was something that in no universe but a fantasy one would I ever wear. Since fantasyland is where I was shopping I chose that.
By the same process of illogic, I surveyed all the kinky stuff at the JW Anderson show (inspired, Jonathan Anderson said, by the Stanley Kubrick film “Eyes Wide Shut”), temporarily quelling the misgiving I may have about being that man in a wool tube dress knitted with images of cats or knickers with puffed satin frills or pantyhose worn beneath oversize sweaters. Eventually I reverted to convention and selected a belted wool topcoat in inky black with an exaggerated collar and super-long sleeves that called to mind a cosplay scenario in which I portrayed Benedict Cumberbatch playing Sherlock Holmes.
And finally, more soberly, at a Tod’s presentation staged as a tableau vivant in a pavilion on the grounds of the glorious modernist Villa Necchi Campiglio, I surveyed a collection created by an in-house team. As sometimes occurs when designer ego is taken out of the mix, everything on view was free from statement trickery and thus elegantly and anonymously refined. A zippered denim biker jacket was, as it turned out, made from featherlight wool. Subtly ornamental stripes in sweaters were actually leather string. A boxy blazer so basic it barely registered as a design was inspired, I later learned, by one worn by the Italian architect and design deity Gio Ponti. And the shoes resembling Clarks Wallabees looked so wonderfully Shoe Barn you’d hardly associate them with a luxury goods house until you saw the price tag.
Money, we know, is no object when you are shopping in your dreams. Naturally, I bought the whole collection.