Why the Suit is the Shape of the Moment

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So much for comfort dressing. All those predictions about elastic waists and leggings and flats and the way the pandemic had changed dressing forever turn out to have been not so true after all. When both Alessandro Michele of Gucci and Donatella Versace (not to mention Dolce & Gabbana and Ambush) open their shows with a suit — dark, tailored, slightly oversize — something clearly is going on. And it’s not the pivot to party mayhem that was once predicted.

But then, the world is not such a comforting place at the moment.

“For the last few weeks I have felt myself getting very serious,” said Walter Chiapponi of Tod’s, who also began his no-nonsense display of plush tailoring with a somber, single-breasted dark pantsuit under a dark overcoat. “I started cutting all the frivolous things.”

The suit — with its associations with power, status, gender conformity and nonconformity, armor and protection (not to mention adulthood) — may be the garment best, well, suited for the times.

It began its runway re-emergence in New York and now appears to be reaching critical mass.

It was the single most dominant garment at Gucci, a brand returning to the Milan catwalk after two years away with a show held on a set lined in funhouse mirrors and lit by the flashing of strobes. Out of the dissonance came double-breasted suits in navy and sky blue and chocolate brown; suits with tuxedo lapels and cowhide trim. Suits covered in bristling spikes. Suits with skinny ties and big bags and kooky accessorizing. Suits that made you remember the appeal of this item in the first place: the way it could be slipped on, to make you feel immediately girded for the day. A suit for every personality!

So many suits, or suit-adjacent styles (sometimes they involved shorts, or blazers), the whole thing seemed like a men’s wear show, albeit one that also featured women. Out of 84 looks, only 10 involved skirts, dresses, or, in one case, a lace teddy. Which was the point.

Seven years ago, before he was even officially named designer of the brand, Mr. Michele held his first show for Gucci, upending the brand image — and, to a certain extent, fashion — by filling it with conventionally feminine items like blouses, pastels, bows and filigree transparency, and kick-starting a conversation about gender and emotional inclusivity that is still going on.

But though the tendency is to focus on what that means in the context of men wearing what was formerly regarded as women’s clothing, in fact it is rooted in the suit and the way women appropriated it decades ago in their climb to independence and power (a conversation that is also, by the way, still going on). With this show, Mr. Michele was simply reminding everyone of the fact.

Pointedly, the only thing as omnipresent as the suit in the show — besides the excited squawking over the front row presence of ASAP Rocky and a very pregnant Rihanna, belly out and headdress on — was a collaboration with Adidas. The German sportswear brand has become fashion’s favorite non-fashion partner (a short list of its collaborators includes Prada, Rick Owens, Stella McCartney, Missoni and the one that started it all, Yohji Yamamoto). And Mr. Michele said in a post-show news conference that he had been obsessed with Adidas since he was a kid.

But rather than sportify Gucci classics, Mr. Michele turned the tables and formalled-up the sports stuff, adding the Adidas signature of three white stripes to the sides of his suits or the top of a corset and using its trefoil emblem as a crest on the breast pocket of blazers, incorporating it into a print, plunking a blown-up version on bags.

It was as clear and canny a message as any about just which kind of dressing was really the dominant kind.

It’s probably not a coincidence that Ennio Capasa, the founder and former designer of Costume National who made his name with the slick black suit before leaving that brand eight years ago, chose this season to make his return with a new line, Capasa. Or that it featured (natch) an update of his trademark tailoring, but with some of the stiffness taken out.

There’s a reason, after all, the suit has lasted so long in the first place. (This is not really a rediscovery of an old style by a generation in love with vintage; tech bros aside, in most corridors of power, the suit never entirely went away.)

A reason it is a classic, as Luke and Lucie Meier implied at Jil Sander, sprinkling assorted Greek and Roman statuary around their show space, the better to frame their sculpted felted-wool miniskirt suits and sleeveless coat-dresses, falling to mid-calf and caught by a flat bow at the neck. There’s a Zen balance in their work between minimalism of line and material tactility (also really desirable accessories) that speaks softly and carries a big punch.

When it comes to power dynamics, however, few designers are as tuned in as Ms. Versace. She did, after all, have actor Julia Fox, who knows something about domination (both of headlines, thanks to her recent dalliance with Kanye West, and as an early sideline), on her front row, and wide-leg pinstripe pants and pencil skirts, pastel satin capo overcoats and 1990s power miniskirt suits in exaggerated houndstooth tweed on her runway. All of them paired with corsets that spoke of both sex and body shields, and oily PVC tights.

Teamed with towering double platforms, they made the models look like masters — and mistresses — of an alternate universe. One worth exploring.

Certainly, one that was more immediately relevant than the escapist party-in-the-desert parade of animal print, surplus and the Silk Road at Etro. Or the melee of striped knits and quasi-street at Missoni — a brand that seems to so unclear about what, exactly, it stands for that even a runway filled with celebrity models such as Iris Law and Eva Herzigova could not hide the confusion.

Or, for that matter, the high-concept claptrap offered up at Marni, where Francesco Risso went on a quest to top his immersive be-in of last season with entirely different results.

Held in a dark and chilly warehouse planted with weeds and dusted in dirt, with a sort of concrete hillock/ramp in the center and without any seats, the show involved models meandering through the standing crowd (including Mr. Risso, who began putting himself in his shows last season, an initially charming surprise that is starting to seem more like a vanity project). Each was trailed by a guide in a stocking cap and tattered jacket holding a flashlight to backlight the way, until they both ultimately climbed the ramp and descended back into the crowd, which was jostling desperately — and often fruitlessly — to see.

It’s too bad, because Mr. Risso is a talented designer who genuinely manages to saturate his work with feelings. There seemed to be a lot of make do and mend. Some tailoring; some silky, embroidered dresses. A lot of handmade-looking wacky headgear.

Afterward the audience fled into the sunshine and the backyard, where it turned out the models were enjoying a feast of pastries and bubbly laid out on two long tables atop a scattering of cobalt sand; the show after the show, with Mr. Risso holding court with great enthusiasm.

He was talking about “courage” and “community,” and the fact that all the models had brought personal talismans to incorporate in their outfits, seemingly oblivious to the fact that who in the world knew what they were? Or that rather than bringing everyone together, the staging had simply served to push them apart.

As a look, it doesn’t really suit anyone.

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