Defining the meaning of luxury in contemporary culture has been a running topic in fashion for a few years. What do we consider luxury today? Recognisable statement pieces? Good quality garments which last? Unlimited choice or carefully curated selection? Custom pieces or anonymous wardrobe essentials? Somehow, in 2018, luxury is back to its maximalist and unapologetic eighties (and perhaps 2000s) look, with an abundance of monograms and logos. Whether it’s a reaction to austerity, the rise of new materialism or ironic subversion of its heritage - Milan Mens A/W 18 was perhaps the best place to survey what’s happening to luxury today.
For Fendi Men’s A/W 18, the runway was transformed into a section of an airport, with a functioning luggage belt at the centre. Silvia Venturini Fendi offered a take on high style consumption which knows no borders or luggage allowance restrictions. The contemporary menswear consumer could find everything here: classics like tailoring and coats, bags of all sizes and proportions, but also puffer jackets, duffle coats and sneakers. An item which stood out immediately was a brown and black monogrammed fur coat, cut as a Harrington jacket. Styled with a cap and a pair of matching mittens, the look is likely to be rated by hypebeasts who are more into Supreme than Fendi. Perhaps for the streetwear boys, it’s not a purchased material - but their appreciation has a stake in the future of any luxury brand. Fendi is certainly aware and is having a moment in pop culture. In the last couple of weeks, Kim Kardashian has been posting photos of herself head-to-toe in Fendi monograms (top, leggings and fur coat), followed by a photo of Kanye West from 2006 with a Fendi logo shaped oh his head.
The idea of a brand, logo or monogram as an aspirational token of wealth has always been crucial to fashion - and today, in the midst of constant debate of real and fake, original and copy, even more so. Exclusivity of branded goods makes them desirable and therefore a target of bootleggers all over the world. One of the most notable examples is, of course, the Harlem couturier and hip-hop tailor Dapper Dan who used to create his own versions of branded luxury goods in the eighties. When Alessandro Michele teamed up with Dapper Dan to reopen his original store in collaboration with Gucci at the end of 2017, it was a game-changer for luxury brands. Today, they are almost keen to bootleg themselves - because it’s the most timely approach for the fragmented and non-hierarchical culture of today.
Versace A/W 18 was very much in line with this approach: traditionally excessive, but young and vibrant (including casting and styling), not unlike the recent reinvention of Burberry. There were football-style scarves and opulent trainers, tartans, baseball caps and a puffer jacket in lush red and golden velvet. One of the most memorable looks was a combo of a tiger-printed coat and leopard thigh-high boots. However wild it may sound - it worked. Very much in the spirit of today’s maximalism: if you go for it, go all the way.
The latest menswear offering from Prada, showcased in a storage warehouse bathed in purple light, was an excellent example of remixing the brand’s heritage for an updated look. Fragments of archival prints were put together as digital collages, and sleek red line logo on bucket hats and bulky jackets hinted the rumoured return of Prada Sport. The collection was a mediation on corporate aesthetics, globalisation and Prada’s signature black nylon. Just for the record, the bucket hats had quite a resonance on Instagram.
The definition of luxury today is certainly a crucial question, but so is the definition of its consumer. Menswear today is a rapidly changing market. The rise of streetwear has shifted the place sneakers and tracksuits occupy in one’s closet - and in the output of major fashion houses. Today, it is Supreme rather than Versace which is a paragon of aspirational consumption. Milan Mens felt very young this time - partly due to the number of new era celebrities and influencers major brands were keen to bring over from across the globe. Hype today costs big bucks, and so does Instagram following. At the same time, the rejuvenated spirit also shone through in diverse casting and the mixed gender makeup of the shows. Luxury brands are certainly keen to get on board with the millennials - but if it happens to make their values more all-inclusive along the way, it’s the best outcome we could wish for.