Backstage at Moschino Men's Fall 2017

MILAN — Does the men’s wear industry need fashion shows?

After trying out the catwalk, several men’s wear brands — from Brioni to Canali — have returned to the presentation format this fashion season just as Pitti Uomo continues to shine, drawing international buyers and press to the exhibition. To be sure, the Florence-based trade show has been growing by inviting young or cutting-edge designers from around the world for runway shows and presentations. But much of its authority and relevance rests on the array of men’s wear brands showing their collections at their stands.

At the same time, Milan’s Men’s Fashion Week is going through a transition phase, as several brands have opted for coed shows and moved to women’s fashion week, from Gucci and Bottega Veneta to Missoni and Salvatore Ferragamo.

Whatever the case, it appears that there is no longer one clear-cut strategy to unveiling a collection and that anything goes. Actually, experimentation is key.

“I think that breaking the patterns is good and nobody knows what will happen next,” said Kean Etro, creative director of men’s wear at the family-owned company. “Entrepreneurs should take risks, and if you do the same old, it’s boring.”

Etro last season opted for a coed runway format, although the women’s collection is designed by his sister Veronica, but Etro admits he is partial to presentations. “Touching is very important in men’s wear. There is this idea of presentations being second-class compared with shows, but I don’t agree. Men’s wear buyers want to feel the fabrics and all the details.”

Case in point: To mark the 50th anniversary of the brand, Etro this season is holding a presentation with a special installation in Milan. And to emphasize how women’s wear appears to require a different platform, Kean Etro noted that a female version of Pitti has not yet materialized.

“It’s a very democratic moment and there is a lot of freedom,” agreed Massimo Giorgetti, founder and creative director of the MSGM label. “I feel free to experiment, and there is no judging over how a brand decides to display a collection.”

Giorgetti admitted he has been mulling over different possibilities for MSGM but has come to the decision that, since the brand’s men’s wear category is in a growth phase, “it’s still worth it” to hold a runway show.

“I believe a presentation is less powerful and the level of emotion is lower,” he said. “I don’t feel like abandoning this format now, it would almost be a step back for me, like giving less impulse to the men’s division. If one can afford it, I think a show is better.”

He admitted “there are some very beautiful presentations,” but contended that runway shows “will always exist, that will never change,” in light of their strength in conveying a message.

Actually, Giorgetti took the opportunity to underscore that he was asking himself more questions about the timing of the women’s shows. “The timing is a problem, I would move them to July — an idea mooted years ago by Prada chief executive officer Patrizio Bertelli. Pre-collections account for 80 percent of sales, and here I am investing money in a show for the main collection, one that has a shelf life of about a month and a half,” he remarked.

Massimo Ferretti, executive chairman of Aeffe, which controls brands including Alberta Ferretti and Moschino, said he “immediately agreed” with the decision of Jeremy Scott, creative director of the latter, to present coed shows for the label. “While many brands communicate their positioning and message through the formula of presentations, I believe that the runway show, in the case of designer collections, is still pivotal to transfer the specific message of the season and the designer’s vision to consumers,” Ferretti said. “The show remains an important and effective moment of communication for press and buyers that must absolutely continue to exist.”

Carlo Capasa, president of the Italian Camera della Moda, believes men’s fashion week starts in Florence and ends in Milan, adding strength and authority to it. He underscored how the concept of showing men’s wear and, as a consequence, the calendar, has changed. “Shows are more for women. Men are more product-oriented and the catwalk is not for everyone.”

In any case, Capasa, too, said there are no longer defined rules that can be applied to every brand. “Men are returning to the value of the product, which is increasingly central and they are looking at ways to present it in different, authentic, unexpected and innovative ways,” he argued. “Things are no longer so precise, there is much cross-pollination, gender-blending and all this is a sign of modernity — as is seeking new ways to tell your story.”

A story that lies behind a sector that overall continues to grow.

According to Sistema Moda Italia figures released at the opening of Pitti Uomo, the Italian men’s wear industry is expected to close 2017 with a 2.1 percent increase in sales to 9.2 billion euros. Men’s wear accounts for 17 percent of total sales generated by the country’s textile and fashion pipeline and for 27.3 percent of ready-to-wear alone. Exports now account for 65 percent of the men’s wear business.

