The house of Gianfranco Ferre has had a rough ride recently, first declaring bankruptcy as an early victim of the recession and now pending sale to the highest bidder. But sometimes, confidence can be born of a crisis. It certainly seems that way with Ferre's designers Tommaso Aquilano and Roberto Rimondi - how else to count for their Spring/Summer 2011 collection, no doubt produced under both stress and duress, and apparently all the better for it.
The show notes alluded to the Orient, and there was a sense of the British Raj in classic double-breasted raw linen suits, dandyish printed silk kerchiefs spilling from breast pockets and sarouel trousers caught with a button at the ankle. Ferre trained as an architect, and the tailoring at the house has often veered alarmingly towards stiff, self-conscious overconstruction. Not this time: even when brocade and Ikat-dyed silks were sliced into dinner-jackets and tapered-leg trousers, there was a breezy ease and simplicity to every piece that made it look as comfortable as a t-shirt. Maybe a better reference would be a pair of pyjamas, as mattress-ticking was crafted into a loose trench knotted at the waist like a dressing-gown, and a slouchy scarf-silk jacket mottled with micro paisley-print slouched off the shoulders.
There were a few dodgy moments: sou'wester hats in oiled cotton looked leaden, a few embroidered high-necked tunics veered into the territory of the as-yet-theoretical Elizabeth Taylor Kaftan Museum, and there will be no takers for the stuffy, ill-proportioned white tuxedo that closed the show. As for the rest? As an alternative to the raw edges and intentional distress we've seen elsewhere, the vast majority of this collection was spot-on, managing to look polished and preened but never starched or uncomfortable. Aquilano and Rimondi have always had an eye for formality and a couture detail or three - we never really expected them to do deconstruction - but they've never managed to make their clothes look quite so effortless. The colour combinations were delectable - camel, beige and palest blue alongside mint-green and soft primrose, sometimes all together, running the risk of glorious excess but never wholly overpowering. A couple of thick knits in Lindt-brown cashmere would make an Indian Summer too hot to handle - no bother. They looked elegant enough to risk heat-stroke. And there you have the appeal of this collection - elegance. It's a word we haven't used nearly enough to describe contemporary menswear. Let's hope this bucks that trend.