In early January, while much of the world was still nursing a New Year’s hangover, the menswear pack descended on Florence for the autumn/winter 2019 edition of Pitti Uomo. Now in its 30th year, Pitti continues to blaze a trail as the leading menswear tradeshow. It fills an important role: while buyers and editors go to Paris and Milan for runway shows, here they can linger at brands’ stalls, touch fabrics and see products up close.
The format works well with menswear, where the differences between brands are often found in small details, as opposed to womenswear – which tends to be bolder. Plus, as one of the first events on the fashion calendar, Pitti is a bellwether for the new season. “In four days of tradeshow, buyers are able to understand what the trends are and where the market is going,” says Raffaello Napoleone, Pitti Immagine CEO.
This season there were 36,000 attendees, 23,800 of them buyers, with strong showings from Germany, Japan and Scandinavia. Yet it wasn’t all rosy. There was an 8 per cent marked drop in Italian buyers, who have always provided Pitti’s biggest contingent. “The Italian market figures were down because in Italy, end consumption of fashion – and especially of menswear – has been declining for over five years,” says Napoleone. “There is quite a big change in the distribution system [due to online retail], and the state of uncertainty of the Italian political situation is pushing people to wait; to postpone purchases that could be made on the spot.” The country’s famously strong retail scene is in a state of flux.
Compounding these concerns is the unseasonably warm weather that much of Europe faced at the tail end of last year. Numerous brands spoke of sluggish sales leading up to Christmas and how those balmy temperatures had shaped their new autumn/winter collections. For instance, at Italian brands including The Gigi and Roberto Collina there was less heavy outerwear and more lightweight garb. Layering is now king.
As always at Pitti there were plenty of first-rate threads. “I Go Out”, an outerwear pavilion that debuted last season, was a standout, with covetable collections from Japanese brands Snow Peak and And Wander, and US-Japan venture Woolrich Outdoor. There was also attractive upcycled clothing from impressive LA firm Atelier & Repairs and sumptuous German knitwear from Iris von Arnim and Heimat. And two first-time brands caught our eye: French scarfmaker Les Belles Heures and Swedish underwear brand CDLP.
“There is really no other place that gathers all our existing and prospective buyers, as well as key press contacts,” says CDLP’s Andreas Palm, of Pitti. On his brand’s first outing he met with “some unexpected stores” from Beijing, Seoul and Tokyo, plus big accounts including London’s Browns and Paris’s Le Bon Marché. “Being able to meet so many key decision makers face to face is invaluable.”
Standouts at Pitti autumn/winter 2019:
And Wander outdoor gear, Japan
Iris von Arnim knitwear, Germany
Laperruque Leather accessories, France/Sweden
Sease outerwear, Italy
CDLP underwear, Sweden
Hugues Fauchard and Rémi Bats, co-founders of Uniforme, create streamlined menswear with a youthful touch. The brand, launched in 2017, manufactures all its pieces – such as striped polo-shirts with big collars – in Italy and France.
From its 8th arrondissement studio, Ateliers Baudin designs elegant specs and shades from materials such as water-buffalo horn; the products are made in Jura, eastern France.
Les Belles Heures
These delicate scarves will bring a touch of Gallic flair to your outfit. They are made from an Italian silk-rayon blend, digitally printed in either Italy or France and then hand-rolled in the latter.
Some 145 years after it was founded, English shoemaker Church’s has taken a casual turn. In February it released a line of sleek men’s and women’s trainers; there are 15 different colour and material combinations, including smart buffed-leather options and sporty versions with suede and nylon. The collection is titled CH873 in a nod to the company’s year of founding – but it feels very 2019.
French president Emmanuel Macron is a staunch promoter of his country’s fashion industry and has installed a creative director in the Élysée Palace to dream up Élysée-related merchandise. Most recently the palace’s boutique has unveiled a collaboration with Saint James, the Normandy brand famous for its fishermen’s clothing. The six-piece capsule features Breton-striped T-shirts and bobble hats. “During the World Cup the country was covered in red, white and blue,” says a palace representative. “We wanted a minimalist version, allowing anyone to proudly wear the colours of our flag.”
Although not everyone will want to dress as the Tricolour, the project is significant. It’s the first time a creative team has been incorporated into a presidential marketing strategy – and the first time a presidency is actually contributing orders to the production lines of French brands.
In January, Hedi Slimane unveiled the first full men’s collection for Celine – and it was impressive. Yet while sifting through reviews, I noticed one critic pondering whether Celine’s feminine name would hinder it from becoming a hit with male shoppers.
It sounds ridiculous. Until you realise that there is a paucity of brands with female names and male customer bases. In a crude survey I scan the brands at Mr Porter and count two labels with women’s names selling to men: Margaret Howell and Alice Made This. (At Net A Porter there are nearly 70 womenswear brands with men’s names.) Jil Sander and Carolina Herrera also have successful menswear lines – but these are exceptions.
Of course, this doesn’t prove that men won’t buy a brand with a woman’s name. There are other reasons for this statistic, chief among them the fact that most menswear brands have been founded by men and thus, if eponymously titled, bear male monikers. But you wonder if the gendered connotations of a brand are a factor. Men can be insecure about clothes: most don’t want to stand out and they certainly don’t want their masculinity challenged. More than anything it would likely be subconscious: men not bothering to investigate a brand because they assume it’s a label for women.
This is different from saying men wouldn’t buy clothes from a brand with a female designer. It’s about buying a brand that men perceive as feminine. Perhaps Slimane is aware of this. The first thing he did was remove the accent – Céline became Celine – “which makes it more masculine”, says Sagra Maceira de Rosen, a luxury analyst. She’s not convinced by my argument about brand-name gender though. “It may have a marginal impact but it’s not a proper reason.”
I hope she’s right – and, for younger generations, I agree (great strides have been made in erasing gendered stereo-types and removing the toxicity surrounding masculinity). I’m not holding my breath for Celine menswear going mainstream – but I hope it does because the clothes are good and the name means nothing.