Pitti Uomo: Two And A Half Men

The iconic Florentine menswear trade-show, as seen by Raffaello Napoleone, Raf Simons – and his collection's muse, Robert Mapplethorpe.

What's new at Pitti Uomo? This time around, the well-established Italian trade-show had many exclusive events to offer at Fortezza da Basso in Florence, including shows by Raf Simons, up-and-comer Gosha Rubchinskiy, Italian designers Lucio Vanotti and Fausto Puglisi, as well as the Japanese label Visvim, and an exclusive photo exhibition – "Visions of Fashion" – conceived by fashion's heavy hitter Karl Lagerfeld.

 


The 'Visions of Fashion' exhibition by Karl Lagerfeld, Courtesy of PR

 

But aside from its rich event program and carefully curated brand pavilions, two visions particularly stood out this time, namely Raf Simons' and Raffaello Napoleone's (CEO of Pitti). Celebrating the fair's 90th season, the latter invited the former to stage both a show and an installation with clothes from the designer's archive at Firenze's Stazione Leopolda, the city's iconic and oldest train station.  In this context, Raf Simons' event could be understood like a conceptual retrospective of his past work so far, as well as a beautiful take on his present collection which was inspired and influenced by Robert Mapplethorpe's legacy. A "past, present, and future" guiding thread that inspired Raffaello Napoleone in his statements regarding the fair's evolution.

 


The Gosha Rubchinskiy menswear Spring/Summer 2017 show, Florence, Courtesy of PR

 

"We need to remember that Pitti was born in 1972 with 44 exhibitors only that focused on classic Italian formal wear, with a bit of accessory design, but not much. Today, 45 years later, menswear has been going through an extraordinary evolution, one that inspired our fair to evolve as well," stated Napoleone, adding that formal wear still matters to buyers today, but that it is no longer privileged, the concept of "men's uniforms" being perceived as retrograde by many buyers. And indeed, although craftsmanship and tailoring still matter, if you look at menswear's recent movers & shakers – think about J.W. Anderson's or Rick Owens' growingly gender-bending aesthetics that have inspired their peers to be eclectic as well – it is obvious that it broke free from the stranglehold of tradition a while ago, seeking to become as daring and multifaceted as our generation's womenswear. In other words, the habit does not make the monk, but it makes the male fashionista.

 


Italian style at Pitti Uomo, Courtesy of PR

 

"Our craftsmanship has always been of great importance. This is what makes Italy strong."

In this context, menswear's evolution in Italy seems to be particularly promising as it grows on very fertile grounds. "Our craftsmanship has always been of great importance. The whole country is involved – in fact, each city or district has a certain expertise and specialization, and the quality of our craft continues to attract both local and international brands and clients," continued Napoleone. "But it's not only the quality: our manufacturers can adapt easily to major industry changes. The average team of each Italian manufacture usually consists of 8 artisans – it is much easier for a small team to adapt to the fashion industry's ever-growing and fast-paced evolution than it is for a corporate, mass-market fashion group. This is what makes Italy strong."

 


Backstage at the Raf Simons menswear Spring/Summer 2017 show, Florence, Courtesy of PR

 

And considering the growing importance of locally-sourced and locally-produced (ideally sustainable) quality fashion within the international luxury industry, Italian craftsmanship is by no means about to be substituted anytime soon – and in that sense, Italian menswear and Italian menswear platforms are still relevant today, even, dare we say, irreplaceable. "At Pitti, we have always tried to be one and a half steps ahead of the rest of the industry by experimenting a lot with what we have at hand – our location, our city, our culture, and traditions – and we still do that, from one season to another. La Fortezza da Basso is the right place to experiment: we were able to experiment with the venue, which opened up infinite possibilities of joining and blending concepts, ideas, and brands together. In fact, this inspirational mix-and-matching that we have been cultivating at Pitti has created trends and styles over the years – something you usually wouldn't expect from a trade-show," added Napoleone.

 

Backstage at the Raf Simons menswear Spring/Summer 2017 show, Florence, Courtesy of PR

 

“I wanted to approach this show in a very curatorial way, as if we would do a museum show.”

Belgian designer Raf Simons, for his part, is also familiar with setting trends and watching them grow big. This season, for his comeback at Pitti – he showcased his label's 10th anniversary collection back in 2005 – he did not only predict the future with a menswear collection that paid homage to American photographer extraordinaire Robert Mapplethorpe, he also explored his own past and present by showcasing a Berghain-flavored (think red lights, fetish-techno atmosphere, raw interiors) installation at Pitti Uomo that showcased some of the key outfits of his past collections, including some of his collaborations with the thought-provoking multimedia artist Sterling Ruby. “Usually, when I collaborate with an artist, I am the one that gets in touch, but this time, it was the Mapplethorpe Foundation that contacted me and I was very curious to understand why they did that,” explained Raf Simons backstage after his show.

 


The Raf Simons retrospective exhibition, Courtesy of PR

 

More than just a tribute to Robert Mapplethorpe, the collection was wearable art, an ode to a whole generation and sub-culture of artists that were portrayed by the American photographer – think Debbie Harry, Alice Neel, Willem de Kooning, Robert Rauschenberg – and consequently depicted on Simons' many gender-bending silhouettes (oversized shirts, cropped tops, tight trousers). In addition, hyper-physical, porn flavored imagery (an erect penis on a jacket) and a slight touch of fetish and S&M (lots of leather, belts worn as leashes) clearly made a statement by evoking and celebrating an open-minded liberated sexuality, which goes hand in hand with today's societal obsession over gender-fluidity that dissects and overthrows the male-female dichotomies a tad further.

 

The Raf Simons menswear Spring/Summer 2017 show, Florence, Courtesy of PR

 

“I was quite struck by the emotional impact that his pictures had on me. Some of the artists that he photographed are people I truly admire and I thought that it was very important to juxtapose this lesser known but very sensitive work with the Robert Mapplethorpe that we all know, like his body & sex imagery that was usually banned from museums back in the days,” continued Simons. “I wanted to approach this show in a very curatorial way, as if we would do a museum show. I wanted to challenge myself so that the Foundation could see that we can showcase Robert's legacy in a different way,” he added while specifying that each silhouette showcased on the runway was meant to represent one piece of art by Robert Mapplethorpe – an interesting and challenging take on approaching a fashion show, if you consider that the curated usually belongs in the confined spaces of galleries and museums. Breaking with preconceived standards, using the space and surroundings at hand to push the boundaries of fashion, these are just a few elements of the many that Raffaello Napoleone's conception of Pitti and Raf Simons have in common – which is certainly why Firenze was Simons' place-to-be this season. “Pitti has always treated me nicely,” concluded Simons with a smile on his face. “I have beautiful memories here. Many years ago, I actually built an apartment in the Stazione Leopolda, as part of the Pitti show curated by Terry Jones, where I exhibited my clothes and I also did a retrospective of my own work ten years ago – I always wanted to come back to Pitti for its amazing people.” And we hope that this latest comeback won't be the last. 

 

Read our latest features and complete fashion week reports in NOWMagazine.

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