Day One of the Milan menswear shows and it's already obvious: Fall 2012 is the Season of the Suit. And designers will rise or fall on how they interpret this staple of the masculine wardrobe. As an urban evolution of the military uniform, the suit stands for security in a man's closet. Which means Christopher Bailey is fashion's Securicor for Fall. Not only can he draw on Burberry's military heritage and acute sartorialism, but he can also tap the seam of eccentricity that runs through the company's history—and its tradition of artisanship. He did all of that today, to great effect. The show was called The Gentlemen. Afterwards, Bailey was stressing the gentle. In particular, it was the virtues of politeness and good manners that he was endorsing. Laudable indeed—and fortunately for him, the clothes he offered by way of support were an appealing advertisement for a new kind of gentlemanliness.
Thin as a rail, yes, but Bailey himself has the physique of a whippet, and Design What Ye Know isn't a bad starting point. So double-breasted jackets cleaved to the body, and trouser legs were pipe stems. Overcoats were cut with high half-belts, which gave an urgent lift to the models' stance. There was a traditional dandy edge to such streamlined silhouettes, but that would have been a big so-what if Bailey hadn't begun to inject the rest of Burberryworld. A quilted army green flight jacket over a suit in navy corduroy combined military man and city boy. A cropped houndstooth blouson layered over a gray flannel suit pushed the equation into more sophisticated territory. Knitwear with owl and fox faces picked out in artisanal embroidery had that curious pagan quality that Burberry can evoke at odd moments. When trousers started showing up with tabbed ankles, and sweaters developed floppy scoopnecks, it felt like the absolute control of the suits was surrendering to something looser, more wayward. By the time the show closed with huge, quilted color-blocked parkas over mushy-shaded velvets—to the tune of Jeff Beck's guitar arcing its way through "Nessun Dorma"—surrender was a done job. Worlds collided and comfortably meshed.