Fun, and a Formal Wear Sweater

Posted January 14, 2018 4:40 p.m. EST

The usual Milanese obstruction is traffic, a slow grind to nowhere that can draw out a single block’s journey to a half-hour of agony and bring Fashion Week pilgrims to an interminable stop. But on Saturday, the first full day of the men’s fashion shows here, there was a more novel delay: A troop of furious protesters briefly barred the entrance to the Marni show.

“Assassini! Assassini!” they chanted — you didn’t need a working knowledge of Italian to get that one. They were promoting animal rights (“Animali liberi!”), smoking flares and grisly anti-fur posters in hand.

Then, after 10 minutes or so, they dispersed and into the Marni universe you went: a trippy netherworld where the indoors is graveled like the out, and your assigned seat might be an old television, as mine was, or a radiator or a bumper car or a length of plastic hose.

The collection, when it arrived, had a like-minded levity. Since taking over the design of Marni from the label’s founder, Consuelo Castiglioni, in October 2016, Francesco Risso has made his calling card a free-spirited, almost obdurate naïveté.

His models always look en route to or from a blissed-out music festival somewhere — here, a few came wrapped in blankets. They mashup textures, fabrics and sizes; they bounce beads and gummy-bear pendants; their clothes are plastered with monkeys or chairs or beakers or keys. (There was not, according to a Marni spokesman, any fur.)

When his men wear suits, the garments are rumpled and wrinkled, small in the jacket and long in the leg, sleeves trailing, like a parody of working men — kids playing dress up.

“That’s how I would like to live my whole life,” Risso said backstage. “Thinking as a child thinks, how he lives.” What he really wanted was fun.

Fun is in short supply these days, in fashion and out of it. It has become a cliché of fashion writing to note the contrast between the grim world pressing in at the door and the blithe carrying-on inside, but here was the literal end: the rage outside, playtime within.

In difficult times, some designers offer armor; Risso offers fun. After more than a year at Marni, Risso has begun to seem a bit stuck in that gear, but that’s not to say that fun is an illegitimate response. It’s a finger plugged into the ear, or as the Flower Children once did, a bloom stuck in a barrel of a gun.

Whether that speaks to you or not depends to some degree on you. In Milan, at least, it still offers a zing.

Few who show in this city go as far as Risso does down this lane. But what has been interesting to see in the first days of Fashion Week here is how even the most traditionally minded brands are working to loosen up.

At the company palazzo on Via San Barnaba, Ralph Lauren was showing its Purple Label collection, slim of pant and broad of lapel, proper suits for proper gentlemen (especially those with a slight English country fetish).

But even there, among tonal tailoring and naval overcoats, were novelty sweaters with a scattering of patches — they, a brand representative whispered, typically are the first to sell out. (The famous Polo bear has quietly begun appearing in Purple Label, too.)

Among the velvet dinner jackets and tuxedos of the formal wear section were options that once upon a time would have seemed heretical: a pleated shirt and bow tie and a stone-studded Western belt; a sweater — a sweater! — embroidered with a portrait of Lauren in Colorado ranch hand mode, a stalk of hay stuck between his teeth. The benefit circuit awaits.

And at Kiton, the Neapolitan tailoring concern for whom the finest is barely fine enough, exorbitant is merely a starting point (I always make a point to pet the vicuña). Antonio De Matteis, the chief executive, beelined to a backroom to show off a new collection: KNT (Kiton New Textures), where athleisure meets Italian tailoring.

Its architects are his 26-year-old twin sons, Mariano and Walter, and its offerings include suit-fabric sneakers and, if one could believe it, jogging pants — a first, at least to be shown with blazers.

The main room still groans with racks and racks of suits, blazers, shirts and ties, but here was, as promised, a new texture for Kiton, a looser attitude. Some things, of course, are nonnegotiable.

Asked about prices, De Matteis threw up his hands: “It’s a Kiton price point,” he said. Translated by a spokesman later: jogging pants, about $2,500.