What I Saw in Florence – by Eugene Rabkin

by Eyal de Leeuw | 19.01.15

What I Saw in Florence – a guest post by Eugene Rabkin

Last week I made my traditional pilgrimage to Pitti Uomo, the (predominantly) men’s fashion trade show in Florence. The fair always offers a much-needed glimpse to the sartorial world outside of the runway, one in which wearability trumps flights of designers’ fancy. So, what do men wear?

In the past six years of my attendance Pitti Uomo insisted that men mostly wear suits, though what I saw on the streets of New York and other cities I visited, and more increasingly through online imagery, was nothing of the sort. This time the reality has finally caught up with Pitti. I saw a marked decrease in tailoring, except in the main pavilion. Even there, the tailoring has become more casual. Instead, what seems to be taking over is what is called “smart casual” style of dressing. It is still crisp and neat, but less buttoned up – a parka instead of a tailored coat, raw denim instead of wool pants, sneakers instead of wingtips.

Pitti uomo 87_ the tradeshow - 030xThe variations on the theme amongst the one thousand or so exhibitors were astounding and after a while questions like “How do they all make money?” inevitably arose. I don’t have the answers but I wish them well, because I would rather see men dressed like this than fast fashion take over the world.

Another trend I saw continue to expand is the dark, monochromatic look most popularized through the work of American designer Rick Owens. When I came to Pitti for the first time black was a color non grata. Within the last year or so I saw the so-called “goth ninjas” popping out of the ground here and there like mushrooms after the rain. Apparently I was not the only one, because this season Pitti Uomo has created an entire pavilion devoted to this style, called “Unconventional.”

Pitti Uomo 87_ Pitti People - 044So, why am I not rejoicing in the newly found brotherhood of black-clad figures? Because the whole thing feels forced and fake. What set apart designers, and also their early audience, that originated this style, such as Rick Owens, Ann Demeulemeester, and Raf Simons in his early work, was that they were culturally invested in what they did. Meaning, they listened to certain kinds of music and related to certain kinds of art. What I see now is by and large goth kitsch – all surface and no substance – and I believe we are witnessing the birth of goth Eurotrash. It’s a paint-by-numbers, formulaic look – to wit, a leather jacket with an asymmetric zipper, an elongated top, drop-crotch sweatpans, and oversized sneakers, all in fifty shades of black or gray.

Pitti Uomo 87_ Pitti People - 006Most people I saw at Pitti looked uncomfortable wearing these clothes, as if they were trying it on for size. Some say it takes a certain je ne sais quoi to wear certain clothes. It is true. But je very much sais quoi what it takes in this case – a strength of conviction, the sartorial “I can do no other.”

The above can be added to other goth types: “health goth,” which, like “normcore” is something fashion journalists who run out of things to write about write about, and street goth, epitomized by the much-hyped New York brand Hood by Air, which happened to be the main guest at Pitti Uomo. This followed on the heels of Marcelo Bulron’s last season’s motocross extravaganza, and the message could not be clearer – cultural trends in fashion are set by high-end streetwear, even at Pitti Uomo.

HBAProj3ctStudio057As of late, Shayne Oliver, the HBA designer, has been trying to distance the label from the streetwear moniker, which was evident in the collection he showed in a beautiful villa outside of Florence. There was more tailoring and less logo-splattering. Though it was still firmly HBA, over the top stuff best fit for clubbing in some not-so-distant New York past when how you looked mattered more than how much money you had in your wallet.

Hood By Air.  Pitti Special Guest - 018Hood By Air.  Pitti Special Guest - 017Hood By Air.  Pitti Special Guest - 026I questioned not so much the clothes as the ill-conceived production. What was a cult status, gritty-glam New York label doing in a gilded villa? And why were they serving spaghetti? If the point was some kind of marriage of old and new, a teleportation of New York into Florence, it did not work. HBA would’ve been better off with something like the industrial Mercato Centrale, where Kenzo did a phenomenal job a few years ago, and they should’ve been serving burgers and fries, the kind of junk kids eat after the MDMA wears off.

The next evening we were all squeezed into the Marino Marini museum for the Marni menswear runway show. Why they chose such a small space when Florence offers the most incredible venues for this kind of thing remains a mystery. Did they like the fact that the museum’s name served as an anagram for their brand name?

Marni Menswear Guest Designer of Pitti Uomo 87 - 025Marni Menswear Guest Designer of Pitti Uomo 87 - 023Marni Menswear Guest Designer of Pitti Uomo 87 - 021Marni’s womenswear is known for its lovely quirkiness and I was curious to see how it would translate into menswear. Not so well. The parade of pretty ordinary clothes – perhaps it was some humorous commentary on normcore – was spiced up by fur. Fur in itself can be playful if done right, but juxtaposed against the plainness of the rest of the collection it seemed too obvious. I thought my initial impression might be wrong, since my vantage point was from my standing spot on a balcony, where I could kind of see the collection, but not really. But the runway photos told the same story.

The real highlight of Pitti Uomo was the interactive performance by the actress Tilda Swinton and the curator Olivier Saillard, titled Cloakroom. In it Swinton played a coat-check girl and the items she checked were those of the audience. The juice of it was Swinton’s interaction with the clothes, which she carefully examined and did other things to (the luckiest guy was undoubtedly the one who got his scarf licked). The question the performance raised was, what happens to your clothes in the hands of others.

asvof-2015-01-16-cloakroom_a_performance_by_tilda_swinton_and_olivier_saillard_at_pitti_uomo_in_florence._text_by_eugene_rabkin_photos_by_giovanni_gianonni-eugene_rabkin-1746648421It definitely took you out of your comfort zone, as all good art should. This I felt as I checked in my sleeveless jacket only to see Swinton slowly drag it around the table, examine its leather lining, before she folded it neatly. Needless to say, I will never wash it again.

Photos by Giovanni Giannoni

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