In London last summer, Massimiliano Giornetti drifted into Tate Britain and caught an exhibition of the U.K.’s on-the-whole uncelebrated folk art. Once he’d waded through the pub signs and Morris dancing accoutrements, Salvatore Ferragamo’s creative director discovered the inspiration for his Fall collection. “It was a section about soldiers [convalescing during the Crimean War] who’d had the time to spend creating pieces of art to send back to their families and their lovers,” he explained. “A lot of the work was exquisite.”
Giornetti believes, with some justification, that we unthinkingly ascribe any hand-tooled billet-doux to “the women’s world.” And this Tate demonstration that men—albeit men who’d been cut to ribbons by the Russians and were being tended to by Florence Nightingale—once had the time to carve, stitch, or otherwise express themselves through analog artistry struck a chord, “especially in this digital world,” he said. Thus the faux naïveté of much of the decoration in a collection that was initially compelling but ultimately compromised by an overreliance on enormous, clothes-obscuring scarves. The seam of sentimental adornment on masculine garments has been mined already at Dolce & Gabbana, but here its charm was in an almost indiscriminate choice of subject. A darting flock of purple-tinted birds on a double-breasted gray cashmere-mix overcoat was endearing; the substantial visage of a bison—its horns and snout rendered in panels of python skin—was disarming on a knit-armed, houndstooth-bodied sweatshirt. Hand-printed thistles and flamingos decorated artfully faded leather outerwear. Evening jackets fairly rustled with the hand-stitched suggestion of feathers. Less literally, there were artisan touches to the thick knits lined with leather stitching, and mohair so distressed by its own fuzziness you needed to turn the pieces inside out to see the original checks patterning it. It was a pity that so many of the ridiculously large snood-scarf-capes obscured so much of what was an interesting application of delicacy to an appealing catalog of softened, hand-eroded masculine staples.