In this monthly column by Eugene Rabkin, the founder of StyleZeitgeist shares his opinions, observations, and insights about the world of fashion. Here Eugene explains why he thinks Pitti Uomo favors product over storytelling.
You do anything for a long time and witnessing change is inevitable. It’s been over ten years of Pitti Uomo, the men’s trade fair in Florence, for me; 21 seasons, so my relationship with the fair is officially adult, even by American standards. When I started coming here, the fair was dominated by traditional and casual tailoring - the pavilions felt staid, with the energy coming from guest designer shows held by the likes of UNDERCOVER, Raf Simons, and Band of Outsiders. These designers had stories to tell - their creativity drove the entire fashion industry forward. And they made the product to match the storytelling.
Fast forward to today, and storytelling, mostly in terms of empty marketing exercises, has become the boring part. The more meaningless collaborations, the more quotation marks instead of real design, the more political messages bolted onto the clothes, the keener I feel just how fake the fashion industry has become. In this light I have been gravitating to brands whose ethos seems “true,” so to speak. By true I mean companies that have been producing well-designed, well-made clothes for years, and in some cases for decades, without bowing to trends - Stone Island, NEIGHBORHOOD, visvim and the like.
This perspective has made me observe the 95th edition of Pitti Uomo from a new angle, one measured at 180 degrees - meaning that the product showcased at the fair trumped its special program of events. The fair’s pavilions, showcasing some 1,230 brands, almost half outside of Italy, made my head spin with quality product.
There were fantastic short wool coats from Danton, the French workwear brand revived by a Japanese investor, the Barbour waxed jackets reinterpreted by Daiki Suzuki from Engineered Garments, the brilliant techwear from Descente, and much more. Here were true clothes, most of them made way better and costing less than a pair of Balenciaga sneakers. These products filled me with pride for craftsmanship and dismay at not actually seeing this stuff on the street (except in Tokyo).
Perhaps you see the leitmotif here, and yes, I tend to gravitate towards Japan, as this is the last country where clothes are still well-made and well-designed as a rule. And so, I was looking forward to two Japanese projects highlighted at Pitti - White Leather and Tokyo Fashion Award winners. Sadly, both were a bit of a let down.
The Japanese White Leather is a special, hand-tanned leather that needs no dying or lining, and is therefore completely devoid of chemicals. But “white” is a misleading term, and the true color of the leather was an unappealing shade of ivory. The products made of this leather by several young Japanese designers were a mixed bag. So was the Tokyo Fashion Award winners, of which Nobuyuki Matsui was the standout, and the rest were uninspiring.
As usual, Pitti Uomo was surrounded by a slew of events. The first of these - not on the official Pitti Uomo calendar - was the signing of the new Ari Marcopoulos and Dapper Dan book at the Gucci Garden. If you don’t know what Gucci Garden is, it’s a merch shop, with an art gallery and a restaurant attached to it.
As I struggled through the jarringly colorful space, stuffed to the gills with peacocks of both sexes battling it out for a free glass of prosecco, the experience increasingly resembled one of Dante’s circles of hell, then the carnival scene from the Sweeney Todd film, and finally Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut, but with consumerism instead of sex. I lasted ten minutes, without even bothering to see some banal gender-bending art at the gallery upstairs (Instagram stories that night were enough to confirm that I haven’t missed anything).
The next day at noon it was back to beautiful, well-made clothes by the Korean brand Beyond Closet. The collection was called NAVY, and it was a playful melange of casual tailoring and outerwear with tastefully matched colors. The influence of sacai here was obvious, and I never want to see another pair of slide sandals in my life, but overall it was a very well-executed, lively collection that provided a nice jolt of energy.
The guest designer, meaning the main attraction, at this edition of Pitti Uomo was Y/Project, a brand I have failed to understand since the unfortunate passing of its founding designer Yohan Serfaty, who died of cancer several years ago. The investors decided to keep the brand afloat and hired Glenn Martens, who has turned into a purveyor of ugly chic a-la Vetements.
And so it was with this disorganized show that featured menswear and womenswear with so much in your face ugliness - extremely awkward proportions, the worst shades of blue, the clearance-sale-bin corduroy, and shoes that will surely go down in the Guinness World Book of Records for their repulsiveness. In his defense, Martens is a real designer - the clothes were quite complicated in their cut and there was a definite thoughtfulness to them. But what Martens was thinking is another story, and on the subject I’m totally at a loss.
Two more shows were held on Thursday. The first one was of New York brand Haculla, designed by Jon Koon. It was punk, or rather the idea of punk by a kid whose Bushwick loft is financed by bank Dad, and who has looked at way too many old pictures of CBGB’s and Max’s Kansas City. It was all overblown surface and no substance, and it looked as fake as New York feels today. The best part of the show was the music, and kudos to whoever did it for even knowing the cult ‘70s band Suicide.
The last show was by Aldo Maria Camillo, held at Stazione Leopolda, and it underscored yet again the difference between clothing and fashion. Camillo produced a perfectly capable collection full of beautiful garments - particularly the white moleskin coats with a high vent - largely indistinguishable from many other Italian brands. Modern tailoring, classics with a twist, contemporary elegance - one could practically see the tired marketing cliches rolling off the clothes as the models walked by. The consensus of editors after the show was immediate - these garments should’ve been presented in a showroom where we could admire Camillo’s tailoring skills up close.
And so in a way this edition of Pitti Uomo reflected the menswear zeitgeist once again. Here, the product held more meaning than the tired, corporate-sponsored storytelling. The product is the story in itself, and I hope that more people will continue to gravitate to clothes that feel true. Because quality is self-evident, and unlike marketing executives and image-makers, fit and finish don’t lie.
Eugene Rabkin is the editor of StyleZeitgeist magazine.