This was a fantasy of Italian masculinity, an artful and entirely artificial construct.
'We all need a splash of bad taste; no taste is what I am against.' So said Diana Vreeland: and so, it seemed, thought another DV - Donatella Versace. Of course, at Casa Versace bad taste is something of a house tradition: Gianni once said his fashion was inspired by the extravagant dress of prostitutes in his home town; maybe baby sister Donatella was checking out the hustlers. It's the first image that shot through your mind at their Autumn/Winter 2012 show, bejewelled Brando caps slanted seductively on the forehead, denim jackets hung with chains and faux-military insignia.
In its own way, this Versace collection can be seen as a counterpart to Raf Simons' fetishistic ode to black leather at Jil Sander earlier this week. After all, is there anything sexier than a military man? I'm not sure where Donatella's got their medals, but they were certainly proud to sport them - they festooned their wide-shouldered pinstriped suits and leather Perfectos with them, and even printed sashes and emblems across their silk pyjamas. Military camouflage got a workout, although it was comprised of multicoloured roses (flora-flage) in Warhol-bright blue, Lamborghini yellow and Ferrari red. 'Tough Glamour' was the title Versace gave to this - tough from the army, the glamour from the trademark Versace bling. This was a fantasy of Italian masculinity, an artful and entirely artificial construct.
As a masculine style, however, Versace's latest wasn't so much sexy as slutty - which is quite difficult to pull off in mens' attire. There was something terribly 'available' about these clothes: the colours were loud, the gold was brash and brightly polished, the trousers hugged in all the right places (read: just about everyplace). All those chains? All that denim and leather? It was man as sex object - nothing half-hearted or shrinking violet about it.
It added up to a ferociously strong and assured catwalk statement. For most men, however, these garments will always be a difficult sell: the majority would flee away from a woman wearing it, let alone greasing themselves up and actually shoehorning themselves into a crystal-crusted, chain-checked wetsuit-tight denim ensemble. Fashion boys, of course, will fall into it with ironic abandon - Versace may want to hike up the insurance premium now, as one suspects a great number of the brighter and tighter of these garments will be going missing on fashion shoots sometime in the very near future.
Then again, maybe I speak too soon. Midway through the show, as River Viiperi clenched his jaw and strutted out in a powder-blue leather bomber jacket collared in chartreuse beaver, buttocks hugged by spray-on jeans and a chain-swagged man-bag thrust into a rear pocket, I heard the journalist next to me hiss 'Guido!' It suddenly made sense. It was about machismo, and the Versace man, of course, is machismo incarnate - that's the only way you could wear a rhinestone-encrusted beret with a 'straight' face. It's about dressing without fear, the return of the male peacock. It's also about a willing inversion of those old rules of the sex that looks, and the sex that is looked at. Perhaps being a male sex object isn't such a bad thing after all, at least for those with the confidence to pull it off, and pull this stuff on.