‘Pitti Island’ was the theme of this season’s Pitti Uomo, marking the 102nd edition of the historic menswear trade fair held in Florence’s 14th-century Fortezza da Basso – and a series of other dramatic locations across the city. Organisers said they thought about the island as ‘a physical and spiritual point, especially for meeting and exchanging ideas… continuous exchanges of spirits and paths’, a description pertinent to this year’s fair where attendance rose to (almost) capacity once again, after the rise in the Omicron variant disrupted the fair’s January edition. 

Proceedings began on Tuesday evening with perhaps the season’s biggest draw: guest designer Grace Wales Bonner, who travelled from London to show her S/S 2023 collection at the Palazzo Riccardi Medici. ‘I was thinking about the history of Black presence in Florence, and for me it was important to make an intervention within the history, to acknowledge a very sophisticated presence within Black heritage,’ the designer said of the richly crafted collection, which looked towards the figure of Alessandro de Medici, Duke of Florence, who spent much of his rule in the Renaissance palazzo and is said to have been born to a servant of African descent (as such, he is considered modern western Europe’s first Black head of state). 

Backstage at Wales Bonner S/S 2023

Wales Bonner drew on elements of handcraft from across the world in a collection which traversed space and time – whether Anderson & Sheppard tailoring from London’s Savile row, intricate Indian macramé or hand-dyed fabrics made in Burkina Faso. After the show, she said it was inspired by the principle of Sankofa, a concept derived from the Akan people of Ghana, which means that in order to progress in the future, one must remember the past (it is often symbolised by a bird flying forwards with its head turned backwards). ‘That is the spirit of the collection,’ she said. ‘It’s about taking something from the past in order to pass it forward and make it useful for the future.’ 

Such a concept could equally be applied to this season’s other guest designer, Antwerp-born Ann Demeulemeester, who drew from the past to curate an exhibition of her work from 1992–2013 in the city’s cavernous Stazione Leopolda. Across the 40 looks, which spanned the years she was at her eponymous label, Demeulemeester demonstrated the various hallmarks which continue to influence today (languid silhouettes, a dark sensibility, sensual details). Indeed, viewed together, there was a feeling that the clothing could be from a singular collection, like time had collapsed – such is the distinctness of Demeulemeester’s vision – though a multiplicity of details suggested the designer’s desire to hone her craft over the years she spent at the label. (The exhibition coincides with the recent acquisition of the brand by Claudio Antonioli, who had made it clear he intends to take the label back to these roots). 

Ann Demeulemeester ‘Curious Wishes Feathered the Air’ exhibition at Pitti Uomo 102

‘Florence and Pitti are finally ready to celebrate Ann Demeulemeester’s work,’ said Lapo Cianchi, Pitti’s director of communications, referencing the fact the event was originally due to take place in January. ‘A story that began 40 years ago in Antwerp, and which is today strengthened by an acquisition by Claudio Antonioli: an approach that, between reclamation and autonomy, highlights the distinctive and persistent traits of Ann Demeulemeester’s fashion.’ 

Elsewhere, in the fair itself, various brands posited an innovative approach to the season ahead. Among them, AlphaTauri, the fashion label founded by RedBull, who introduced its S/S 2023 collection titled ‘Private Island’. Presented in a dedicated structure in Fortezza da Basso, it was defined by a broad and bright colour palette – shades of pink, mango, and blue – which the brand said was inspired by ‘sun-kissed’ escapes. Each of the garments demonstrated AlphaTauri’s near-scientific approach to fabric production, with waterproof jerseys, bonded linings, high-tech performance yarns and technical knits giving the collection a unique texture, utilised to create silhouettes which sit between sportswear and the everyday.

AlphaTauri at Pitti Uomo 102

Herno, meanwhile, divided its collection into three sections: ‘Core’, ‘Luxury’ and ‘Fashion’. ‘Core’ comprises the pieces it believes are the brand’s ‘centre and essence’, such as trench, car coats and blazers in signature fabrics; ‘Luxury’, a wardrobe crafted in the most refined materials; and ‘Fashion’, Herno’s most contemporary offering, defined by vivid shots of colour and blown-up versions of the Double-H logo (relaxed silhouettes, including a lightweight nylon bomber with an oversized fit, inspired by American collegiate sportswear). Herno said it saw these worlds as ‘interchangeable’, for the man whose ‘worlds rotate’. 

Brunello Cucinelli returned to the fair after sitting out last season, coming back in spectacular fashion with a banquet in the gardens of Serre Torrigiani to celebrate the beginning of menswear month. At the fair, the Italian brand showed a typically luxurious offering for S/S 2023, placing a focus on integrating its classic tailoring into a more casual wardrobe – a suit might be worn with a polo shirt, or espadrilles, for example – and introducing black to the collection for the first time (a black leather biker jacket, in particular, showed the potential of the colour in Cucinelli’s hands).

Herno S/S 2023

Waste Yarn Project, the brainchild of Siri Johansen, offered a more low-key, but no less appealing approach to creating clothing for the future – each piece is crafted from surplus and leftover yarns from clothing production in Shanghai (this season, she had to source from Portugal, due to lockdowns in the Chinese city). For S/S 2023, she adds a series of accessories, crafted in Bulgaria – home-spun woven handbags and hats – which the designer said were part of her attempt to expand her label’s offering, and will no doubt please her growing number of followers. In this vein, sustainability was one of the fair’s key tenets with a dedicated section in the fair’s main space; another was a showcase of emerging designers from Ukraine, titled ‘Ukrainian Fashion Now’.

The season’s final guest designer was Soulland, the Danish label that this season united with Li-Ning, a performance-running label known particularly for its sneakers. As such, various futuristic footwear offerings were made for the season – whether the ‘Yun You Slay’ slide, a chunky ergonomic slip-on, or the chunky ‘Exceed Infinity’ sneaker. The collaboration was debuted in a showcase of Soulland’s S/S 2023 collection on the monolithic outdoor amphitheatre of Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, just as the sun was setting (the second half of the collection will be shown at Copenhagen Fashion Week later this year).

Waste Yarn Project S/S 2023

The week ended with a trip to the Gucci Garden – the house’s store, museum and restaurant in Palazzo della Mercanzia on Florence’s Piazza della Signoria – to celebrate the opening of Giardino 25, an all-day café at the location. Cocktails were served by Giorgio Bargiani, the award-winning director of mixology at London’s Connaught Bar – a perfect pit-stop en route to Milan. §