For some it is experimentation with textiles, but others are challenging to the core long-held assumptions about what best suits men and women.
Here are some highlights from shows Monday, the third day of menswear previews for next spring and summer during Milan Fashion Week featuring Gucci, Fendi, Canali, Etro, and Brioni:
WHAT'S GOOD FOR THE GOOSE IS GOOD FOR THE GANDER
So, it turns out that Alessandro Michele's speedy Gucci collection for men in January, pulled together in just five days, was very indicative of his fashion leanings, which are decidedly gender flexible.
Gucci looks for men included white crocheted shorts with an embroidered butterfly and anchor. Transparent lace shirts with decorative appliques were worn with shiny basketball shorts or athletic pants. Flared elephant pants were paired with glittery sweaters and shirts with pointy collars. A double-breasted suit had a shirt with micro-ruffles and a red flower at the neck.
More traditional designs like the belted Gucci trench coat had applique details like a big snarling cat — one of the season's motifs — and was shown with a red crocheted hat with a pompon. The trench also was worn with a trailing floral scarf.
When Michele did dip into the Gucci archives, he turned those references on their head by making a sailor top out of patterned fabric or embroidering anchor detailing on tops. The red-and-green Gucci stripe circled around a coat like a rainbow motif before it in the 1970s.
As he has done in his past two shows, Michele sent both men and women down the runway, often in similar outfits, as he blurred the lines between genders. They wore the same baggy shorts that shouted skirt on first impact, and floral suits were unisex.
OUT WITH THE OLD, IN WITH THE NEW
Michele is breaking with the past in every way conceivable. Last season he ventured to turn the contemporary theatre where Gucci has previewed its collections for years into a subway station. This season, he ditched the theatre entirely and took the fashion crowd on a weed-strewn journey to a disused former customs station.
Michele had the cavernous space lined with red-lacquered chairs with green floral upholstery, and models strutted down an unusually long runway of a couple of hundred meters -- but were spared the turn back.
TRANSFORMING EASE TO LUXURY
Andrea Pompilio is wiping the slate clean from his first two seasons at Canali, sweeping aside geometric prints in favour of monochromes in deep Mediterranean shades.
But the real news of the season is his materials. He made outerwear out of a silk organza that created transparency, durable denim out of wool-linen blend, and terry cloth tops and jackets from knitwear.
The papery transparency of the safari jackets, bombers and trench coats allow just a glimpse of the softly striped shirt below. Despite its lightness, the organza fabric maintains a nearly architectural shape.
"That they see through your trenchcoat your suit or shirt, I find very interesting," Pompilio said backstage after the show.
The terry cloth recalled the heyday of 1950s men's dressing, when Hollywood stars would be pictured poolside in velvety shorts outfits. Pompilio expressed his love for geometry by creating stripes of terry cloth on shirts and jackets, alternating lines of spongier weave with a more compact one.
"We take something very easy and we make it very luxury," Pompilio said.
East met West at Brioni, whose looks for next season are inspired by architect Carlo Scarpa whose work was influenced both by historical Venice and modern Japan.
Designer Brendan Mullane incorporated hand-painted geometrical block detailing on to the finely tailored suits, most often worn with trousers but also with precisely cut shorts.
"It was painted on but in a translucent way, like paint on glass," Mullane said. "You see the underpinning of Brioni sartorialism."
Jackets were the stars of the shows, and included belted versions of the suit coat.
Brioni also showed a sporty anorak made out of the lightest Japanese nylon, letting "you see the Brioni man has another side."
A MAN'S VANITY
Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen was in the front row for Brioni's show in the historic Sforza Castle, but said it all went so fast he had a hard time keeping up. Mullane likes his models to move at a quick pace.
"I guess that's the trick, that way I go to the store," Mikkelsen quipped back stage.
"There are three things that a man can be vain about: watches, sunglasses and suits. And Brioni has a very masculine style even though the materials they use are very fragile."
Kean Etro's looks for next summer were clean and contemporary, anything but the bohemian and ethnic attire often associated with Etro.
Etro chose female fabrics for the men's line, continuing the Milan trend of exploring the lines between genders, and maintained a sharp silhouette.
"You see no lapels, no buttons, no nothing, everything is super clean even the prints, only egg shapes," Etro said before the show.
The deployment of Etro's familiar paisley was understated and any tribal touches were reserved for linings of the garments, not for outward display.
Etro revamped its showroom into a circle, and at the end the designer joined hands with the models in an outward-facing circle as a tree grew up on the screen behind them. Sustainability is in the air during the Expo 2015 world's fair, which is in its second month and continues until Oct. 31.
LUCKY BLUE SMITH
Teenage girls mob him wherever he goes, and a group was waiting outside the Etro show to get a glimpse and maybe a photo of American model Lucky Blue Smith, who has had a busy Milan season.
The 17-year-old has also walked the runway for Philipp Plein, Versace and Bottega Veneta.
"I got signed as a model when I was 12. I'm 17 now. I just got scouted, and then I didn't take it serious until I was maybe 15, 16," Smith said backstage at Etro. "Then I started getting some work and it got busy. And then I started building up my Instagram."
Nothing is what it seems at Fendi. The runway appears to be a drying stream bed, but it is actually an effect achieved with resin. And Silvia Venturini Fendi continues her sleight of hand throughout the menswear collection for next spring and summer.
The python peacoat is in reality a technical fabric treated for a shadow effect; the yellow rubber raincoat is actually fine leather and reversible nonetheless. And the tweed coat is in truth stamped cotton with a granite effect.
The looks were disciplined and well-proportioned, but relaxed with few suits and no ties. The line focused on mixing materials: a silky shirt with suede jacket and jersey knit pants for a comfortable walk. There were also pebbled prints on super-light-weight matching shorts and button-down tops.
Fendi's colours were inspired by a coastal storm, from the frothy white, sand, slate blue, grey and black palette to the pebbly prints.
Bags included satchels and backpacks, some with doll-size backpacks attached, and offered also in pebbled finish or studs creating ethnic patterns. The Fendi bag bug of the season is a fuzzy white smiley face.
Paola Masera contributed to this report.Suggest a correction