One of the many perks of my job is that it takes me to Florence twice a year for Pitti Immagine Uomo.
Every season at this premium menswear show, in my imagination I see myself doing a supermarket sweep around the stands collecting a new wardrobe of exquisite fashion. This week I was particularly taken by the explosion of colour, patterns and texture on display for spring/summer 15.
Funnily enough, I was unusually restrained in my own outfits for my two-day visit. In fact an agent pal of mine expressed disappointment that I was wearing a black polo shirt and some khaki chinos rather than my usual kaleidoscope of clashing brights and patterns (although I was sporting my orange suede Oliver Sweeney shoes). I promise to do better at Bread & Butter Berlin.
Pitti this season celebrated its 86th edition. I’ve been attending since the mid-1980s, and despite the vicissitudes of fashion and trade fairs this unique gathering continues in its imperious way. Its capo dei capi, the genial Anglophile Raffaello Napoleone, is a keen sailor and his show reminds me of an elegant ocean-racing yacht, which sails on majestically, unconcerned by the noisy buzzing of newly arrived jet skis like London Collections: Men. (Well done to the LCM team, by the way, for another well-organised few days of hectic promotion).
This season, Pitti was actively promoting its location as Firenze: Hometown of Fashion. My hand luggage contained a book celebrating the 1952 women’s fashion show in the Sala Bianca of the city’s Palazzo Pitti that marked the birth of modern Italian fashion. The pioneering catwalk shows of the time established La Bella Italia as a source of style, elegance and artisanship. Florence is the hometown of, among others, Guccio Gucci and Emilio Pucci, so it has a lot to be proud of.
But all is not so well in the contemporary Italian menswear market. Thanks to national trade body Sistema Moda Italia, I learned that in 2013 the sector had a turnover of €8.5bn (about £6.8bn), 0.6% down on 2012. While menswear exports performed well, showing a 4.3% increase, the domestic market exhibited a 9.3% decrease. So much for Italian stallions being interested in clothes and footwear. This was the fifth consecutive year of decline in domestic consumption. The British buyers arriving in Florence, however, are very welcome - Italian exports to the UK increased by 7.9% between 2012 and 2013, hitting €456m (about £364m). The UK was the fifth most important market for Italian menswear, after France, Switzerland, the US and Germany.
Much as I admire Italian fashion, happily there are many sources of production in the UK and I salute my friend Kate Hills for getting the Meet the Manufacturer event in Shoreditch off the ground last week. The enthusiastic founder of the Make it British website and her husband Dave did an admirable job in creating this showcase for all manner of domestic production. Every exhibitor I have spoken to is full of praise for the show. At Pitti, one of them told me he had made around 80 worthwhile contacts at the event. I hope Kate and Dave get the support they need to keep this running.
On the subject of British success stories, I was delighted to see Zandra Rhodes being bestowed the title of dame in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list. I do not wish to appear ungallant, but this bundle of energy will be 74 on September 19 and the recognition is long overdue. Zandra came to prominence almost 50 years ago and is still obsessive about the craft and artistry of fashion design, particularly the overlooked skill of classic printmaking. Well done, Dame Zandra. Even the Italians would applaud your talents.