You may not know it, but Pitti Uomo, a (mostly) menswear trade show in Florence, is now firmly embedded as a must-stop on the menswear fashion calendar, sandwiched between the London and Milan fashion weeks. It differs in that it is not a proper fashion week, though there are special guests who put on runway shows, but the thousand-plus brands the fair attracts are housed in a historic fortress instead of being spread out in showrooms all over town.

But it has all the characteristic features of a fashion week—a busy schedule of runway shows and presentations in the evening, buyers doing business during the day, harried journalists, and a slew of peacock attendees vying for the attention of street style photographers.

One of the main draws for the journalists attending Pitti Uomo is that for a season they lure away talent from other cities’ catwalks and have them put on shows that are usually more interesting than your standard model-on-a-catwalk affair. This season the special guests were J.W. Anderson and Off-White c/o Virgil Abloh, with HUGO (by Hugo Boss) and Hunting World bringing up the rear.

Pitti Uomo used to be predominantly about classic tailored menswear, and though this still has a strong presence, the fair now puts a stronger impact on streetwear and the avant-garde. There is now an entire pavilion, called "Unconventional," devoted to the goth ninja schtick.

The occupationally well-dressed Pitti attendees are easy to tell apart from the rest, and they form a stark contrasting backdrop to the civilians wearing “normal” clothes. There are the typical American tourists dressed so depressingly dull, they make you feel both suicidal and homicidal. There are the Europeans, in navy polo shirts and blue jeans and other my-wife-buys-my-clothes gear. “Generic” is the operative word.

The Pitti men are dressed in carefully (mis)matched blazers, shirts, slim jeans or pants that always —and I mean ALWAYS—end at the ankle, and whatever limited-edition Nikes you certainly wouldn't find at Foot Locker. The women are in summer dresses and, invariably, in whatever version of adidas Stan Smiths happened to catch their fancy.

My first evening in Florence began by watching the finale of a bike polo tournament sponsored by Christian Louboutin, who was presenting a new line of sneakers at Pitti Uomo. Studded and multi-colored, they were certainly not easy on the eye, though I imagine they will do well among those who are not into subtlety.

Then it was off to a fashion exhibit at Palazzo Pitti, called the Ephemeral Museum of Fashion. It was curated by the wizard Olivier Saillard of the Parisian Galleria Museum, who is fantastically good at manifesting ideas, something that contemporary fashion lacks all too often.

In a series of rooms, against the backdrop of the palazzo’s opulent settings, Saillard arranged clothes from the likes of Prada, Rei Kawakubo and Yohji Yamamoto in a collection of vignettes that depicted transience of fashion and clothes. Walking through the rooms felt like walking through a stream of consciousness of a person who has clearly spent a lot of time thinking about the nature of fashion.

Then it was time for the HUGO runway show and its afterparty with the rapper M.I.A. Both made it clear that Hugo Boss, whose flagging suit sales have the company heads worried, decided to reposition its casual line into a high fashion affair. The first attempt should elicit a lot of soul-searching at the Hugo Boss corporate headquarters.

According to the press release, the collection was based on “the spirit of the artist,” whatever that means; paid homage to Basquiat, and was supposedly based on the silhouettes from HUGO’s first, 1993 collection.

Maybe so, but as one journalist put it: “It looked like Dries Van Noten and Raf Simons had a bastard child.”

I spent the next day diligently walking around the fair in a 95-degree heat. I hate to talk about the weather, but the debilitating heat put a damper on the whole affair. There was markedly less peacocking, though there were still men floating around like swans in three-piece suits. They were both obnoxious and admirable, and I really do wish I had the discipline to sacrifice myself on the altar of sartorial perfection, weather be damned.

That evening began with the Hunting World show. Why would anyone bother seeing this bougie American brand that clearly revels in the exoticism of the aesthetic trappings of the bygone British Empire? Because they hired Yosuke Aizawa of White Mountaineering to design its first ever runway collection. The clothes were fine, though the ghost of Dries Van Noten loomed large over the catwalk.

And then it was off to J.W. Anderson at Villa La Pietra, a stunning estate that overlooks Florence and that also doubles as NYU’s local campus. We all had a chance to catch a breath before the show while we sat on huge white branded pillows and absently stared at the lush greenery around us. The menswear that Anders0n presented was— to a collective sigh of relief—much more wearable than his previous frilly experiments in cross-gender dressing.

This was no coincidence, as Anderson himself noted. It seemed that love was on Anderson’s mind and he treated us to an overload of hearts—on dress shirts, denim shorts, trench coats, and hoodies. Taken apart, these garments would stand quite well on their own, but they did not seem to jive as a collection. Perhaps it was partly the fault of the anything-goes approach to styling that we see all too often these days, but here Anderson looked like a piano player hitting all the right notes without producing a moving melody.

The grand finale was the Off-White c/o Virgil Abloh show, which took place the following night. We were back at Palazzo Pitti, sitting on bleachers facing the castle’s front wall. The wall was to be the canvas onto which the American artist Jenny Holzer (a former collaborator of Helmut Lang) projected poetry referring to the war in Syria. This was to serve as a backdrop for Off-White’s runway presentation.

I have argued elsewhere that fashion might be better off staying away from politics, and this banal presentation was further proof. The fashion audience is not a callous bunch, but the collective yawn this exercise in pretension elicited was palpable. What’s more, the projection, meant to remind us about the evils of this world—as if we don’t read the news—continued as the backdrop as the models started walking the runway. Were we supposed to concentrate on war or on fashion?

Duty called, and I paid attention to the clothes. The collection was, unsurprisingly, sophomoric. In it Abloh managed to knock off not only Raf Simons, but also Hood by Air and Gosha Rubchinskiy. Abloh makes no qualms about Off-White being a marketing exercise without much real design (according to Angelo Flaccavento’s review for Business of Fashion, Abloh said as much during the press preview), but do we really need HBA and Rubchinskiy knock-offs?

Is this some new meta-level of irony we’ve reached, where the imitators are themselves imitated? Does anyone care? Abloh certainly does not seem to, and neither do his countless fans who walk around with tire-track marks on their backs. The fashion press seemed to care more. We are usually not scant on show finale applause, but none came that night, not counting a bunch of Italian tweens who snuck into the show.

All in all, this edition of Pitti Uomo confirmed the current status quo of fashion, namely that postmodernism rules, shameless imitation is totally fine, marketing is the new form of cultural heroism, and streetwear is the new fashion.

The ghosts of true innovators like Raf Simons and Dries Van Noten loomed large, and the heat added to the overall feeling of stupor fashion finds itself in.

For more Pitti Uomo 92 coverage, check out some of the best street style from the streets of Florence.

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