Italian Fashion Brands Make a Novel Pitch: ‘Real Clothes’
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Italian Fashion Brands Make a Novel Pitch: ‘Real Clothes’

At men’s fashion week in Milan, straight-legged jeans and utilitarian jackets with European tailoring dominated the runways: ‘It’s not just about jersey T-shirts and sweatshirts’

By JACOB GALLAGHER
Fri, Jun 23, 2023 8:30amGrey Clock 4 min

The streets of Milan are alive with the sound of English. On baking June afternoons, American tourists in droves are ordering veal Milanese in trattorias, snapping selfies outside the Duomo and toting around bulging shopping bags from keen luxury labels like Zegna, Armani and Gucci.

This season, the Italian fashion labels are delivering a wealth of wearable fodder to feed those paper parcels: The weightiest trend on display at Milan men’s fashion week, which wrapped on Monday, was a predilection toward what could best be described as “real clothes.” Brands like Prada, Neil Barrett and even the high priests of baroque styles, Dolce & Gabbana, sent out focused collections built upon items like straight-legged jeans, pin-sharp black suits and tailored shorts.

MILAN, ITALY – JANUARY 15: A model is walking the runway at the Prada fashion show during the Milan Menswear Fall/Winter 2023/2024 on January 15, 2023 in Milan, Italy. (Photo by Daniele Venturelli/WireImage)

“The beauty of today is that people are finally looking at real clothes again, and it’s not just about jersey T-shirts and sweatshirts,” said Barrett backstage after a show of wardrobe fundamentals like graphite short-sleeve shirts, gray trousers and polished black boots from his brand, which is based in Italy. Barrett, who is British, was returning to the runway after an extended hiatus and drew inspiration from the archives of his own brand and his many years working at another Milan-based label, Prada. “There’s real people out there with real businesses,” who need real clothes, he said.

Raf Simons, co-creative director of Prada, also gave a shout-out backstage to the “real man” and the uncomplicated things he wears: “jeans, pants, a white shirt, utilitarian photographer’s jacket.” Several looks in Prada’s well-received collection echoed the workmanlike style of the artist Joseph Beuys.

Simons said he and Miuccia Prada began with the elemental white shirt, sprawling out to include curt pleated shorts, straight-cut jeans and button-up-weight blazers with button cuffs as a new, very literal update on the shirt jacket.

Simons also said the pair was looking at how to “liberate” the codes of tailoring from as far back as the 1940s to plumb a fresh form of sartorial ease. Those featherweight, lapelled shackets had removable shoulder pads. “Every piece is actually really constructed like a shirt, there’s nothing inside, whether it was shirt material or wool,” he said.

Overall, the wares at Milan fashion week conveyed cultivated European luxury. Americans “want a taste of culture, they want a taste of connoisseurship, they want a taste of elegance, old money is in style, and more than that, quality is in fashion,” said the content creator known as Gstaad Guy, a British-raised, U.S.-educated 20-something whose droll Instagram videos wryly lampoon old-money culture. He was speaking after a dinner for the luxuriant Italian label Loro Piana. “The fact that the affluent of the U.S. are now very Eurocurious, vacationing more in Europe and spending more like Europeans, is not a coincidence,” he said.

He shrewdly drew a comparison between the traditional old-money labels in America and abroad. While the gold-buttons-and-popped-collars preppy look of entrenched U.S.-founded brands Brooks Brothers and Vineyard Vines has been mothballed for years, the allure of more aspirational, easy-wearing European luxury brands is only surging.

“I’ve always found European style just more tailored and stylish,” said Andrew Weitz, a Los Angeles-based style consultant to entertainment and finance executives. “That’s what I try to bring to all my clients at home. It’s how we should all be dressing.”

Weitz was pleased then by the sea of Americans he saw frequenting Milan’s tony shopping promenades. “You can see the influx when you walk around in Milan on Via Monte Napoleone, like how many people actually are here, how many people are actually purchasing,” he said. Their presence reflects a broader trend: According to a report from travel-insurance company Allianz Partners, travel to Europe from the U.S. is up 55% over the last year.

Throughout Milan men’s week, designers offered options in ease-stoking staples that felt as carefree as an afternoon in the Lombardy sun.

1017 ALYX 9SM., known for its hard-edge, heavily-treated creations, showed a capried gray sweatsuit and a serene matching pant set that looked like something plucked from a karate dojo. Valentino presented a medley of swoopy off-the-calf shorts and past-the-elbow T-shirts; and Giorgio Armani dove in with prodigious pleated linen trousers and buoyant double-breasted suits.

