One word that echoed down the men's shows in Milan was "utility." Even at Fendi, longtime hub of artisanal Roman luxury, Silvia Venturini Fendi was extolling the virtues of multifunctional items with reversible this and detachable that to enhance their versatility, as in pockets taped onto coats and jackets.

In the past, there's always been a peculiar, sly twist to a Fendi men's collection. This season? Not so much. "I'm more confident, so I'm less perverse," said Silvia. Her confidence was clearest in a truly seductive color palette that took its cue from the desert: sand and saffron, terra-cotta and brick, the deep lilacs and cyclamens of a sunset sky over the Sahara. The Fondazione Arnaldo Pomodoro was filled with an inescapably massive sand dune made of powdered, dyed rocks—the aim, according to Silvia, being that, "everyone goes home and finds a little bit of sand in their shoes." The perfect souvenir of a presentation that celebrated a climactic extreme that was literally poles apart from fall's deep freeze of a show. Here, there was a leather parka textured like mud dried out and cracked by the sun, prints that looked like swirling sandstorms, and shoes that had been sand-blasted. If that was the window dressing, the guts of the collection was an athletic ease. Even the most tailored pieces had a casual slouch. The men's collection rarely has a significant presence in Fendi stores around the world, but it was easy to imagine this one connecting with a new breed of sharp-dressed man.