When it comes to the men’s market, London has traditionally been considered the incubator for the hottest new talent. This season, however, emerging designers showing in Italy at Pitti Uomo and Milan Fashion Week captured the spotlight.
In Milan, Filippo Fiora and Filippo Cirulli of Edhèn Milano showed a strong collection, with brightly hued monk strap loafers being a standout. “The loafer is back in a big way,” said David Morris, footwear buyer at Mr. Porter. “Specifically, sleeker and more elongated shapes, complete with tassels, are a personal favorite.” He also cited versions from more established labels such as Trickers and Edward Green.
Another trend that emerging designers continue to bank on is athletic. “Sneakers are still king,” said Browns’ menswear buyer Lee Goldup. “We’ve also noticed that designers have opted for the ‘slip-on sock’ and are doing away with laces.” Case in point: GCDS and Marcelo Burlon’s County of Milan, which are riding the wave with their sock-fit boots and neoprene scuba sneakers.
For more brands to watch from Italy’s fashion weeks, read on.
Filippo Cirulli and Filippo Fiora are gunning to make men spiffy again. The two Italian fashion influencers-turned-designers, who are partners in life and business, began their men’s footwear label two years ago with the intention of offering styles that are dressy — but for every day.
“We don’t want our shoes to be classic Italian or English shoes,” said Cirulli. “It’s something in the middle.”
The label’s spring ’18 shoe collection — which is made in Parabiago just outside of Milan — put the duo’s penchant for elegance on full display. Highlights include their signature Brera loafer, as well as new raffia mules, satin smoking slippers and suede ankle boots.
Though the brand is in its fourth season, it has quickly gained retail momentum. It is carried by 45 retailers globally, with Japan, the Middle East and China its biggest markets.
“We don’t want to be everywhere in the world,” said Fiora. “We want to choose the best retailers. We hope to enter the U.S. market soon, because we noticed we do a lot of sales on our e-commerce there.”
The two gained prominence after starting the fashion blog The Three F in 2010. Now, combined, the duo has more than 252,000 followers on Instagram. “Being popular on Instagram and having our website is very useful,” said Fiora. “You can advertise your own product.”
Nineties club kid-turned-party promoter Marcelo Burlon launched his County of Milan line selling T-shirts. Five years later, it’s a full-fledged lifestyle brand. Burlon still keeps his hand in organizing parties in Ibiza, Spain — and applies the same showmanship to his runway productions.
For spring ’18, skateboarders practiced their moves on ramps outside the runway venue while emerging U.S. musician Abra provided the musical backdrop for the show itself. Burlon is also expanding his footwear every season.
Fall ’17 featured a collaboration with Reebok alongside the designer’s own stompy laceups with elastic paneling. The recent spring ’18 show had ’90s skater shoes-cum-slippers go head-to-head with neoprene sneaker boots, which were adorned with flashy strips of neon on the soles.
“Footwear is a really important category for us,” he said backstage. “We’ve just got a new shoe design team.”
Burlon is a smart businessman, too. He is a co-founder of New Guards Group, which — in addition to his own County of Milan collection — is the parent company of Virgil Abloh’s Off-White, Palm Angels and Unravel (for more, see below).
Plus, he’s a key influencer on the Milan scene and is just back from competing in a reality TV show called “Pechino Express,” the Italian version of “The Amazing Race,” which is due to air in September.
London-based footwear designer Diego Vanassibara is known for his contemporary classics with artisanal details inspired by his native Brazil. Key silhouettes, which he develops and reinforces every season, include brogues and sneakers layered with apron-style overlays and mosaics.
For his collaboration with Mini at Pitti Uomo, the designer crafted black laceups for the carmaker’s new fashion initiative. The shoe’s upper features a motif of diamond-shaped, laser-cut perforations.
Vanassibara explained that the pattern is inspired by traditional Brazilian face painting. “It’s almost like a painted veil over the face,” he said. The heavy-duty soles have a more urban London vibe — albeit with a twist. They’re actually a vulcanized canvas-rubber fabrication indicative of Vanassibara’s work.
The co-branded collection, launching in September, will retail at Net-a-Porter, Mr Porter and Yoox. Vanassibara showed his own spring ’18 unisex collection during Paris Men’s Fashion Week. The line included woven leather pleating and acrylic mosaics.
GCDS is ready to tackle the sneaker scene. After finding sold-out success with a series of logo sweaters launched in 2007, founder Giuliano Calza is foraying his ready-to-wear brand into men’s shoes for spring ’18.
The Milan-based brand debuted its first full men’s shoe collection — all made in Italy — including styles like knitted sneaker boots and sporty, colorful low-tops. “I had so much fun playing with the colors,” said Calza. “Sneakers are definitely going to be my thing, because anyone can wear it.”
Meanwhile, his women’s collection — which continuously offers its signature striped ankle boot — has caught the attention of celebrities such as Bella Hadid, Chiara Ferragni and Hailey Baldwin.
The label’s retailers include Selfridges in London, 10 Corso Como in Shanghai and VFiles in New York, as well as a recent pop-up shop in Milan. “At the beginning we were really conceptual, but now we have more than 250 shops,” said Calza.
Though athleisure has become ubiquitous, the designer hopes to tap further into the sportswear scene. “Streetwear is still going so well because you can relate to it,” Calza said. “We’re having commercial success because it’s luxury, but competitively priced. You can buy stuff.”
It takes some out-of-the-box thinking for a new sneaker label to break into a saturated market. But VFTS is giving it its best shot. (VFTS stands for “Voices From the Street,” and the line is inspired both by urban architecture and stylish sneakerheads themselves.)
Launched during Pitti Uomo at hip Florence concept store SOTF (Store of the Future), the label is going the niche route. The debut featured a four-piece capsule constructed from a combination of calf leather and raw-edged suede, with strong geometric shapes, hand-painted edges, shock absorbers and a neoprene inner sock.
“The street is our natural environment,” said creative director Marco Simonetti. “There’s nothing in fashion more similar to architecture than the shoemaking process, so we wanted to create a product that could represent the quintessence of modern urban landscapes.”
Even the soles of the shoes are marbled like concrete and feature a criss-cross pattern similar to that of a city grid. Simonetti also freelances as a sneaker designer and consultant for major Italian brands. He is under contractual obligation not to mention them in the press, but if your interest is piqued, a quick Google search should suffice.
You could say Palm Angels’ Francesco Ragazzi has an obsession with California. Having launched for fall ’15, the Milan-based designer has since developed a cult following for his unisex streetwear brand, which is built on a surfer- and skater-inspired aesthetic.
“I always try to take something that is part of American culture and reinterpret it in my own way,” said Ragazzi. “For spring, I tried to go back to our DNA — California and Venice Beach — and do a 3.0 of that mood.”
The latest collection was inspired by a 1986 photograph of a riot in Huntington Beach, resulting in more-rebellious, grungy versions of his signature tracksuits, sneakers and sandals, which he collaborated on with Japanese sandal brand Suicoke. His own shoes are produced in Italy and Spain.
The brand’s current stockists include partners such as Ssense, End. and Neiman Marcus.
“It’s very important to be close to the best brands out there right now,” said Ragazzi. “We want to spread our message, but it has to be super-selective and strategic.” In July, the brand will also open a pop-up shop in Tokyo and has plans for two in Seoul and Hong Kong.
Next up, Ragazzi hopes to build out a separate women’s assortment, though his pieces are labeled as unisex.