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Style, innovation & equality

A new masculinity at Pitti Uomo 96

”It is easy to think that menswear at Pitti Uomo is mainly about exaggerated moustaches, quirky glasses and ugly, colourful suits, but in reality, the fair is a much more vibrant and complex experience” states fashion writer and professor in fashion studies, Philip Warkander, in his reflection on last week in Florence.

Words Philip Warkander

This summer’s edition of Pitti Uomo began with the opening of the new fashion exhibition, ”A short novel of men’s fashion”, at Museo della Moda e del Costume, part of the Palazzo Pitti in Florence. Curated by Olivier Saillard, widely regarded as the world’s premier fashion curator, it encompasses a selection of the past thirty years of Pitti Uomo’s guest designers, beginning with the very first one, Vivienne Westwood, who showed her collection in Florence in 1990. Discussing the subject of fashion, exhibitions, and gender, Saillard stated that, ”I have been doing this work, of curating fashion, for more than 25 years now. In that time, I have probably curated about 150 exhibitions on women’s wear, but only three on menswear. It’s easy to do an exhibition on evening dresses and luxurious haute couture, but it says nothing about the wardrobe of the everyday, about how we actually encounter and engage with fashion in our daily lives. This is also why it’s challenging to curate menswear; it’s not so bold and extravagant as women’s wear. With this exhibition, I wanted to find the dream in a grey suit.”

Saillard is, of course, correct in his assertion that there are many things that separate menswear from women’s wear. Pitti Uomo, arguably one of the most important platforms for contemporary men’s fashion, is perhaps one of the best places to explore the definitions and demarcations of menswear. Known for its many male peacocks, aimlessly strolling around the fair at Fortezza da Basso waiting to be photographed, it is easy to think that menswear at Pitti Uomo is mainly about exaggerated moustaches, quirky glasses and ugly, colourful suits, but in reality, the fair is a much more vibrant and complex experience.

One of this year’s most interesting pavilions was Scandinavian Manifesto, where menswear brands from Scandinavia presented their versions of what masculinity should look like in the near future. Here, Martin Asbjørn offered new ways of exploring a sense of masculine sexiness through cropped tops, short leather shorts, and terrycloth tanktops. Many of Rue de Tokyo’s, inspired by the mix of Japanese and French culture but based in Copenhagen, carried a sort of understated, wearable elegance. A different take on masculinity, marked by body-fitted and more sexually charged outfits, was apparent also in the Givenchy fashion show. In the beautiful gardens of Villa Palmieri, the models wore extremely tight and fitted T-shirts, displaying every muscle of the models’ bodies, but juxtaposed with wide, flowing pants for maximum effect.

The overarching question in our time is of course how to make our society sustainable. If we fail to solve this problem, we will perish. At Pitti Uomo, many brands were invested in trying out different ideas and exploring new ways of designing. Soulland presented a line of shirts made from up-cycled fabrics; leftovers from previous collections. Sebastian Dollinger, head of design at Eton shirts, stated that, ”the best way to be sustainable is to make garments that last so that the consumer doesn’t need to buy so much clothes. At Eton, we produce locally here in Europe, and our products are made to last a very long time. Fashion needs to be less wasteful, and this is something that is at the core of what we do.” A similar sentiment was expressed by Christoffer Lundmann, creative director at Tiger of Sweden, best known for their suits: ”The suit is the core of our business. This is what people wear to weddings, funerals and other key events in their lives. You don’t need to own a lot of suits, and you keep them for a long time. In this way, the suit helps to provide a sense of comfort; creating a feeling of continuity through rituals and traditions. Of course, fashion needs also to change more fundamentally: the industry’s business model, built on the need for constant growth, is not compatible with long-term goals of being sustainable. But, part of that is to enhance people’s emotional relationship with their garments, so that they last longer.”

A Swedish brand trying to merge the two discourses – new masculinities and added focus on sustainability – is underwear brand CDLP. With socks made from bamboo and underwear made from lycoell, while campaign images show hunky, athletic men posing and dancing in the Grand Hotel Tremezzo by Lake Como, the brand merges a commitment to the environment with the strangely novel idea that many men also want to be desired and thought of as attractive and a bit sexy.

Returning to Saillard, he elegantly concluded his thoughts on traditional menswear, and why this, according to him, is the most relevant fashion category at the moment:

”It is the suit, and in particular, the black suit, that intrigues me. This kind of garment looks almost the same from decade to decade. Contemporary menswear is based on an idea of masculinity that was formulated in the 1800s, and in many ways, this remains the same today. It is the same jacket, the same trousers, the same colour palette. For me, the effects are very clear: if we want a fashion industry that is sustainable, we should look to menswear. Here is the idea of a fashion that doesn’t go out of style, almost like a uniform. Of course, today we are less formal and instead more casual and I think perhaps that in the future, we should turn to work-wear for inspiration. Work-wear deserves more recognition. But this should happen in the existing tradition of menswear, finding a few pieces that already are classics.