MILAN — Is it a provocation or the next big thing?
Women's dressing went mainstream for men like never before during Milan Fashion Week, which ended its four-day run on Tuesday.
Gucci was the most extreme with lace shorts, satiny bow tops and floral suits — all for men. None of the looks could rightly be called unisex — or at least as the term has been used until now, reserved for looks that possess a gender neutrality. These outfits had a decidedly feminine point of view, emphasized even more by the female models who wore versions of the same.
And even on the menswear runways less committed to the strategy, there were touches of femininity, with softer fabrics, colors and cuts.
At the same time there was an emphasis on utilitarian looks, including anoraks, safari coats, trousers and shorts fitted with big pockets and flip flops.
Here are some highlights from the last day of men's preview shows in Milan for next spring and summer, featuring Armani, Ermanno Scervino, Stella Jean and DSquared2.
LIGHTNESS AT ARMANI
The Armani man knows how to kick back in style — as confident as the stylist himself, who is celebrating 40 years in the fashion business this year with nothing to prove.
His warm-weather styles for 2016 communicate comfort and lightness, from the elegant, light fabrics to the comfortable, roomy cuts to the easy way of dressing. An off-skew vest is all the shirt an Armani man needs under his jacket.
Colors were cool Mediterranean blues, with shades of nude and gray.
The trouser defined the look. Roomy pleated pants had three lengths: ankle, cropped at mid-calf or pedal pushers, ready to hop on a city bike like one pushed down the runway by a model.
Women's looks punctuated the show, including a pair of skirt-like shorts with a camisole top, all in deep blue.
Armani himself seeks to be above the trends. He told reporters backstage after the show that he finds "too excessive the provocations that are counterproductive," expressing doubts that some of the more extreme fashion proposals seen in Milan would find a market.
"You need provocations and courage — and we were courageous with jackets with flowers in the 1960s — but this kind of excess produces garments mostly to put on exhibit to demonstrate creative liberty," the designer was quoted by ANSA as saying.
ROBERT DE NIRO IN THE DARK
Armani kept the showroom dark ahead of its preview show, certainly to show off the Giorgio Armani signature cast on the wall but perhaps also to give cover to actor Robert De Niro in the front row.
Still, photographers spotted him and his wife Grace Highland and swarmed the couple with flashes. After the show, De Niro, dressed in a white shirt and dark jacket with a granite look, posed for photos with the designer.
LONG LIVE LIBERTY
Ermanno Scervino's collection offered a more voluminous silhouette than his usual tailored cuts, with oversized jackets and pant hemlines that dragged along the ground. The designer purposely left the edges of the garments slightly frayed for a more relaxed, devil-may-care look.
Even his military looks were less regimented than the type would suggest, with camouflage jackets quilted, not stiff, and worn with a touch of pink lace peeking out of the sleeve. Soft sweaters were in pink, with matching bags carried under the arm.
For Scervino, feminine touches for men marked a "courageous" choice, but he reasoned that if women can be bold dressers "I don't see why men can't as well."
The shoe of choice: a flip flop, covered in crystals for special occasions, complementing crystal-studded pullovers or sequined T-shirts for night. Even ties lacked formality —left unknotted and hung around the neck as if to signal that the work day was over.
"Long live liberty," Scervino said backstage.
The Florence-based designer is a friend of Italian Premier Matteo Renzi and created delicate knitwear looks for Renzi's wife, Agnese Landini, to wear during last week's visit by U.S. first lady Michelle Obama.
It doesn't matter on which continent the surf is up, the DSquared2 man is ready to travel the world to grab the next big wave.
He wears a big anorak over his baggy shorts and neoprene leggings, undeterred by rain. Beaded necklaces swing as he walks energetically to his next destination — where he just may dons a Peruvian-style blanket poncho to fit in with the locals.
Designing twins Dean and Dan Caten have outfitted him with a big colored nylon trekking pack, oversized hiking shoes with an exaggerated tongue or slip-on beach loungers. He keeps his head warm with an egg-shaped shearling cap that covers his damp curls but exposes his ears.
He's well tattooed but with a secret: He gets the bad boy effect with no pain by pulling on body tights printed with intricate ink drawings.
STELLA IN WONDERLAND
Italian-Haitian designer Stella Jean composed a fable for her new collection about a dandy named Ernest who discovers a group of "industrious hands" weaving patterns into fabric when he falls into hatch at New York's Chelsea Hotel.
It's the perfect dream scenario for the designer who blends Western tailoring with colorful patterned fabrics sourced in Burkina Faso.
Jean presented a kaleidoscope of patterns for next summer, with elegant striped suits cut from fabric woven in Africa. A white suit with blue stripes was paired with a rainbow-colored T-shirt, which also took a turn with woven shorts.
Jean also tapped the Milan Expo 2015 World's Fair ethos — whose motto is "Feeding the planet, energy for life" — with tops printed with a turnip and pomegranates.
The whimsy also included matching patterned man rompers of crew-neck T-shirts and slim Bermuda shorts, suggesting more play than work.
"Or maybe they bring play to work?" Jean suggested backstage.