MILAN, Italy — – "Italians do it better" was the slogan printed across a forest green T-shirt worn by a muscular male model at Moschino's 2001 menswear show.
Whatever the tongue-in-cheek fashion house was referring to, the slogan offers a good description of the latest round of "moda Milanese" menswear for next winter.
"They just have the knack," said Kal Ruttenstein, Bloomingdale's fashion mentor, of the Italian menswear designers who ended their five-day preview showings Thursday.
After several seasons of a forced casual look that at times ended up being sloppy rather than sporty, designers returned to what they do best — soft and suave elegance.
The new millennium male is more a romantic than a Latin lover, one who dreams rather than dares.
"He lives in the city but pines for the country," said Miuccia Prada after her much applauded show Wednesday, which featured city-slicker cowboys.
Pale-faced models with boyish haircuts marched down the runway in pointed black leather boots to Bob Dylan tunes. Their clothes, however, were citified: Gray flannel pants and tight-fitting pullovers. Instead of a tie they sported an elegant silk bandanna scarf.
Like most of the outerwear seen on the "moda Milanese" runway, the Prada coat is three-quarter and belted at the waist.
Earlier in the week, American designer Tom Ford for Gucci took a more macho approach to male dressing.
His man works on the waterfront. He has the muscle of Marlon Brando and the dreams of John Lennon, whose music accompanied the show.
Black leather over faded jeans is his uniform, with the omnipresent black leather cap, and a belt impertinently buckled to the side. In his dreams he sees life as a "bed of roses" (the runway was carpeted in red rose petals) and dances through the night in a shiny white tuxedo.
Giorgio Armani, who showed Thursday, combined the macho with the romantic in a collection where fabric rather than style made the difference.
An interweave of cashmere and tweed takes the rigor out of a military trench coat. In the suit department, super-soft pants are worn over velvet jackets, or inversely cardigan jackets are matched up with classic gray flannel pants. Zippers often replace more complicated buttoning.
"More than casual, the collection is about sophisticated simplicity," Armani said after the show.
In his own minimalist way, American designer Calvin Klein, who manufactures his menswear in Italy, achieved this soft simplicity. In his almost-all navy blue collection he intertwined silk and rugged wool to achieve a soft sexy look.
In general, the latest round of more than 70 collections presents a man able and willing to make up his own fashion mind.
Emblematic of this is the emphasis on uniform garb, which far from stiff and restricting, becomes a way of expressing a new fashion freedom. Military jackets, leather trench coats, striped pants, epaulets and gold buttons showed up at almost every show.
"What woman doesn't fall for a uniform?" Armani quipped.
In the fast-track department, motorcycle gear and racing-driver paraphernalia were the most popular items, all in red or black leather.
Most shows included ties, but scarves were also a popular alternative. The silk shirt makes a big comeback, as does classical footwear.
Hairstyles tend to be on the long side, either smoothed back or tussled and boyish.
Menswear has grown rapidly over the past decade. For example, according to Valentino CEO Fabio Giombini, the label plans to bring menswear up to 30 percent of the total fashion production over the next two years.
He told reporters that the plan would include increasing space dedicated to menswear in their existing stores, as well as devoting greater areas in new stores.
"Men can allow themselves to be more extravagant nowadays," Giombini said, noting the recent popularity of gyms and beauty farms for men.