FLORENCE, Italy — The good news from the 93rd edition of Pitti Uomo, the Florentine trade fair which closed today, is that despite our frighteningly dull, hype-driven times, genuine creation of remarkable clothing still exists. The bad news is that it feels increasingly rare in a world where many brands seem more focused on their marketing efforts, often under the guise of creating culture. Indeed, the virtual is winning over the real and fashion has increasingly become a communications game where talk triumphs over old school values such as design innovation.
Pitti Uomo, which each season officially opens the Fashion Olympics, has been a bastion of innovation for a long time, however. Many of the products displayed here at the trade show’s main space in the Fortezza da Basso are at the forefront of the sort of garment experimentations that actually have an effect on the lives — and the wardrobes — of real people. This season, it was particularly stimulating to see Athlovers, an athleisure-focused project conceived by Pitti Immagine, the organisers of Pitti Uomo, which paired a crop of up-and-coming labels with Lanificio Reda, a top-tier Italian textile giant known for producing the high quality technical fabrics out of pure merino wool. The results were outstanding.
Such innovations are important, but not particularly media-friendly and Pitti Immagine knows this well, which is why the pragmatic product-focused elements of the Pitti Uomo event are always accompanied by special shows by guest designers. This season’s highlight, a show that united Jun Takahashi’s Undercover and Takahiro Miyashita The Soloist, was not just a joy to behold, but a truly progressive and deeply touching fashion moment. The punky Takahashi and the gloomy Miyashita, both hailing from Tokyo, are among the few remaining brilliant design brains who are able to push challenging ideas through challenging clothes that aren't conceived as mere window dressing for basics and handbags.
By showing together — first Takahashi, then Miyashita — they strengthened their respective messages, giving hope to those who believe fashion design is more than splashing a logo on a sweatshirt. Backstage at the cavernous Stazione Leopolda, where the show was staged, it was Takahashi who did the talking, because Miyashita is very shy. He explained that the whole show was conceived as a single opus, based on the dualism of order/disorder and disorder/order. The feeling was decidedly dystopian, but also strangely optimistic despite the thematic link to humankind’s extinction.
Undercover used Stanley Kubrick's “2001: A Space Odyssey” as a launch pad for a meditation on artificial intelligence and the man-vs-machine dilemma that made for some seriously statement-making outerwear and a captivating detour into non-standard representations of masculinity. The lineup opened with long pleated skirts and closed with an embroidered dressing gown, before a haunting finale of astronauts in space suits.
For the reclusive Miyashita, who in the past gave us the gem of a label Number (N)ine, this was his first appearance in Europe in a long time and his first ever catwalk outing for the Takahiro Miyashita The Soloist brand. His use of layering gave his collection a nomadic, techno feel. Were the pale, almost genderless lads, who took to the catwalk to the rhythm of Nine Inch Nails’ “The Day the World Went Away,” survivors of some digital apocalypse? Were they travellers? Explorers, decked in protective mash-ups of tailoring and technical wear? They were all of the above, or maybe none of them. It's all part of the magic of Miyashita and his twisted mind: you know from where he takes things but you cannot really figure out where he is going with them.
Speaking of references, the sources of inspiration for up-and-coming Italian stalwarts M1992 and Magliano, part of the selection of new designers Pitti is promoting, were quite clear and, at times, a bit too literal, but the results had charm. Both worked in oversized tailoring that, although cheekily redolent of the worst part of the late 1980s and very of-the-moment, brought too strong a flavour of Balenciaga/Martine Rose with them. It’s in the air du temps, one could say. But nonetheless, anyone trying to forge a personal fashion language needs to keep in mind these things in order to be perceived as a leader and not a follower. In any case, these Italians have potential.
M1992 is the brainchild of DJ and nightclubber Stefano Tarantini. He took the paninari, the most superficial and only truly Italian subculture of all time, and played with the tropes of exhibitionism and status. It felt fresh. Meanwhile, Magliano, who won the “Who's on Next” men's contest last season, presented his take on wardrobe fundamentals for a man who has fallen in love. He created some funny moments due in large part to striking casting. There’s no doubt that doing away with the big shoulders would have made the message stronger and more his own.
Another decisive moment at this edition of Pitti was the official catwalk debut of 032c Apparel, a clothing line created by the revered Berlin magazine. According to 032c founder and editor-in-chief Joerg Koch, the move into clothing has been a natural one: his wife Maria, who designs the line, is a fashion designer and 032c has long operated as a platform for exploits beyond the magazine alone.
032c’s show-performance, held in the magnificent rooms of the Palazzo Medici Riccardi, was genuinely moving and mixed grandeur with a certain Berlin roughness. The clothes themselves did not add much to the conversation, however. Conveying via apparel the values of a publication as interesting and original as 032c is not easy, of course, but the kind of workwear-sportswear they presented is something we have seen before. Still, Koch and his team deserve kudos for the smart move — the line is by all accounts successful — and for their underlying realisation that today a media brand can take many forms.
Marketing masters Gucci also used the occasion of Pitti to unveil what the Italian megabrand dubbed “Gucci Garden” on the site of the old Gucci Museum, a stone’s throw from the Palazzo Vecchio. The makeover transformed the multi-storey space, once rather staid and dull, into a lively medley: a shop with exclusive pieces cum arty bookshop cum gallery for exhibitions cum osteria helmed by Michelin-starred chef Massimo Bottura. None of the five senses were left untapped in the service of the sense of eccentric, bohemian accumulation that defines Alessandro Michele’s Gucci.
The exhibition of archive and new pieces, wisely curated by Maria Luisa Frisa, actually served to highlight the sense of continuity, more than disruption, between Michele and the history of the house. Everything was perfectly in place, but it all felt a bit too much: devilishly tempting merchandise offered a bit of the Gucci dream for everyone, at every price.
Gucci notebook, anyone?