Backstage at Y/Project Men's Fall 2019

FLORENCE — Despite a challenging retail environment, Pitti Uomo for its 95th edition delivered as a bellwether platform for the fall 2019 men’s season.

Retailers lauded the enticing array of projects, ranging from the transporting show of guest designer Y/Project at the Large Cloister of the Santa Maria Novella complex to Moon Boot’s 50th anniversary lunar invasion-themed exhibition at the Stazione Leopolda, as well as the fair’s curated sections.

“The fall men’s wear assortment as evidenced by what I’ve seen here at Pitti is off to a particularly strong start,” said Bruce Pask, men’s fashion director of Bergdorf Goodman and Neiman Marcus for whom the event serves as “the platform from which I reference the runway shows to come, serving as a grounded point of view for what merchandise will be out in the market.”

“We have seen a lot of inspiring collections and items here from both large brands as well as more obscure-makers that are perfect for the discerning, luxury-minded customer,” he added, flagging Z Zegna’s “melding of sartorial and activewear” and Brunello Cucinelli’s “Gentlemen at Ease” collection among highlights.

“More traditional men’s wear influences are also having a strong showing with lots of English fabrications like glen plaids, houndstooth and checks looking refreshing in both tailoring as well as sportswear items like bomber styles,” he said. “Tailored topcoats, especially when worn with more casual weekend wear, looked new and a nice addition to the technical parkas that have been dominant. Camel has been a strong seasonal color, appearing in everything from outerwear and tailoring to knitwear, while sweaters are also being given the comfort treatment with looser, slouchier shapes.”

For Tom Kalenderian, executive vice president of men’s wear for Barneys New York, this edition reinforced the trade show’s position to support and present artisan companies making a strong effort to create something new and different.

Staying “cautiously optimistic” for fall 2019, he anticipates “that our clients will be enthusiastic about the new season.

“Men’s fashion is in a funny place currently, leaving men stuck somewhere between streetwear and dandyism,” observed Kalenderian. “I do think Pitti generates more interest in sophisticated men’s wear [as a] realistic option, more so than other venues. Great accessories like handknit hats and hand-burnished gloves, illustrate some of the many options that exist to animate our store offerings,” he said, signaling a trend to “luxurious finishes that suggest a true fall look with a variety of corduroy, cotton flannels and cashmere,” with a rich color palette hooked on “plum, gray and burgundy balanced by the familiar range of blue shades.”

He particularly enjoyed the classics with a twist, often with heritage British styling like the Crockett & Jones footwear, Lock & Co. Hatters and Drake’s Silks.

“A well thought out and curated trade fair that is beneficial to the men’s schedule,” echoed Lee Goldup, men’s wear buyer at Browns Fashion. His budget was up “for the vast majority of our brands,” coming off the back of “a very successful fall 2018 season.

“Tailoring is definitely fighting its way back in with regards to ready-to-wear, although streetwear is still king,” he said.

For Justin Berkowitz, men’s fashion director at Bloomingdale’s, for whom the event also remains “one of the strongest lenses with which to view the upcoming season of men’s wear,” the standout presentations also included Z Zegna, “which focused on the future.

“It felt both technologically innovative and classically sophisticated. Smart color choices, compelling styling and modern fabrics all came together beautifully. The black technical shell with the wireless phone charger was both practical and super cool,” Berkowitz said.

With the big outdoors still a major trend at the show, high performance brands such as Sease, Descente Allterrain, And Wander and Arc’teryx Veilance were among the main draws at the highly popular “I Go Out” pavilion. The second edition of the Scandinavian Manifesto section also got the collective thumbs-up from buyers.

“At Rinascente, we are already working with Scandinavian brands for women’s wear, but it would be good to extend this to men’s,” said head of fashion Federica Montelli who observed a lot of references to engineering and tailoring.

The “mountain winter mood was everywhere, from outerwear and knitwear to accessories, [but] these themes are not new anymore and we had the impression that there are not so many new, directional ideas in the air,” she said.

For Shoji Uchiyama, men’s buyer at United Arrows, the overriding direction was comfort and relaxation.

“This came through not only in the silhouettes but also in a shift to mood-boosting materials,” he said, citing new synthetic technical materials with a natural look emulating wool.

In terms of market opportunities, Uchiyama said the plan is to reintroduce more classic pieces to the store’s offer, saying: “We believe there is a chance to increase sales by focusing on that.”

In terms of turnout, the number of Italian buyers fell 8 percent compared to the previous edition, while the number of foreign buyers was in line with seasons past, according to the show organizer.

Raffaello Napoleone, chief executive officer of Pitti Immagine Uomo, said, “I’ve been walking around the Fortezza da Basso’s pavilions for three days and I admit I admired the extraordinary work that companies are doing. An admiration that I share with top international buyers.

“It looks like as if the entire fashion pipeline — men’s fashion but not only — is proving to be able to face today’s challenges. Organizers, exhibitors and retailers sensing the final consumers’ sentiments know it: We’ve been reading for months about the expected growth, projections on trade and consumption in Italy, Europe and in the rest of the world. [But] instead of waiting for the critical period to pass, this [fashion] community embraces the challenges at its best. This is Pitti Uomo, too — and if I think about the meaning, the value [of it] I have to say that a few percentage points less in the number of buyers is the last thing that worries me.” 

In an interview with WWD in the run-up to the fair, Napoleone said the rise in women’s retailers attending the event has helped compensate the impact of store closures internationally. He attributed the shift to the fact that about 40 percent of the fair’s offer is now sportswear and activewear driven.

 “The men’s market is driving the women’s. From a fashion point of view, men’s is much stronger in terms of influences,” he said. 

“Especially in such challenging times, they’re doing a great job,” said Pierre-Henri Mattout, owner of Paris-based multibrand store PHM Saints Pères who found the outdoor pavilion “rich and inspiring,” with a strong mix of American and Japanese brands. In the Scandinavian section, he enjoyed the “good balance of basics with an edge” and the fair price points, picking out Schnayderman’s and Manners as among the hits.

The sustainability conversation had also amplified at the show, from fifth-generation family member Dina van Eupen’s compelling debut collection as the new creative director of Falke to Woolrich’s circular economy-themed capsule with Griffin’s Jeff Griffin.

Rinascente’s Montelli’s discoveries included Plumé, specializing in puffer jackets filled with recycled cottons, as well as the unisex vegan beauty label Heinrich Barth.

Pask, meanwhile, highlighted Closed’s new A Better Blue denim line using zero-water, recycled denim, and Atelier and Repair’s “artistically upcycled and one-of-a-kind” vintage denim and twill sportswear pieces “that aim to reduce excess.”

“Christopher Raeburn’s line has long operated under the ethos ‘reduce, reuse, recycle,’ and sustainability is at the core of Ecoalf’s collection,” he added. “Companies are speaking to more responsible production in a variety of ways.”