They were pieces that nodded reverently to Armani’s own extensive archive—a veritable Library of Alexandria of elegant ease. Many of the immense trousers looked nearly identical to the same well-aged Armani pants that 20-something shoppers are searching for on the cheap at resale sites like Depop and stores like New York’s Lara Koleji.

“I think young people are loving to be quite untouched by the clothes,” said Etro creative director Marco De Vincenzo, just before a show peppered with a bevy of barrell-size shorts and kicked-out pants that stretched into JNCO territory.

“I have to now educate all my clients that, hey, we’re not so tailored and tapered, [pants are] looser, more easy in the thigh and the bottom,” said the style consultant Weitz, just before a Zegna show brimming with roomy linen trousers and off-the-body overshirts. “You’re going to see in the next few years Americans catch up.”

First Via Monte Napoleone, then the world.



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Why Prices of the World’s Most Expensive Handbags Keep Rising

Designers are charging more for their most recognisable bags to maintain the appearance of exclusivity as the industry balloons

By CAROL RYAN
Tue, Mar 5, 2024 3 min

The price of a basic Hermès Birkin handbag has jumped $1,000. This first-world problem for fashionistas is a sign that luxury brands are playing harder to get with their most sought-after products.

Hermès recently raised the cost of a basic Birkin 25-centimeter handbag in its U.S. stores by 10% to $11,400 before sales tax, according to data from luxury handbag forum PurseBop. Rarer Birkins made with exotic skins such as crocodile have jumped more than 20%. The Paris brand says it only increases prices to offset higher manufacturing costs, but this year’s increase is its largest in at least a decade.

The brand may feel under pressure to defend its reputation as the maker of the world’s most expensive handbags. The “Birkin premium”—the price difference between the Hermès bag and its closest competitor , the Chanel Classic Flap in medium—shrank from 70% in 2019 to 2% last year, according to PurseBop founder Monika Arora. Privately owned Chanel has jacked up the price of its most popular handbag by 75% since before the pandemic.

Eye-watering price increases on luxury brands’ benchmark products are a wider trend. Prada ’s Galleria bag will set shoppers back a cool $4,600—85% more than in 2019, according to the Wayback Machine internet archive. Christian Dior ’s Lady Dior bag and the Louis Vuitton Neverfull are both 45% more expensive, PurseBop data show.

With the U.S. consumer-price index up a fifth since 2019, luxury brands do need to offset higher wage and materials costs. But the inflation-beating increases are also a way to manage the challenge presented by their own success: how to maintain an aura of exclusivity at the same time as strong sales.

Luxury brands have grown enormously in recent years, helped by the Covid-19 lockdowns, when consumers had fewer outlets for spending. LVMH ’s fashion and leather goods division alone has almost doubled in size since 2019, with €42.2 billion in sales last year, equivalent to $45.8 billion at current exchange rates. Gucci, Chanel and Hermès all make more than $10 billion in sales a year. One way to avoid overexposure is to sell fewer items at much higher prices.

Many aspirational shoppers can no longer afford the handbags, but luxury brands can’t risk alienating them altogether. This may explain why labels such as Hermès and Prada have launched makeup lines and Gucci’s owner Kering is pushing deeper into eyewear. These cheaper categories can be a kind of consolation prize. They can also be sold in the tens of millions without saturating the market.

“Cosmetics are invisible—unless you catch someone applying lipstick and see the logo, you can’t tell the brand,” says Luca Solca, luxury analyst at Bernstein.

Most of the luxury industry’s growth in 2024 will come from price increases. Sales are expected to rise by 7% this year, according to Bernstein estimates, even as brands only sell 1% to 2% more stuff.

Limiting volume growth this way only works if a brand is so popular that shoppers won’t balk at climbing prices and defect to another label. Some companies may have pushed prices beyond what consumers think they are worth. Sales of Prada’s handbags rose a meagre 1% in its last quarter and the group’s cheaper sister label Miu Miu is growing faster.

Ramping up prices can invite unflattering comparisons. At more than $2,000, Burberry ’s small Lola bag is around 40% more expensive today than it was a few years ago. Luxury shoppers may decide that tried and tested styles such as Louis Vuitton’s Neverfull bag, which is now a little cheaper than the Burberry bag, are a better buy—especially as Louis Vuitton bags hold their value better in the resale market.

Aggressive price increases can also drive shoppers to secondhand websites. If a barely used Prada Galleria bag in excellent condition can be picked up for $1,500 on luxury resale website The Real Real, it is less appealing to pay three times that amount for the bag brand new.

The strategy won’t help everyone, but for the best luxury brands, stretching the price spectrum can keep the risks of growth in check.

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