Menswear's most stylish gathering is not for the faint of heart
It's 35 degrees in Florence, but it feels closer to 40. The sun beats down unrelentingly on the cobblestones, and even the breeze feels hot. This is swimming pool weather. Gelato weather. Wearing at little as possible weather. For the men in three piece suits, felt fedoras and stiff leather wingtips who congregate here every June, however, temperature is an afterthought. This is Pitti Uomo, one of the main events of the global menswear calendar, and looking good takes precedence over comfort, common sense and pretty much everything else.
A semi-annual menswear trade show now in its 92nd edition, Pitti Uomo draws thousands of designers, retailers and men's wear enthusiasts from around the world to Florence's Fortezza da Basso, a sprawling medieval fortress near the city centre. While the fair began as a way for brands to meet with buyers, it has morphed into the fashion world's answer to Coachella, a four day program of parties, industry events and street style. Lots of buying and selling still takes place here, of course, but the business of fashion easily gets overshadowed by the big-name runway shows, celebrities and colourfully dressed men posing along the Fortezza's stone walls.
Pitti Uomo began in the early 1970s as a means of promoting Italian men's tailoring to a wider audience, providing a stage for brands like Armani and Zegna to become the global juggernauts they are today. The trade show retains its Italian feel, but now in addition to made-in-Italy labels like Boglioli and Brunello Cucinelli, it includes vendors selling Japanese sneakers, French pyjamas and British heritage workwear. "At one time it was a show where only serious menswear stores went, but the world has changed," says Harry Rosen head buyer Jeff Farbstein, who has been attending Pitti Uomo since the early 1980s. "From street to bespoke," says Farbstein, "you can see every single fashion trend that's taking place."
Among these newcomers is Niyi Okuboyejo, a designer here to promote his work on a collaboration with the german automaker Mini. The founder of the New York-based brand Post-Imperial, Okuboyejo wears a flowing lightweight cotton suit inspired in part by African textiles. His piece for the Mini collection is a scarf made from an airy silk blend, similarly dyed using traditional Nigerian techniques with a motif of migrating birds. "It's got a lot of colour and pattern," he says, turning the silk over in his hands and taking a look across the scorched piazza before noting, "It's great for the heat."
In spite of the fierce Tuscan sun, three out of four of the Canadian brands spotted at Pitti Uomo are here doing a brisk business in puffy winter parkas. "Canada has earned a reputation as outerwear experts," says Montreal-based designer Elisa Dahan, whose brand Mackage specializes in fashionable alternatives to the ubiquitous down coat. For Dahan and many other attendees, this fair isn't just a unique opportunity to meet with key retailers, but also to draw inspiration from the world's most serious fashionistos. "We never get tired of watching the attendees model fashion in their own unique way," she says. "It's visually very interesting."
Around 2008, with the explosion in popularity of The Sartorialist and other street style blogs, Pitti Uomo came to the attention of a wider audience thanks to the photos of its colourfully dressed inhabitants, colloquially known as "Pitti's Peacocks," that proliferated across the web. Among the style celebrities of Pitti are regulars like Alessandro Squarzi, an Italian fashion consultant and Lino Ieluzzi, a Milanese tailor. Both men's style could be accurately characterized at sprezzatura, an Italian term meaning 'studied nonchalance.' While the peacocks rely on brash patterns, bright colours and big hats to stand out from the crowd, the sprezzatura approach is altogether quieter, based on precise fits and subtly artful expressions of flare. Squarzi, recognized for his adeptness at layering, sports a camo field jacket over a waistcoat, white shirt and striped tie, while Ieluzzi is seen about the fair in his signature double-breasted blazers paired with wide custom ties embroidered with the number seven.
Thanks to the deluge of international interest in recent years, indigenous Italian style now shares the stage with a new guard of men sporting everything from baggy Japanese streetwear to vintage British military gear, all of it combining with traditional tailoring in new and unusual ways. The most noteworthy thing, however – to the sweating outsider, anyway – is not the diversity so much as the sheer volume of clothes these dandies manage to wear despite the oppressive heat. "If you were born in the south of Italy or came from Miami you could do the button up on your shirt, wear a tie and a jacket and not have one bead of sweat on your forehead," says Farbstein, who packs breathable linens and cottons for his trips to Firenze. "It helps," he adds dryly, "to have multiple changes available."
Visit tgam.ca/newsletters to sign up for the Globe Style e-newsletter, your weekly digital guide to the players and trends influencing fashion, design and entertaining, plus shopping tips and inspiration for living well. And follow Globe Style on Instagram @globestyle.