Critic's Notebook: New Energy at Versace, Ralph Lauren and Emporio Armani


“I’ve been thinking about how much fashion has changed,” Ms. Versace said backstage at the show on Saturday, noting that when her brother died the internet as we know it barely existed. A designer’s role in those days was instructing consumers on what to wear. Now it is the other way around. “We work backward,” she said. “It’s the millennials who decide what’s going to happen.”

If people seemingly born with a smartphone in hand cannot be expected to know the label’s history, Ms. Versace and her talented men’s wear designer, Ashley Fletcher, can gently help them along.

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The Versace show was defined by pops of goofball colors like bassinet pink, baby blue and the gold of a lamé tracksuit.

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Valerio Mezzanotti for The New York Times

Thus, while the men’s wear that the two showed was mostly generationally generic (athletic shoes, T-shirts, shorts, jeans jackets, duck-billed ball caps, bombers and hoodies) and could have been produced by many designers, the wonderfully opulent and vulgar archival prints spliced onto the clothes spelled Versace as clearly as any logo.

“We just want people to enjoy life,” Ms. Versace said of a show defined by pops of goofball colors like bassinet pink, baby blue and the gold of a lamé tracksuit.

Alessandro Sartori, the Ermenegildo Zegna designer, also had fun on his mind going into his latest collection, as he explained in a preview before his show on Friday — that and the joy of using color to “create emotion.”

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For the Ermenegildo Zegna show, the designer Alessandro Sartori returned to the tailoring and technical know-how that are his strengths.

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Valerio Mezzanotti for The New York Times

He did not add, though he might as well have, that the trippy tangerine gravel he used to fill a colonnaded courtyard of a state university, housed in a Renaissance architectural treasure in Milan, had a different goal, one now as crucial to what designers do as any other element. It was Instagram-ready.

“Sometimes, you go to a show and the lighting is wrong for an iPhone,” Will Welch, the editor of GQ Style, said during another designer’s presentation. “And you think, ‘You just shouldn’t have had this show.’”

After a seriously misjudged effort marking his return last season to the creative helm of Zegna, Mr. Sartori scaled back, settled down and returned to the tailoring and technical know-how that are his strengths.

Advanced fabric research is a specialty at Zegna, a textile industry leader. And while in a preview, Mr. Sartori earnestly emphasized the mechanical wizardry required to produce needle-punched patterns in a leather blouson jacket, micro-Nubuck for a pair of tailored jogging pants and silk for a blazer so gossamer it could probably be pulled through a ring, the show itself was chill.

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A paneled jacket from the Ermenegildo Zegna spring 2018 men’s wear collection.

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Valerio Mezzanotti for The New York Times

And that was a good thing. On a group of models cast for their youth and varied ethnic backgrounds, the designer presented easy, drifty suits and printed silk summer coats in colors like matte white, antique rose, freesia, water blue and geranium. He also showed a covetable paneled jacket that resembled a zillionaire version of something a character from George Lucas’s ’70s classic “American Graffiti” might have worn to Mel’s Drive-In.

Anomalies like that are particularly welcome in this banking and industrial capital, a city hardly known for a laid-back attitude. As admiring as one is of the Milanese and their sartorial traditions, it helps when an American like Ralph Lauren shows them how to loosen up.

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A look from Ralph Lauren.

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Valerio Mezzanotti/Nowfashion

True, in some senses the Bronx-born designer’s presentation at his company’s Liberty-style palazzo was standard-issue Ralph Lauren, with design elements drawn from various team sports, from the fabric research that too often seems to lead him to a Peruvian blanket and from his company’s opulent archive. Yet, even at 77, Mr. Lauren can deliver a jolt of surprise, which he did on Saturday by showing a handsome lightweight black linen safari jacket — patch pockets, epaulets, the whole Papa Hemingway shebang — reimagined as a jaunty set of evening clothes.

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Formal wear struck the most assured note in the Emporio Armani collection.

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Guillaume Roujas/Nowfashion

Oddly, it was the formal wear that struck the most assured note in an Emporio Armani collection representative of Giorgio Armani’s continuing design dialogue with Japan. There was much to admire, although mostly abstractly, about a show whose sleek suits were largely overshadowed by groupings of curious skirt-trousers, ankle-length culottes in trademark Armani ink blue, and silk jackets patterned with Edo period cranes in flight.

Yet it was in evening clothes used to open the show — a tuxedo spliced with a kimono — that Mr. Armani demonstrated how, even at almost 83, he retains his mastery.

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