The new fashion year begins in a minor way, but with a dash of optimism.
The men’s fair, Pitti Uomo, which traditionally opens the new season in Florence, has experienced some quick reorganisation. Guest of honour Ann Demeulemeester cancelled her scheduled event last week. Brunello Cucinelli, a usually consistent main exhibitor at the fair, also withdrew last minute. In Milan, where men’s fashion week is due to start on Friday, the show calendar looks remarkably empty. Additionally, Paris is juggling runway shows, digital presentations and showroom appointments next week.
For the Chinese and Japanese, among others, travelling remains difficult. Russian visitors and exhibitors, on the other hand, are limited by their vaccine, Sputnik, which is not yet recognised in Europe.
But in Florence, there was also good news.
The atmosphere was good at the fair itself and in the ballroom of the 15th-century Palazzo Pitti, where a rare event was organised on Wednesday evening: a ballroom presentation in the style of <em>Ru Paul’s Drag Race</em>, by the Finnish designer Ervin Latimer, who, decked out in red lingerie and with a blonde wig, launched his label Lattimmier.
“It’s gratifying to be able to see and speak to people in person again,” said another Finnish designer, Rolf Ekroth.
Quite a few established Italian labels, from Herno to Caruso to Kiton, did stay true to their menswear appointments, unlike Cucinelli.
In the end, 548 companies rented exhibition space, 28 percent of them from outside Italy. “We have lost another 60 exhibitors in the last four weeks,” said Raffaello Napoleone, CEO and organiser of Pitti Immagine, in his office at Fortezza Basso, the former fortress where the fair takes place. He specified that these were often small brands. “When such a small team suddenly has to quarantine, there is still little room for manoeuvre,” he said. 37 brands limited their participation to a digital presence on the Pitti Connect online platform.
There were more exhibitors than in the previous edition, and more visitors too. There were remarkably many Dutch buyers, more than a hundred, according to Napoleone. The turnout from European countries like France, Germany and Belgium was good. Despite everything, small numbers of buyers from Asia and Russia were spotted. “And we received seventeen American stores, accounting for about thirty buyers,” said Napoleone.
Compared with the more ‘normal’ editions of the past, which hold an average of about 1200 exhibitors, things remain difficult. The event also ran a day less this time around.
“We didn’t think for a moment about cancelling this edition,” the CEO said. “Italian legislation allows trade shows with the ‘super green pass’ and so there was no reason for Pitti not to go ahead. When we cancelled the physical editions of June 2020 and January 2021, we also followed the law. We lost 39 million euros then. Pitti Immagine was founded in the 1950s to advance Italian and international fashion. That is our role, and we must take up that role as soon as possible.” Napoleone pointed out the safety measures taken, which include free tests and FFP2 masks, which are mandatory in Italy from the moment you step outside. “We have ordered twenty thousand of them,” he said.
He continued: “This is a stronger season than the last. The winter edition is actually stronger than the summer. There are more exhibitors. And the turnover and export figures of Italian fashion are going up. The only markets with falling figures are Britain, Japan and Hong Kong. Should you scrap Pitti in such circumstances? No, we did what we had to do, in difficult circumstances. We only made the right decisions. I like to compare our situation to a car ride during a snowstorm: do you stand by the road, turn off the engine and wait for it to pass, or do you put on your snow tires and go for it?”
Sustainability has definitely broken through
A notable foreign exhibitor was Itoh, from New Delhi, which specialises in exclusive, hand-woven fabrics. “We’ve been around for four years,” said creative director Amit Babbar. “We bring a new Indian aesthetic, which is not ethnic but relevant to now. Although we do use our traditions, fabrics and techniques. Our customers are architects and artists. As an Indian label, winter clothing is not our strong point. For this first participation in Pitti Uomo, we bring a collection that can be called ‘trans-seasonal’, including hand-woven wool. Next season we will definitely come back.”
The response has been excellent, Babbar said. “There are quite a lot of people, albeit mostly locals. There are few Japanese or Americans, and I think for Italian buyers we are just a little too niche.”
Finnish designer Rolf Ekroth launched his collection for next winter digitally through Pitti’s platform. The collection is full of references to the nineties, in particular techno and motorcycle racing. “My cousins were really into motorcycles, myself not so much,” said Ekroth, at his booth. “I tried to imagine what my childhood in Finland could have looked like. A kind of nostalgia for memories I don’t have myself.”
He added: “The first day was very quiet, but today went very well. People are happy. Being able to meet each other again, to talk ‘live’, does good, mentally and physically. I think it’s important to see fashion, to touch clothes, to talk about it. A video alone is not enough.”
