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FLORENCE — The question on the lips of many who visited Pitti Immagine Uomo during its four-day run here this week, was: “Has the bellwether trade show become the ultimate branding exercise for men’s?”

This story first appeared in the June 19, 2015 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Harmont & Blaine seemed to think so. The Italian casualwear firm took its trademark dachshund logo to the streets — literally, as the label’s preppy-chic brand ambassadors paraded a bunch of bow-wows up and down the square of the fortezza. Needless to say, they were impeccably styled, already sporting the label’s spring 2016 collection.

Exhibitors more than ever infiltrated the show’s open-air piazza with professional models and “friends of the house” giving a preview of what’s to come, causing camera lights to flash more often than on the red carpet of a star-studded blockbuster.

First-time Pitti exhibitor Dita said it was precisely the fair’s attitude that drew its attention. “We did not come here to sell. We are here to show our face and make our brand known to the fashion industry, which accounts for only 20 percent of our business versus optical retail,” explained Rosario Toscano of the L.A.-based luxury eyewear label.

“It’s a convenient way to expand our brand presence,” he added, citing strong double-digit growth. “In 2014, our sales were up 49 percent. This year, we are looking to grow another 35 percent, aiming at $100 million by 2017.”

Scotch & Soda didn’t even bother to bring its new spring collection. Instead, the Dutch casualwear label, which has been notoriously shy about communicating its brand identity to the press, opted for a mini-museum dedicated to its history and aesthetics, giving a glimpse of its proverbial Dutch explorer spirit, love of textiles and vintage-inspired patterns.

“We are always trying to be a little different, because people expect that from us, and what better platform could there be? Pitti is a theater, and we like it that way,” said Alex Jaspers, Scotch & Soda’s international sales director.

“Both our wholesale and retail businesses are very dynamic. It’s less about business now, all about emotion. A few seasons ago, people were looking for a quick fix, now they want a strong product,” he said, citing the firm’s plans to open a dozen new monobrand units before year-end, including Miami, Los Angeles and Australia.

Maud Tarena, commercial director of the men’s wear department at Le Bon Marché, agreed that the men’s industry was moving away from flashy new trends and toward more quality and originality. “This is a strong edition, although there has been no real surprises here. It’s about continuity, really,” she observed of this season’s exhibition.

The French department store’s men’s stylist, Virginie Sartres, meanwhile, noted that looking outside the booths was sometimes as crucial as looking for trends inside. “We have been taking a lot of pictures,” she said, citing stripes and earthy colors, smart utility jackets and big shoppers as next season’s must-haves.

Some cautioned against the growing theatrics. “This blogger phenomenon performs well, but it’s getting too much,” lamented Hirofumi Kurino, United Arrows’ chief creative director. “People just want to show off. This kills the culture of fashion. The energy goes into show-off design, instead of creation. Fashion retail in general is not good at the moment. The lower and middle markets in Japan are a disaster. This means we should offer something meaningful and interesting to our customers,” he said, appreciative of the fair’s handcrafted pieces in earthy colors with ethnic touches.
He said he would stock up on plain brown loafers and lightweight capes for spring.