During Pitti’s inaugural press conference, Carlo Calenda, Italy’s minister of economic development, said “a strong process of modernization” is under way. “Everything is changing at an unimaginable speed,” from the calendars to the retail, wholesale and online channels. Calenda said he had recently asked the Italian Trade Agency ICE to shift its focus to the online platform. As reported, the Italian government is helping to uncover “Italian Hidden Gems.” In a first such partnership, ICE, said president Michele Scannavini, has inked a yearlong agreement with Yoox to help develop the online businesses of 100 small- and medium-sized Italian brands in the U.S. and China, with a focus on fashion, accessories, art and design. A dedicated platform, called “Italian Hidden Gems,” will be launched in mid-2018 on the e-tailer, under the Yoox Net-a-porter Group.

“Companies are our clients and they are the ones that tell us what they need,” said Calenda, who masterminded the coordination between Italy’s fashion associations. These, he said ahead of the general elections in the country scheduled for March 4, should not end with the current government, adding that steps should be taken so that the process of modernization in the industry should continue no matter what party is in power. “We must always look ahead,” he said.

Even amid all the changes sweeping the industry and questions about the future, a number of executives believe tradition remains important as well. “Coed shows, the see-now-buy-now format are Peter Pan’s Neverland,” according to Andrea Lardini, president of Lardini. “I am very doubtful about these latest inventions.”

Opting for the presentation format at Pitti for years, Lardini believes that the Florence-based trade show “is for everyone — you don’t know who will be interested in your brand. Conversely, when you hold a show, you invite your guests, it’s more limited. With a presentation at Pitti, you expose yourself to an international market that is increasingly bigger.”

Despite this view, Lardini isn’t averse to change himself: He has been voicing for years his wish to bring the men’s shows and presentations in Milan and Florence together to some time before Christmas — but “it’s not easy,” he conceded.

Also seeking to reach a broader audience, Paolo Roviera, ceo officer of Corneliani, said this season the brand returned to Pitti in an effort to offer “more time and space” to buyers and the press. In keeping with his decision last year to skip a show and present the collection via a video and a digital project, Roviera believes that Pitti is “a platform that is closer to the reality of consumers for a brand such as Corneliani.”

A stand allows visitors to share an experience that is representative of the brand, he said. “We won’t flood you with our products. There is a bar first thing as you enter the stand, which is more about hospitality than sales. I don’t think you can convey what the brand is about in nine, 10 minutes, the duration of a show. We want to offer an experience and not only to show outfits. If you like this experience, you may even choose to return to the stand — and you can stay there as much as you want. In Milan it’s all too fast to allow this kind of engagement.”

Roviera argued that “often retailers and consumers are dubious about what is shown on the runways. I think consistency and authenticity pays, you can’t be what you are not, you can’t change your DNA and at Corneliani you see what you get. Men value credibility.”

On the other hand, the newly appointed creative director at Pal Zileri, Rocco Iannone, has chosen to unveil his first collection for the Italian brand with a runway show in Milan on Jan. 15. “Men’s wear has a more scientific and technical approach, which is derived from the function and use of the clothes,” he said. “In women’s wear there are more and different facets, with a lot of eye-catching ways to draw attention.”

He contended that companies that have a strong accessories business, from Gucci and Prada to Louis Vuitton, have had to play up the shows. “When you sell [more] ready-to-wear it’s different, and, even more so with men’s wear, you need to get straight to the point.”

Iannone said Italy, compared with New York or Paris, has the advantage of having two men’s wear moments and that the combined force of Milan and Florence is unique. He singled out Pitti’s ceo Raffaello Napoleone for having “created a whole world that hinges on men’s wear, where buyers find everything they need in the same container.” The designer also believes that showing all of the men’s wear collections in Florence and dedicating Milan to women’s wear “would have a strong impact.”

“The world is changing and we are all adapting. These are really personal choices, but we continue on our path,” said Antonio De Matteis, ceo of Kiton, which presents in Milan. De Matteis champions “the possibility to explain what we do, with one-on-one meetings” with clients. “Shows are a flash” and do not allow visitors to “really understand what a brand is about,” he contended.

Four years ago, when it took over Gianfranco Ferré’s headquarters in Milan, renaming the building Palazzo Kiton, the company moved its presentation from Pitti to the northern city. In Florence, two of the brands in the Ciro Paone SpA group that also includes Kiton — Sartorio and Kired — continue to hold their presentations in Florence. “Given its expansive size, Palazzo Kiton allows to present the entire collection of the signature brand,” De Matteis explained.