Menswear designers have a difficult task - perpetually reinventing the wheel, walking a tightrope between boredom and ridicule. Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana have been walking that tightrope for over twenty years (just), so it's understandable that occasionally they'll wobble to one side or another.
Last season, the 'rock Roxy' stylings of their dodgy ode to Bryan Ferry veered them into the ridicule camp, so for spring 2012 Dolce e Gabbana played it safe. The collection revolved around two ideas - the classic black suit, and perforated layers. The first, of course, is the bastion of men's dress - the foundation of the nineteenth century Great Masculine Renunciation, the uniform of the male for nigh-on two hundred years. Suffice to say, it ain't going nowhere, and Dolce e Gabbana didn't fiddle with it too much, bleaching the colour to aubergine or even anthracite once or twice like black cloth left in the sun, rolling up the hems of carrot-top trousers and cutting the jackets a bit longer. The mesh was an excuse for Dolce e Gabbana to toy with transparency, layering perforation on perforation, and sometimes just on bared flesh for that Italo-raunch they love so much.
It may have been a volte-face from last season's eighties obsessions - but, again, it didn't really show anything new. Perforation is an idea menswear designers return to again and again - who knows what Dolce e Gabbana were trying to say with it. Maybe it was about Sicilian fisherman's nets? Maybe it was a cleaned-up appropriation of the BDSM cliche of mesh tank-top? Maybe it was about Dolce e Gabbana's obsession with the Net - the Internet that is, the giant catwalk-side video-screens this time on constant shuffle of tweet, video and new D&G iPad ap. But that's probably a metaphor too far.
Whatever the reason, given just how wholeheartedly the Dolce team hammered it home, it'll be one of the key trends for next season (they do their research well). Other than that, is was business as usual. Those suits, frankly, could have been plucked from any Dolce collection from the past 20 years. They still looked good, but they didn't look fresh. Lawrence of Arabia spoke of sand blindness when wandering the desert, and there was something of the same feeling in Dolce e Gabbana's endless parade of stock shapes in safe, sandy neutrals. And ultimately, that's an apt summary of how I felt about this collection. Entirely neutral.