My sidekick Mr J. and I attended Pitti Uomo (94) a few weeks back, known to many as the unmissable event sandwiched between London and Milan Fashion Weeks.
We were super excited to attend the bi-annual show for the first time, having heard many a time how important a platform it has become for men’s clothing and accessories; plus it was the perfect excuse to visit Florence once again.
Pitti Uomo was my first experience of its kind. Not coming from a fashion background, I never had the opportunity to attend such events that most often are by invitation only - thus remaining exclusive to big brands and influencers only - being left to marvel at the glamour and style from afar through the media coverage.
After reading a few articles on the event, I noticed that most of them focused quite strongly on the Pitti peacocks - be it to vilify them or to comment on their recent absence from the scene.
Launched in 1972 (originally taking place in Palazzo Pitti, hence the name), Pitti Uomo was created with the sole purpose to bring Italian men’s tailoring to the fore and place it on the international fashion map.
Since then, the fair has greatly evolved from a trade-only industry event to one that is open to the public and acts as a runway for menswear trends globally. Pitti Uomo nowadays firmly holds its place on the fashion calendar. Within a single space, it combines retailers and brands, stylists and tailors, style enthusiasts and bloggers, press and photographers, as well the (in-)famous Pitti peacocks.
Pitti is different to other fashion weeks; it is an entity of its own, inimitable to some extent. Whereas other shows take place across cities and require organisation, planning and travel logistics, Pitti occurs in a single (albeit extensive) site, allowing a lot more spare time to pause and network - and in that sense staying true to the Italian lifestyle and la dolce vita. The atmosphere is therefore altogether more relaxed, also creating more opportunities for mingling and conversation, as well as being photographed.
The Italian menswear scene is historically very much dominated by the sprezzatura - the understated, nonchalant elegance that Italians have become renowned for.
At the opposite end of the spectrum roam the peacocks. In the animal kingdom, a peacock is a male bird with vibrant iridescent feathers, patterns and colours, displayed in a rather grand manner to attract attention and woo a mate (the plumage of the female peacock being a lot more subdued than that of the male). When discussing a 'style peacock' though, the definition itself could be an item of contention: on the one hand, it symbolises the notion of a gentleman who dresses confidently and is known for his class and etiquette, yet on the other, it groups those who dress brashly to court attention - much like the bird does.
The ‘peacock movement’, as it is sometimes referred to, dates back to the 1960s when influencers and icons of the time such as David Bowie, Prince and Jimi Hendrix stepped away from traditional menswear towards a more experimental and flamboyant way of dressing, sparking a greater movement at the same time and giving life to the modern dandy:
“The movement is a revival of elegance, or classic men from the 1940s to the end of the 1970s. All our brothers in arms dress like this, and we try to inspire these young boys to stop the sportswear and dress more respectably. It’s a way of life. We give love and people give us love. We’re not fashion, we’re not vintage, we’re just Barons, you know? This is an attitude.”
- Le Baron d’XL
"While the peacocks rely on brash patterns, bright colours and big hats to stand out from the crowd, the sprezzatura approach is altogether quieter, based on precise fits and subtly artful expressions of flare.”
- Globe Style
Social media and blogging have vastly influenced not only how we consume fashion but also how we portray it.
Launched in 2010, Instagram, which remains the most visual social media platform to-date, has no doubt helped to spread the word about Pitti Uomo, much like it nurtured a whole new community of makers, brands, fashionistos and models. Unavoidably, this has also helped to bring a new type of audience to the event and broadened its appeal.
With social media comes scrutiny and transparency (be it deliberate or not), and we all look to portray our lives and ourselves in the best possible light as a result. This, we could agree, is having a positive impact on our self-development as we become eager to push ourselves to better, but inevitably it does also create a social media malaise with greater competition and comparison to others.
In that sense, perhaps the peacocks are simply a refection of the times we live in - a personal call for attention and individualism.
We live in a world where boundaries between traditional dichotomies are blurred - think style enthusiasts becoming brand ambassadors, streetwear blending with luxury labels and brands turning style advisers - and we must all evolve and adapt accordingly. Much like luxury no longer equates with exclusivity and scarcity, style combines and mixes genres:
"In the last 18 months, [...] there’s been a microcosm of men who’ve done something different, and who are moving things forward. They’re taking louche tailoring and dressing it down – throwing off ties and tired collars, embracing richer shapes, camp shirts, drapey fabrics, wide-leg trousers and luxe sneakers. These men are heroes. […] The fact is this: truly stylish men are dressing down, looking more relaxed and more casual.
- The Jackal
Whilst menswear may well have become more casual, the recent (and ongoing) boom of the industry has also brought with it more influencers and greater inclusivity, along with “a modern form of dandyism [that] has not only appeared, but become widely accepted” (Business of Fashion). A well-fitted suit will always remain so, and the craftsmanship behind a garment will always be considered, but it is necessary not only to adapt and adjust to new influences but also to new expectations.
And so, just as the industry as a whole has evolved over the last few years, Pitti has become a reflection of this change, to become more inclusive and more diversified.
