It was the Roman Spring/Summer of Brioni's Brendan Mullane. The recently installed English-born creative director had taken his team on a pilgrimage to London, in homage to one its founders first took in the fifties, but it was the spirit of Rome, the label's native (and his adopted) home, that ultimately exerted the stronger pull on his second collection for the brand. He showed in the Accademia di Brera, the centuries-old art school stocked to the gills with Renaissance art, and stood his models like sculptures on plinths in its interior courtyard, surrounded by enormous photos taken of them in Rome's famous Villa Medici by Collier Schorr. He was mentioning the sexy, swarthy antiheroes of Italy's neorealist cinema, lingering over the name of Helmut Berger.
Berger's lizard-ly sex appeal has been a touchstone for designers for decades. It was hard to detect anything as sinister as his influence here, save for the gleaming precision of tie bars peeking out of jackets and collar pins sealing shirts tight at the throat. Even with them, the look remained politely dapper. Still, there's no arguing that Mullane's Brioni shrugged off some of the strictness of full suiting without losing its tailored sensibility. "We're working around the heart of the sartorial company and thinking how we can make it grow," Mullane said. Though needless to say, the stores should still runneth over with suits, the looks here were markedly more casual: blousons and short-sleeve sweaters in silk jacquard copied from a necktie in the Brioni archive, single- and double-pleated trousers, a baseball jacket whose check pattern was painstakingly handwoven from wispy strips of suede. Those checks were a major point of focus in the new collection, and on close inspection, even the light blue of a raincoat turned out to be a check pattern in miniature.