While organizers are waiting to hear from the Italian government whether they will be able to host a live version of Pitti Uomo from Feb. 21 to 23, today Pitti Immagine chief executive officer Raffaello Napoleone will join Brunello Cucinelli in his Solomeo medieval hamlet to officially inaugurate the digital edition of the men’s wear fair, available on the Pitti Connect platform.
The partnership with the Cucinelli company, which for years has been the biggest name at the trade show with a large, luxurious booth considered the fair’s focal meeting point, seems to be instrumental in Pitti Immagine catalyzing attention on its Pitti Connect. While the digital platform certainly can’t replicate the experience of a live show, it can offer small and emerging labels the chance to engage with international retailers. In keeping with this strategy, more lived streamed events will be organized in collaboration with Herno, Kiton and Lardini.
Some industry figures, including Modes general manager Aldo Gotti, think that “it is very difficult to find a consistent way to show Pitti virtually. I really hope we will be able soon to return to the physical experience.” However, others found the Pitti Connect digital platform, which made its debut last summer, compelling. “It was a good way to still be connected to the fair, browse a preview of the brands’ collections, and discover a few new brands,” said Rinascente fashion director Federica Montelli.
Bruce Pask, Bergdorf Goodman and Neiman Marcus men’s fashion director, also is among its fans. “I did use Pitti Connect last season and found it very well done and easy to navigate, visiting vendors that we currently carry at Bergdorf Goodman and Neiman Marcus, while also searching for compelling new items, manufacturers, and designers,” he said.
Pask mainly appreciated that the digital platform reproduced the same organization by “buildings” of the physical trade show. “It gave a nice sense of place to the virtual market and also helped give focus and efficiency to the online search, more strategic and helpful than, say, being listed simply alphabetically.”
He also praised Pitti Connect’s editorial areas, which highlight trending topics or categories, as well as the sustainability section. “What I missed most were the more abstract aspects of attending, the unexpected discovery of a new booth or vendor, a presentation that is especially striking, having useful and inspiring conversations with designers and other attendees. This vital, anecdotal exchange of information is hard to replicate virtually,” he said.
Louis DiGiacomo, senior vice president and general merchandise manager of men’s for Saks Fifth Avenue, said he used Pitti Connect last season and thought the organizers’ ability to “bring a mega men’s trade fair to life on a digital platform was amazing. The platform was well organized, easy to navigate, and they did a great job keeping the momentum going for the fair in the digital world.” This time around, he expects there will be more “interactive opportunities,” such as virtual tours of the fair.
“As we enter the second full season of buying in a socially distant world, we as a fashion community have had some time to learn a few better practices in how to use the technology available to us,” noted Justin Berkowitz, men’s fashion director at Bloomingdale’s. “Virtually held market appointments, trade fairs, and runway shows require a new approach; it has been fascinating to witness the learning, continual improvement, and adaptation among many of the people with whom we work. I expect the next iteration of Pitti will be no different.”
“I expect a more interactive and engaging way to connect with brands and their collections, in order to maintain the inspiring ‘wow’ factor, which has always been the exciting characteristic of Pitti Uomo,” said Montelli, who added she expects the trade show’s signature “pavilion” theme distinction to be more evident this season, “in order to be able to browse through the long list of brands more easily.”
Actually, compared to last season, Pitti Connect, which expects to host the fall 2021 collections of 250 brands, will be organized in three main areas, dedicated to formalwear, outdoor fashion and niche brands. It will also feature the Pitti Olympics digital project, aimed at putting a focus on a selection of international labels organized by country of origin, as well as a section exclusively dedicated to sustainable brands and an area showcasing a range of African fashion houses selected by the International Trade Center’s Ethical Fashion Initiative.
Product-wise, what will international retailers be looking for to stimulate the appetite of their consumers next fall?
“I would like to see products around all categories with high-quality standards and rich in terms of fabrics and craftsmanship with a focus on sustainability,” said Gotti, reflecting the same approach of German retailer MyTheresa, which aims to invest in luxury products with special textures and details.
Sustainability also emerged as a key pillar for global retailers. “Versatility and technical features with a focus on sustainability became fundamental in this ever-changing environment and Pitti has always been a proud supporter of new and established brands in such a direction,” said Montelli. ”In the meantime, heritage styles and textiles are the key factors of this historical Italian fair and now more than ever our consumers must feel comfortable and assured by brands in terms of longevity and quality of their products.”
The fall season will also bring a balance between casualwear and an appetite for more elegant styles, according to Pask. “As far as expected trends and key items, I think we will be seeing a big focus on items with versatility, pieces that have multiuse, hybrid items like shirt jackets and more sporty jackets with mixed-media elements. Comfort will continue to be key, with key items like jogger-style pants, a focus on knitwear, and unconstructed jackets and sport jacket options in durable, relaxed fabrications. But I also think there will be an appetite for occasion-based clothing,” he said. “Now that the [COVID-19] vaccine has arrived and we can sense a light at the end of the tunnel, there will be a renewed emphasis on dressing up, appreciating and honoring the time when we can be back together again. This will be cause for celebration and we will want to dress for it.”
“I am curious to see how the brands at Pitti will continue to adjust in terms of balancing sophistication and casualization,” said Berkowitz. “While the past year has catalyzed the shift toward a more casual approach in men’s wear, I think something that will be interesting to see is how brands propose we begin to add some more elevated elements back into our customer’s wardrobe. We are all hopeful that we’ll begin to see a shift in lifestyle in the second half of 2021, and with that, a different kind of wardrobing need.”
In the footwear category, DiGiacomo said he believes that “sneakers, hiking boots and house slippers will remain key trends along with backpacks and cross-body bags for accessories.”
But above all, even if the men’s fashion business was hit hard by the crisis in 2020, retailers think that what consumers need is new brands and new products to discover and fall in love with. “We need newness in terms of brand and designers. From formalwear to lifestyle there is a need in the market for novelties,” said Gotti.