“Where were all the Pitti Peacocks? These Italian men, who famously come dressed to the nines (in three-piece suits, top hats and the rest) and spend their days posing, were far less omnipresent than in previous seasons. Many attribute this to the fact that these dandies have finally embraced streetwear (that most ubiquitous of phenomena) and so were wearing trainers and hoodies, much like everyone else."
This shift needs to be broadcasted. In comparison to its classic counterpart, the newer generation of menswear is pushing boundaries and taking risks, rather than simply feeding into archetypes. Sartorial intelligence is evolving. Isn’t Pitti also an event for showcasing different attitudes to style? Its new section ‘I Go Out’ is proof to this evolution and its embracing of diversity, in a way that Fashion Weeks may not be able to.
“Pitti Uomo used to be predominantly about classic tailored menswear, and though this still has a strong presence, the fair now puts a stronger impact on streetwear and the avant-garde.”
- High Snobiety
Whilst some call out on the near disappearance of the peacocks, others express disdain over their over-breeding species, like the Jackal with its scathing definition:
“The term refers to those narcissistic individuals who rock up at the show with nothing to do other than wander about in dismal outfits in an attempt to be photographed for their own pitiable vanity. It’s a culture that runs counter to everything that’s grounded and intelligent about men’s fashion.[…] Style is about subtlety and a sense of comfort and authenticity. It’s not about showing off.”
- The Jackal
Style is a means to express our identity and individuality. It is a manifestation of personal thoughts, aspirations and experiences. If a man wishes to look extravagant for a few days, who are we to stop him? Yes, some people do take it to the extreme simply to be photographed, but don’t the photographers look for the extravagant also? It is the flamboyance and the colourful suits, the knowledge of the poses and priming (think - faking being on the phone or casually leaning against a wall) and the out-of-the-ordinary outfits that make some of the most striking photos. It is the craving for street-style, demonstrating how fashion is interpreted and owned on the street, which drives this movement.
"The picture street style gives is not completely accurate or real. It’s a mostly a mise en scène. I mean, when you are aware of the eye of the photographer and that he is taking pictures, you’re not natural. [...] The fact that it is ‘street style’ makes it sound or look like a documentary, but it’s not a documentary; the pictures are taken during fashion week and not during the ordinary year. "
- Business of Fashion
Yet how can Pitti be expected to deliver ‘street style’ or ‘real style’ as it is set within an enclosed environment? What we witness is therefore peacocks turned “purposeless zoo birds” (NY Times) in a larger-than-life cage.
The blame is shared, for the peacocks do ultimately find an audience at Pitti - or else they would not attend, and questions should also be asked of the journalists and their priorities:
“[Pitti Uomo] is a place for sales and negotiation. This is not a place for journalists. There are more photographers taking ‘street shots’ than there are journalists covering what the brands are promoting for Autumn/Winter."
- Simon Crompton
It is possible to be a peacock to some and entertainment to others. The peacocks did not disturb my personal networking with brands and mere non-peacocks. It is the arrogance that is difficult to endure, but the discerning eye will know better and simply move on. As my mother always taught me: "you do not say that it is ugly, you say it is not to your taste".
Pitti remains first and foremost a trade show for brands and retailers to meet, and new collections to be showcased; the peacocks come secondary. As Mr. J so rightly states: “the peacocks should not be a distraction to the true purpose of the event and the industry overall, but it is a draw for the observers.”
Pitti and its peacocks disrupt the expectations and incorporate many influences, but it should not be a competition, nor should it feel like a circus, for people do interpret style and elegance differently. Style, in whatever shape or form it may take, is a manifestation of who we are and an extension of our personality. Sometimes it is also a profession (say, a tailor showcasing their craft) or simply a passion or pride. As demonstrated by the ‘original’ peacock movement, it can also be a medium to make a rebellious statement.
Peacocks should perhaps reconsider the motivations behind their behaviours and preferably aim to diversify, but in the end, style and dress should always be a personal affirmation, as designer T-Michael reminded us during Pitti Uomo 94 “Just relax and be it… [style] is being in tune with yourself”.
So here - my viewpoint at it stands after my first trip to Pitti Uomo. Perhaps in a year’s time I will contradict myself. Or perhaps I came to Pitti wanting to connect with existing brands and find new partners, and my eye was not particularly drawn to the Pitti peacocks. They are, after all, just like any kind of tourist - they hover around the main attractions and end up becoming part of the landscape, and if bother us they do, we must simply learn to navigate around them.
Here are a few recommended reads:
What went down at Pitti Uomo - The Rake: https://therake.com/stories/style/pitti-uomo-94-round-up/
On luxury and its new meaning: https://qz.com/quartzy/1303457/nobody-knows-what-luxury-is-anymore/
History lesson on the Peacock Revolution I: https://www.bustle.com/articles/164464-7-reasons-the-peacock-revolution-of-the-1960s-was-important-for-gender-norms
History lesson on the Peacock Revolution II: https://www.vam.ac.uk/articles/the-peacock-revolution-1960s-menswear
Listen to The Scandinavian Man's fantastic podcasts on various subjects related to menswear: http://www.scandinavianman.com/
Read “We Are Dandy: The Elegant Gentleman Around the World” cover-to-cover: a fantastic read by Rose Callahan and Nathaniel Adams with very personal stories and inspiration of dandies.