Yet this season Ekroth opted for a video presentation rather than a physical show. “I found a show to still be a bit difficult. Meeting people works in an exhibition hall like this, with lots of space, so you can keep some distance. At a show, everyone sits too close to each other. A video is also cheaper, which, for an independent designer like myself, works too.”
A striking element this season was the definitive breakthrough of sustainable fashion, with large, freestanding pavilions for brands such as Ecoalf and Save The Duck. Both labels went big with their ‘B Corporation’ certificates.
The Italian Save The Duck celebrated its tenth anniversary with, among other things, the most exciting collab of the fair: the British designer Edward Crutchley designed a capsule for the label’s Protech line. Additionally, Ecoalf, from Spain, launched a new premium line, Ecoalf 1.0.
“I loved Ecoalf’s slogan: There Is No Planet B,” said Sonja Noël, owner and buyer of the renowned Brussels designer boutique, Style . For her first visit to the fair since 2019, she travelled by train as a matter of principle. Noël ran a sustainable boutique, Halelujah, between 2010 and 2015 and remains a strong believer in slow fashion. “I really see an evolution in that area, both among the brands and among my customers. There are fewer pre-collections, fashion weeks are filled out differently and customers buy less, but attach less importance to price. They also don’t ask for discounts as early as December.”
“Also at Pitti this week, I saw a real emphasis on sustainability,” said Noel. “There’s a lot of promise everywhere now: no-waste, animal-free, recycling. Some brands go for everything, and that’s good, you can’t be against that. But when I walk around Pitti, I see few products that stick with me. I’d forgotten them in no time. That goes for the big brands, but also for small designers, who often can’t offer a real collection. It was nice to see Christopher Raeburn again. He is a pioneer and holds a beautiful story. Furthermore, I’ve also seen quite a few Italian brands that specialise in one product category, just pants or knitwear or shoes.”
Herno continues to invest in the younger side line Globe, with a focus on recycled materials. And Marc O’Polo is also fully engaged in a change, of course: all products on the stand were sustainable. In fact, the Swedish-German brand aims to be fully sustainable by 2023 and climate neutral by 2025. Marc O’Polo also works with Manteco, an Italian company that makes wool with ‘post-consumer recycling’.
Elsewhere at the fair, another section was devoted to young sustainable labels, <em>S/Style Sustainable Style</em>. The most compelling collection there was that of Philip Huang, a New York and Bangkok-based designer who creates indigo-dyed workwear in Isan, Thailand. “Our cotton is hand-spun, hand-dyed and hand-woven. We make thirty meters per month.” Huang also introduced hand-dyed leather, recycled denim, indigo Ikat, and a new moss green, made with indigo and mango.
The American outdoor brand Filson, known for, among other things, sturdy lumberjack shirts, backpacks and other bags, signed a distribution and licensing agreement with WP Lavori in Corso, the group that also has labels such as Woolrich, Baracuta, Barbour, Nanamica, Engineered Garments and Beams in its portfolio (sometimes for the Italian market, then internationally). At Pitti, the focus was on an extensive clothing collection, with down jackets, jeans and shirts in flannel and moleskin. On the walls of the pavilion hung decades-old pieces from the company’s archives.
Underpants giant Sloggi tried a collab for the first time – with the team behind German avant-garde magazine 032C. Liu Jo debuted a men’s collection at Pitti and Russian Red September by designer Olga Vasyukova, who presented in Florence for the first time.
The absence of Brunello Cucinelli was met by labels such as Caruso, with creative director Aldo Maria Camillo, and Kiton. The latter company came to Pitti for the first time with KNT (for Kiton New Textures), the urban wear label by twins Mariano and Walter De Matteis, the third generation of the Kiton family.
Despite everything, a thriving turnout
In the end, Pitti Immagine Uomo 101 welcomed a total of 548 menswear collections, with 30 percent coming from abroad. Simultaneously, Pitti Bimbo 94, the childrenswear sister show, presented 170 collections. For its last day, Pitti reported an attendance of around 4,900 Italian and international buyers, which it said “confirmed the positive feelings”. It concluded that around 8,000 visitors were present in total, including guests, agents, representatives and suppliers.
The figures are similar to that of the show’s hundredth edition in June 2021, which also toned down celebrations due to covid-19 uncertainties. However, despite everything, the organisers of Pitti remained hopeful for the event’s future.
In a closing statement, Napoleone expressed his gratitude to exhibitors, buyers and the press alike for the contribution of support and “great energy and passion”. He added: “Finally, I deeply thank all the people at Pitti who have worked well and hard, our collaborators of all kinds, the fitters, the city services, the restaurants, the hotels, Florence. We all deserved this Pitti.”
This article originally appeared on FashionUnited.NL. Translation and edit by: Rachel Douglass.