This season, the body takes the spotlight in fashion—a strange thing to say about an industry literally built around the human form, but which, for the past few years, has relegated it to a supporting role. The rise of streetwear—its sweats and tracksuits and hoodies—alongside the dominance of Demna’s bigger-is-better aesthetic and Alessandro Michele’s more-is-more approach, means that the body has mostly remained hidden from view. Now, the pendulum is swinging in the opposite direction. It started last year in womenswear, when designers such as Casey Cadwallader of Mugler and Nensi Dojaka scored viral moments with their hypersexualised aesthetics. Skin—lots of it—was suddenly in. That conversation has been carried over into menswear this season, with the key piece being a pair of super-short shorts.
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The strongest splash is made by Italian menswear’s most agenda-setting designers: Silvia Venturini Fendi at Fendi, and Miuccia Prada and Raf Simons at Prada. They wanted to explore the idea of lightness—a common impulse for the spring/summer season—but in their hands, the results are anything but hackneyed. Venturini Fendi gives new meaning to the concept of summer suiting with her inventive proportion play. Blazers, shirts, trousers and neckties alike are all cropped with surgical precision—exposing sternums and upper thighs.
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Prada and Simons made the romper—that garment most associated with infants and toddlers—the cornerstone of their collection, only in their take, it was paired with boxy businesslike blazers, sensuously laced knits with their necklines pulled wide open, and moto jackets in pop colours. But their most uncanny—and therefore, most alluring—proposition has to be the super-short skorts that nod at Prada’s own history.
Over in London, young brands such as S.S. Daley and Stefan Cooke explored boyishness but through an English lens, which inevitably led to an examination—and subversion—of the classic school uniform. At the former, Steven Stokey-Daley, whose romantic shirting and tailoring shot to fame after Harry Styles wore his pieces in a music video, riffed on the uniforms of private schools and country houses—a pair of wide-legged houndstooth shorts, in particular, is a standout. At the latter, known for its cutout argyles and chainmail tops, Stefan Cooke and Jake Burt pushed their signature boy-girl interplay even further with track bottoms cut like miniskirts and worn with chainmail and bandage tops, nipped-in sweaters and elongated jacket-dresses.
Then there are the designers baring skin—legs, especially—not in a boyish, sexless way, but charged with sex appeal in a way similar to their cohort in womenswear. Even more specifically, they are doing so through a distinctly queer lens—with that unapologetic attitude being a key ingredient in the appeal of the look. Ludovic de Saint Sernin is one of the pioneers in this niche. His stock-in-trade is a certain kind of effortless 1990s glamour—think Kate Moss in a naked slip dress—but removed of all gender constrictions. On his runway, boys and girls alike were draped in strands of crystals and wisps of sheer chiffon; their jewelled thongs showing underneath their low-riding skirts and trousers. One of his spring/summer 2022 looks is a strong contender for sexiest look of the season: Sand-hued short shorts with a matching shrunken tee, worn with a crystal choker and sandals with laces that creep all the way up to the knees.
At Alled-Martinez, there was also plenty of lean, toned flesh and sweat-slicked skin on show. The twist? Archie Alled-Martinez imbued seemingly straightforward garments with meaning drawn from gay history and culture: His tiny gym shorts worn with muscle tanks and cropped tees are a nod to the uniforms of cruising in the 1970s; the designer also showed jockstrap belts and single pockets as sly winks to the handkerchief code of yore. As Alled-Martinez and Co show, sometimes, a shorts story goes a long way.