“The [New York Fashion Week] men’s calendar is not so strong yet,” said Lapo Cianchi, Pitti Immagine’s director of communications and special events, on a recent call from Florence. “I mean there are some good things — some very good designers — but as a fashion week, they have to improve more. The women’s fashion week is really good, though.”
Call him opinionated, but if anyone is worthy to judge such events, it’s Cianchi. The Fiorentino has spent 30 years at Pitti Immagine, putting on 20-25 events each year, including six “big fairs.” Among them is Pitti Immagine Uomo — popularly known as Pitti Uomo, or simply Pitti — which is best described as a biannual trade show-fashion week hybrid and touted as “the world’s most important platform for men’s clothing and accessory collections.” In January, it attracted 24,300 buyers from 100 countries and 36,000 visitors. To compare, New York Fashion Week: Men’s attracted around 7,000 attendees in its first season (spring 2016).
Currently 91 editions strong, the 92nd iteration of the event doesn’t take place for another two-and-a-half months, but over the past two weeks, it has been receiving much attention, thanks to individual announcements revealing three of its traditional five or six featured collections: Showing their spring 2018 lineups will be “special guests” Virgil Abloh of Off-White and London-based Jonathan Anderson of J.W. Anderson, as well as Hugo Boss’s Hugo, the younger, more accessible counterpart to its Boss line.
“I think they are amongst the few fashion designers who are able to say something really exciting and new,” Cianchi said, of Anderson and Abloh, who — as opposed to Hugo, which will “invest” to show — received special invitations entitling their participation. “We try to invite those who are hot and of-the-moment, but who show all the signs that they are going to last.”
Virgil Abloh’s Off-White Fall 2017 runway show (Image via vogue.fr)
Arguably one of the most buzz-worthy designers today, Virgil Abloh (who received a nomination for the CFDA Awards’ Swarovski Award for Emerging Talent last week) has successfully established his own aesthetic of streetwear that reads as a high-fashion twist on urban apparel.
In addition to his vision, Cianchi said Abloh was chosen for “his intriguing beginnings”: He was raised in the U.S. (Chicago, specifically) and worked as an engineer, an architect and Kanye West’s creative director before launching his own lifestyle brand in 2014.
Despite his Midwest roots, Abloh set up Off-White’s headquarters in Milan from the get-go and started showing his collections in Paris soon after, never stopping in New York. It’s no surprise, said Jian DeLeon, Highsnobiety’s editorial director, who has been covering men’s fashion for the past decade.
“America’s best menswear designers don’t show in New York,” he said. “We have Thom Browne, Rick Owens, Virgil [Abloh] … We have a lot of truly relevant and interesting global brands. The labels that do have the global relevance and followings show at places that are equally as important.”
Browne and Owens have become accustomed to using Paris as a stage for their work for consecutive seasons, and both have been “special guests” at Florence’s Pitti Uomo.
New York Fashion Week: Men’s, just four seasons in, is not quite in a position to make them consider a homecoming, no matter the cost.
In January, the event seemed to be gaining momentum, with Raf Simons (apparently moving his show from Paris out of convenience — his new Calvin Klein gig, and all) and Hugo Boss debuting collections in New York. However, the event as a whole eventually earned some poor reviews, and its longstanding presenting sponsor, Amazon Fashion, declined to renew its contract after the week’s wrap.
DeLeon pointed out you can’t really pit New York against Pitti — or any fashion week against Pitti, for that matter — seeing as the latter event is first and foremost a trade show (“the most prestigious trade show,” he noted). But there’s no denying the respect it has earned as a platform for the work of menswear’s most prominent and promising designers, a goal of fashion weeks across the board. Here’s what it has done over the course of its 35 years to get there. (New York Fashion Week: Men’s, take notes.)
“It’s a fresh format that combines the best of original menswear formats,” Cianchi said, of Pitti Uomo’s unique setup: “It has the commercial impact of a trade fair, and the surprise, the glamour of a fashion week.”
DeLeon agreed, though stressed that it, if he had to pick one, he’d undoubtedly label it a trade show. “Pitti is more business than spectacle,” he said. “Sure, you’ll cover the runway presentations there, but at the end of the day, buyers are going there to write orders, and brands are showing to sell clothes. It’s fashion as commerce, not fashion as art. That’s what other fashion weeks are for.”
Maintaining a streamlined schedule
“We try to focus on just a few big events, five or six throughout the three days of Pitti Uomo, because we want to have the fashion community — press, buyers, industry leaders — to be as relaxed as possible, and not running in a crazy way from one show to another,” Cianchi said, adding, “The New York schedule is really packed.” Think 60-plus designers over five days.
Names of past “special guests” that stand out in Ciachi’s mind include Raf Simons, Rick Owens, Jun Takahashi with Undercover, Thom Browne, Gosha Rubchinskiy, Haider Ackermann, Yohji Yamamoto and Scott Sternberg of the now defunct Band of Outsiders.
Choosing quality over quantity by inviting two big-name designers every season has no doubt boosted the image of the event, inspiring other brands — like Hugo Boss — to be grouped with the top dogs by paying to play.
Thom Browne Fall 2009, at Pitti Uomo (Image via toychest.tistory.com)
“When we invite a guest designer, the creative direction of the show is up to them — we give them carte blanche — but we always give them simple advice: Just one good idea is enough,” Cianchi said. “We can provide them with a wonderful set in Florence, but — whatever the budget — one idea works best. On the other side, a typical catwalk show just isn’t enough.”
In addition to providing suggestions and managing logistics — including overseeing the budget and making necessary arrangements with show venues — the Pitti team goes out of its way to ensure designers feel at home. “We make it as easy as possible for our guests to do their job,” he said.
Evolving with the times
And over the past few years, these guests have become increasingly diverse.
“[Pitti is] at an interesting time, where they’re like, ‘OK, we live in this post-casualization of the workplace era, this sportswear-is-more-prominent-than-tailoring era. They’re approaching it in a way that shows everything can sort of live together,” DeLeon said.
He referenced inviting younger designers and streetwear designers as ways it’s communicating that it’s in touch.
Virgil Abloh will not be the first streetwear designer Pitti has welcomed (there was Gosha Rubchinskiy, of course), and Cianchi doesn’t foresee him being the last. He considers Pitti the ideal stage for streetwear designers (“The mix of innovation with our traditional format and setting is really fascinating,” he said), plus he doesn’t see streetwear as a passing fad in the luxury market.
“Streetwear has become not only powerful in business terms, but also so influential, and we are so interested in how it will evolve,” he said.
On another note, he is also open to updating the event’s format to fit demand: “The social and the digital worlds are already more central in shows,” he said. He added that he has also noticed more interest among designers in interacting with their consumers. “They’re starting to ask for events that are open to everybody, not only to the happy few that get to attend fashion week.”
Yet, through it all, Pitti has managed to maintain its signature image: “Where Pitti falls in the fashion spectrum is really just classic menswear,” said DeLeon. “Tailoring is still important there, and that’s still the foundation of what men still think of when it comes to style and fashion.”
He said that, not only is the ultra-polished look evident on the runway, but it is also represented on the street — fueled by the interest of street style photographers.
“It’s become known as a spot to see dudes who are super well-dressed, hanging out against a wall and smoking a cigarette in super dapper suits,” he said.
And Cianchi is fine with that. “Over the past few years, the image most synonymous with Pitti Uomo has been that of the so-called ‘peacocking parade,’” he said. “It’s a good thing. It’s been a helpful in boosting recognition.”