Dispatch from Pitti

Courier’s guest writer, Craig White, found new brands, lots of flowers, a Dutch outerwear startup and Sir Paul Smith at the world’s biggest menswear event this week.

16 Jun 2017

It’s the second week in June and for me that means one thing: going to Florence.

The Italian city plays hosts to the world’s menswear designers twice a year; the full gamut, from one man bands to the world’s most recognised brands, are here. This is the 92nd Pitti Uomo – the world’s biggest menswear fair, drawing in 30,000 retail buyers, promoters, industry professionals as well as some of the most stylish men from the four corners of the world.

The winter event in January has a more serious, business-like tone.

This week it’s the summer event; lighter in mood and more jovial in its atmosphere. The contrast is most obvious in the ‘street style’ where the dark colours and heavy coats give way to wild colours and prints.

Social media has elevated Pitti to a vastly bigger stage. Instagram has created the phenomenon of the Pitti Peacocks – men working hard at looking like they’re not working hard to entice photographer lenses through increasingly elaborate costumery. Despite some cynicism towards the peacocking, it’s actually fun.

I’ve been going for the last eight years and always find the event’s mix of old and new brands, charismatically bedecked attendees and the richness of the international pull as much inspiring as it is productive.

This year there are flowers raining down on everything, under the title Boom, Pitti Blooms. The Milanese department store, La Rinascente (voted the best in the world last year) has created a special collection for the event which it’s going to sell through kiosks and its own store.

As ever, after just three days my brain is bursting with the avalanche of clothes, brands, people and chatter that have hit me since I arrived here on Monday. Where to start?

  1. British brands are representing in big numbers, expressing a business-as-usual attitude despite any anxiety around Brexit. I was especially impressed by Sørensen, launched two years ago by the former design director of Orlebar Brown.
  2. Australia was chosen as the featured guest nation. Names featured were Chris Ran Lin, Commas, Double Rainbouu, Sener Besim, Exinfinitas, Strateas Carlucci, P.E Nation and Ten Pieces.
  3. The Japanese always make a splash, and this Pitti is no different. Y & Sons combine the traditional kimono with a European style suit. Sulvam are presenting at the main train station in Florence. Collaborations with Japanese designers seem to consistently yield strong results.
  4. A new brand that jumps out is Welter Shelter. It’s an Amsterdam-based startup, launched two years ago, focussing on high quality jackets for less than £500.
  5. JW Anderson has been a bit of a hero among aspiring UK designers in recent years. He’s been chosen to be the guest designer at Pitti this week. A big accolade, and the first time he’s presented in Italy.
  6. Last year’s guest designer was another Brit: the legend that is Sir Paul Smith. Smith told me: ‘I was the first British designer invited to Pitti Immagine in 1995. In a world of homogeneity, [Pitti] is an old fashioned trade show with real character that allows us to maintain our business relationships, and friendships that have been built up over many years.’

A general observation about the event itself. The show of support from the city of Florence is palpable. The event is open to local Florentines who appear to love the event, the visitors and the carnival atmosphere, and certainly don’t have the air of wishing the event to be over so they can get their city back. The city officials are also heavily involved and there’s a big push around Italian manufacturing.

It’s a truly wonderful event, helped in no small part by its backdrop: one of the most beautiful cities in the world basking in glorious sunshine.

Craig White is retail director for Argent at King’s Cross.