An exhibition at Pitti Uomo 96 explores the history of men’s fashion

An exhibition at Pitti Uomo 96 explores the history of men’s fashion

Since the mid 1990s the curator Olivier Saillard has applied an incisive, dynamic attitude to the way fashion is presented to the public. Ahead of Pitti Uomo’s 30th anniversary, he explores the tradeshow’s role in shaping ideas of masculinity. ‘Romanzo Breve Di Moda Maschile – A Short Novel on Men’s Fashion’, at Palazzo Pitti Museo della Moda e del Costume, is a tribute to Marco Rivetti, president of Pitti Immagine from 1987 to 1995. It was Rivetti who first understood the need to combine fashion and the cultural heritage of Florence. Pitti has continued to invite international designers to work outside of the catwalk schedule and explore something more poetic.
Each room in the show features pages of an oversized book. The exhibition is a dossier of fashion, concerned with the life of the creators themselves and how their legacy has been shaped by the things they produce. It includes work from close to 110 designers and brands including Armani, Costume National, Martin Margiela as well as Marni, Antonio Marras, Dries Van Noten and Visvim.


Romeo Gigli (1989). Photography: Astra Marina Cabras

‘We asked each designer to select the most significant garment, the most important for them. What clothes would be the best to illustrate their point of view in the next 50 or 100 years? They’ve been able to choose extraordinary or ordinary clothes that express the sum of their conclusions,’ Saillard says. He is intrigued by the sense of the quotidian. In 2017 the Costume Gallery of the Palazzo Pitti hosted ‘The Ephemeral Museum of Fashion’, which focused on telling stories of ‘real’ clothes bought and worn by us – not just the couture or costume we so often see presented in museum contexts. 

Only a decade ago, it was extremely difficult to convince designers to be part of exhibitions, yet now blockbuster shows are placed proudly at the front of museum calendars. ‘This exhibition is aesthetic as well as sociological,’ Saillard says. ‘Designer’s creations are side by side with day-to-day clothes in order to represent the best we can find on the street. I like the idea that a fashion museum is also a museum of everyday men and women wearing fashion.’

Traditionally, museum exhibits of fashion render clothes static and improbable, stuck motionless to mannequins. Here, Saillard presents them as abandoned soft sculptures, left on the floor. ‘There is this quote from Virginia Woolf in The Voyage Out where the female character describes the man she loves by his trousers on the floor. I found that the nonchalance of this trouser, lain on the ground, summed up the attitude that men have with their clothes. From this concept we worked on how certain clothes will take the form of soft, motion sculpture. All men throw their clothes on the floor, on an arm chair.’ The curator’s role is not to re-tell the past, but to re-imagine the future. ‘The present means nothing to me,’ Saillard says, ‘I try to understand the moods and changes of fashion almost as a blind man might try and see landscapes over time.’ In the middle of show, a group of 18th century garments embrace contemporary clothes; past lives are reimagined. §

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