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FLORENCE, Italy — Smaller, but good! International men’s wear trade show Pitti Uomo, which is closing today, made a comeback this summer after the pandemic with a revisited physical format. If the size of the fair was approximately a quarter than in the pre-COVID-19 years — total exhibitors this time were around 300 compared to the 1,200 of the past — the quality of the collections unveiled felt high and the overall vibe positive and optimistic.

“I see this moment as a lovely rebirth, we can finally meet and talk again,” said Brunello Cucinelli. Even if his company already unveiled the spring 2022 collection at Milan Men’s Fashion Week a couple of weeks ago, the entrepreneur decided to be present at Pitti Uomo anyway, launching a positive signal for the industry.

“We are conscious that the investments made by our exhibitors may not pay back immediately, in the wake of a reduced number of attendees, but it is a testament to the past, present and future role and value of Pitti Uomo,” noted Claudio Marenzi, president of Pitti Immagine.

“Pitti Uomo gave us so much over the years, and we felt that we had to give back,” said Bergdorf Goodman and Neiman Marcus men’s fashion director Bruce Pask, who said he was impressed by the ability of Pitti Uomo’s organizers to set up the fair in two months. “It was really good to have long conversations at the booths with people like Brunello Cucinelli and Antonio De Matteis of Kiton.” During a cocktail that Pask hosted with watch company Wolf, as well as niche magazines WM Brown and Yolo Journal at the legendary Harry’s Bar, the executive reminisced about some of the funniest moments at Pitti Uomo, included a night when as a young editor at American magazine GQ he attended a Giorgio Armani dinner with the late hip-hop icon Tupac Shakur.

“Pitti Uomo has always played a key role in our men’s industry,” said New York-based fashion veteran Nick Wooster, who was among the guests at the cocktail. “I managed to see the debut of Dries Van Noten here in 1989,” he explained going down memory lane.

“Pitti Uomo is my favorite fashion event of the year, I always try not to miss the fair because it gives a really interesting perspective on the men’s world, which we don’t see in Scandinavia,” said Alexandra Saunders, buying manager at Copenhagen’s premium department store Illum. While praising former digital buying experiences which she described as more sustainable, Saunders is convinced that “when it comes to buying bigger assortments or if you need to negotiate with a partner, finding an agreement or starting a new partnership, the physical [experience] is 100 percent better.”

Cucinelli, who said he was very happy with the ongoing sales campaign, expects his namesake company to grow 20 percent in 2021 compared to the previous year, and he believes the next few seasons will see a renewed sense of elegance in the men’s wear arena. “I believe that in the past five or six years, men’s fashion suffered a bit, but it’s returning stronger than ever because, moving away a bit from streetwear, people are feeling the need to look chic and fresh, from the more formal occasions to their spare time.”

Actually, many of the collections showcased at the trade show revolved around the idea of revisited classics.

The concept was beautifully interpreted at Caruso, which returned to Pitti Uomo this season after almost two decades. Creative director Aldo Maria Camillo embraced effortless sophistication to deliver a charming collection, where classic formalwear was revisited through a modern, quite experimental twist. Subverting the established rules of tailoring, he employed a range of lightweight fabrics, from silk and viscose to shirting textiles, to craft weightless, deconstructed  blazers lined with a Japanese nylon fishnet keeping the garment ultra fresh. At the same time, suiting fabrics, including a lightweight wool, were crafted for utility shirts and pants, which is Caruso’s new easy-chic uniform. Maxi stripes gave a distinctive touch to both jackets and fluid Cuban shirts, worn with relaxed pleated pants. In addition, Camillo challenged Caruso’s experienced artisans by asking them to experiment with garment dyeing: the result was a range of charming suits and separates featuring summery tones of yellow and blue.

Marco Angeloni, Caruso’s chief executive officer, said the brand, which is sold in 150 stores around the world, is debuting a shop-in-shop at Harrods in London by the end of July. “I’m very proud of the fact that clients and final consumers are not only coming to us for the ultimate quality of our products, but they have started looking at us for our signature style, our playful elegance,” said Angeloni, adding that among the brand’s ambition there is the opening of a store in Milan soon.

The pandemic actually opened many interesting opportunities in the retail market, as explained by Paul & Shark president Andrea Dini. The Italian company has secured a prestigious location on Rome’s central Via Condotti, which will house the brand’s first store in the Italian capital net year. Paul & Shark has also recently opened a shop in Johannesburg, South Africa, and a second store in Dubai, while a boutique at Milan’s international airport Malpensa will open its doors in October.

According to Dini, who was extremely happy with Pitti organizers’ decisions to opt for a physical event this summer, Paul & Shark is putting a strong focus on revising its sustainability strategy. “The goal is now to reduce as much as possible the amount of water we use and to minimize our carbon footprint along the whole supply chain,” said Dini. “Sometimes recycling a preexisting material is more impactful than opting for other alternatives. We have to be extremely careful in our decisions.”

In keeping with this vision, Paul & Shark unveiled at Pitti a capsule collection called Re-Cotton, that includes classic sweaters, T-shirts, hoodies and polo shirts crafted from a recycled cotton that enables reduction of water consumption by 61 percent and the CO2 emissions by 46 percent. The brand, which offers a range of products crafted from conscious materials, including nylon made of recycled plastic bottles, also presented at Pitti Uomo the second iteration of its capsule collection with Japanese brand White Mountaineering. “We did the first two capsules without even meeting each other because of the pandemic and they look great,” said Dini. “I can’t wait to have them working at our company and opening to them our rich archives.”

