In the sweet watercolor that decorated the invitation for Etro's show today, animals attended to the sartorial needs of a Milanese gentleman. A wild boar held one end of a tape measure, a bird the other; a bear adjusted the shoulder of the gent's jacket; a squirrel waited patiently by an old sewing machine. In its charming whimsy, the image seemed pretty typical of where Kean Etro's head is at so often, but there was a serious message in there, too: Among Italy's endangered species are the master tailors who have made the country an international byword for artistry in cloth.
The financial pages have been muttering that Italy's economy has turned a corner. Shoots of growth, indicators increasingly healthy, and so on. Any Italian you ask begs to scornfully differ, but the show staged by Kean today took the high road. We were told to expect "an ode to the very best that Etro and Italy have to offer," a celebration of the artisans in Puglia, in the South, who have been working on Etro's menswear for ten years. And that's just what happened: an exhibition of tailoring at its idiosyncratic, dandified best—culminating in a respectful acknowledgment of the proud, sturdy men and women responsible—that was so heartfelt on Kean's part it brought a tear to the eye.
The first outfit offered a rarefied vision—three-piece suit, coat, tie, gloves, shoes, and bag, all in the same windowpane check—that carried Milan's current appetite for top-to-toe dressing to an extreme. And the show never let up from there. A nightmare for matchy-matchy-phobes, no doubt, but as a reiteration of the conventions of bespoke dressing, it pulled off a few surprises (when fit is everything, trousers "adhere to the legs," as the show notes decorously described the impact of tight pants) and it also presented a manifesto for modern masculinity that was both reassuringly broad-shouldered and pleasingly eccentric. And it's been a while since the Etro paisley looked as good as this, as an engineered print on an overcoat or as a ghostly shadow print on velvet.
At the show, Kean distributed his "10 Best of Italy." Slow food, a favorite publishing house, herbs, bears, and boars were included on a particularly eclectic list, with the implication that most of them were under threat in some way. On today's evidence, Kean is going to change that, one fashion show at a time.