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For fans of fashion as cultural expression, yesterday’s back-to-back shows by UNDERCOVER and The Soloist at Pitti Uomo in Florence was a treat on all fronts. It was a rare menswear outing by two of the most forward-thinking designers working today. The last time UNDERCOVER showed menswear was here in 2009; Takahiro Miyashita has not shown The Soloist on the runway, except earlier in Tokyo this year.

The shows were a celebration not only of the designers’ work but also of their friendship (although the two possess mutual admiration for each others’ creativity, they have never worked together). The pair channeled their creative energy around the concept of order and disorder and then went on to design their respective collections without consulting each other in the process (except on the show’s finale, which we’ll explain in more depth later).

UNDERCOVER would start the show with the theme Order/Disorder, taking the world apart, and The Soloist would finish it with Disorder/Order and putting it back together, or rather giving it a new start.

What did it look like in practice? Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey was on Takahashi’s mind, who, in keeping with the theme, started the show with Joy Division’s song “Atmosphere.” With all the talk of AI taking over the world, it seemed very much of the moment.

The fantasy of Arthur Clarke’s novel is no longer pure science fiction, and HAL 9000 going haywire and taking the fragile little world of Discovery One with him seemed as good of a symbol as any, as Takahashi explained to me backstage.

How did it manifest in the clothes? There were bags with HAL’s menacing eye staring at the audience, Space Odyssey prints — the most epic of them on a flowing hooded cape — and perhaps the least literal and the most telling, a crinkled, misshapen jacket that seemed to be disintegrating on the model’s body.

So, how does one put a world back together? There was something decidedly post-apocalyptic in the multi-layered, overstyled-on-purpose looks that Miyashita sent down the runway. Tailoring was taken from its dressed-up connotation into the realm of practicality with multiple straps and buckles, and layered over with quilted nylon for protection. Many models were hooded and masked. But there was no menace in them – it seemed, if anything, that they were more afraid of this brave new world.

It made me think not so much of Mad Max or The Walking Dead, but of Cormac McCarthy’s book The Road, and its theme of keeping alive the faintest of hopes against the worst odds. In The Soloist’s show’s finale, a slew of models came out wearing red crinkled ponchos with the “The Day the World Went Away” text written on them, also the title of the Nine Inch Nails song that closed the show. But backstage Miyashita was way more sanguine than I expected. “I was not thinking about the apocalypse,” he told me. “This is simply the gear we will need to start over after the day the world goes away.”

And there was a kind of hopeful innocence in the finale for UNDERCOVER and The Soloist, set to a remix of “The Last Time” by The Andrew Oldham Orchestra. It was a black and white contrast, UNDERCOVER’s models in diaphanous, flowing skirts, and The Soloist’s counterparts in black pants and protective cropped aprons. That the new world will be bittersweet is beyond the question. Though hasn’t it always been this way?

Now check out what went down at 032c’s Pitti Uomo showcase.

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