Sustainability also played a key role at Italian denim brand Roy Roger’s, which is celebrating its 77th anniversary next year. The company, according to CEO Niccolò Biondi, is expecting to post a growth between 5 and 10 percent this year compared to 2019, when it generated revenues of 18.5 million euros. At Pitti, it presented three denim ranges. The first includes eco-washed jeans that are treated with techniques enabled to save water; the second consists of garments crafted from pre-consumer recycled denim; while the high-end RRs capsule features jeans showing the label coming in regenerated deadstock leather.

Outerwear company Herno continued to bank on green fabrics while updating its traditional silhouettes to tap into a younger customer base by offering each piece in three fits, including streetwear-friendly oversized options seen on a military-inspired patchwork parka, garment-dyed nylon raincoat, and tie-dye windbreaker. Among the most sustainable options, part of the Herno Globe range, the brand introduced a bamboo-based viscose, also garment-dyed, for long-sleeved polo shirts, while it embraced unexpected fabrics such as linen and cashmere for spring-ready down vests.

Among the accessories players, Piquadro Group, despite the difficulties that the business and leisure travel segments are going through, decided to attend Pitti with a booth dedicated to its Piquadro brand. Next to suitcases and a range of small leather goods, Piquadro approached the outdoors world with technical backpacks this season. “I’m passionate about mountains and as a company we have invested in a ski resort that because of the pandemic was going to close,” said Piquadro Group president Marco Palmieri, referring to the Corno alle Scale ski resort in the Emilia-Romagna region. “I think this a perfect example of a practical initiative in the frame of social corporate responsibility, especially due to the fact that it’s going to have a positive impact on a local community close to us.” Along with the Piquadro brand, the namesake group operates two other accessories labels, The Bridge and Lancel, which the company acquired in 2018 from luxury group Compagnie Financière Richemont. “Lancel is having a momentum,” said Palmieri, adding that the brand is opening two stores, one in Cannes and one in Biarritz, this week, while five Lancel shops are expected to open in China within spring 2022. Piquadro Group, which posted a 25 percent decrease in sales in 2020, is closing the second quarter of 2021 up 75 percent compared to last year, with the business of the directly operated e-commerce channel up 70 percent compared to the same period in 2020.

In 2020, the pandemic and related lockdowns globally, as well as halted tourism flows and reduced domestic expenditure, impacted revenues of the men’s fashion category, which dropped 19.5 percent to 8.16 billion euros, compared to the previous year, according to data provided by Confindustria Moda.

In his address at the trade show’s opening ceremony, Italy’s Ministry of Economic Development Giancarlo Giorgetti said, “Fashion is an ambassador for Italian beauty and Pitti Uomo is the place where two of the sectors hit the hardest, such as fashion and fairs, come together. The physical fair is a sign of renaissance and a testament to the country’s excellence in blending tradition and innovation,” he added. The ministry noted that as part of the national Recovery and Resilience Plan, the fashion industry was taken into high consideration as a sector posting sales of 80 billion euros and employing 500,000 people, with particular attention to its transition toward a more innovative and sustainable future.

The year 2021 has opened on an optimistic note, as exports of men’s fashion were down a modest 3.9 percent in the first three months of the year versus the first quarter in 2020, lifted by a positive performance in March, when exports jumped 45.4 percent year-over-year, which equals a 6.5 percent gain compared to 2019. While on track for a slow recovery, exports to key international markets including the U.S. and U.K. were still down 32.6 percent and 50.9 percent in the three months ended March 31, while exports to China grew 32.9 percent.

According to Ahmet Mercan, CEO of AlphaTauri, Formula One Red Bull’s fashion label, the havoc wrought by the pandemic can be turned into new opportunities, especially for a brand that is still paving the way for a global push. The executive underscored that retailers and buyers are looking for new brands to discover and Pitti was the right stage to tap into the opportunity.

For instance, Federica Montelli, head of fashion at Milan’s department store Rinascente, was on the hunt for some cool emerging brands and found the sustainability section set up by Pitti Uomo particularly interesting, citing labels such as Federico Cina, Patchouli Studio and Reamerei, as among those to watch. Incidentally, many of these brands focused on summer knitwear, which Montelli described as a spring 2022 “must,” that telegraphs “a resort vibe, with a joyful and colorful approach that was heavily present at the fair.”

She also praised the high-tech 3D-Knit fabric by Formula One Red Bull’s fashion label AlphaTauri, which avoids stitching and saves around 30 percent of yarn compared to traditional knitting techniques. For spring it was made available in cashmere versions for crewnecks and striped polo shirts. Building on its core R&D approach and revisitation of wardrobe staples with a high-performance bent, the brand elevated its fashion credentials with a sleek collection worked in a muted color palette of whites and taupe accented by flashes of summery yellow and green. Updating its patented water-repellent Taurobran membrane, the label presented a new lightweight iteration doubled with soft-touch cotton for technical parkas.

“It was the right decision to come back…this is the first real stage in the aftermath of the pandemic,” Mercan said noting that 2020 was a tough year. “We’re looking positively toward the future, and it is more or less a restart for everyone and we are kind of new in the game so I guess this is an advantage for us,” the executive offered.

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