The Best of British at Pitti Immagine Uomo – Florence
Pitti Uomo, Florence is the most well attended B2B menswear event on the calendar, visited by probably the most knowledgeable, informed (and well dressed) international buying audience. A no-brainer why as a designer you might entertain the cost of participating in this event above all others. You still however have to do your homework, invite the buyers in advance in the right way, ensure you have the right positioning (in the right building, themed hall or corridor) and get all the cross-platform marketing and PR ingredients in place. Even for the big guys, it can be something of a lottery where they may be positioned at the show – and all part of its Italian charm. Well, it wouldn’t be Italy if there weren’t some sort of culturally indeterminate, complicated, inexplicable, administrative jock strapping, ball-dropping dispiaciuto e mi scusi (or not) frustration to contend with. Would it? (Just try ordering a coffee at the show and you will see what I mean).
Pitti Uomo attracts industry buyers and press from all over the globe
But all is forgiven when you are there because Pitti is just so wonderfully in-your-fashion-men’s face. And so unapologetically Italian. Where else will you see from teen to old ski-tanned bean, the most effortless sartorial panache on display, in the hundreds and thousands? So much élan that it hurts, forcing a complete re-configuration of an idealised wardrobe you may never own, or know what to do with. A style leap that you really shouldn’t attempt if you have to ask how. Japanese trying to be Italian. Italian trying to be more Italian. And everyone else is wearing his own versions of a style continuum that all inevitably reference the country’s self-aware superior fashion DNA.
Gorgeous Florence left and Paul Markevicius with Elle Men Editor, Sherry Shen, right
Lock & Co Hatters
Lock & Co is 346 years old this year, a classic heritage British brand keen to use Pitti to leverage growth in two of its biggest, strategic markets – the US and Japan alongside a traditional European customer base. Having a pedigree is one thing, but finessing a new demographic and the digital revolution they subscribe to is another. Hannah Rigby, Marketing & PR Manager of Lock &Co Hatters of St James’s Street, London, exhibiting in the main hall was unequivocal in her support. “It’s the only trade show we do, and the show to be at. It’s all about having brand presence here.” Hannah comments, “with the new generation of style bloggers, there’s a point of evolution for us, making us re-think our messages. With our 80-90 per cent classic style customer base, there’s an increasing 10 per cent from a different demographic.” They have buying interest from the Far East including China, Japan and Korea with the biggest shift from the Chinese – a non-traditional hat wearing market.
Interestingly, and it was evident on the streets of Florence as well as the show, there seemed to be a renaissance that centered on the hat as the primary style statement, from women as well as men – a target market that Lock & Co is keen to develop. And it’s the self-generating digital popularising of this long-established clothing accessory that gives the product a new, fresh identity in markets exploring hat styling potential for the first time, including a younger demographic. (see the Bogart Trench coat for a new generation from Aquascutum!)
How does this long-established brand, punching above its weight with 22 staff in total, measure the success of the event? As with many of the brands who are Pitti regulars, it is in fact the meeting point for their regular clients, and a primer for a more full-on, deal closing experience in their showroom. Wednesday and Thursday is the most interesting client/ buyer-wise – the numbers swell after the logistical hiccup of attending both LC: Men during the preceding weekend and the Burberry show on the Monday. Makes you think, why isn’t there a gap – even a few days, so everyone can benefit and not be compromised by having to choose? It seems the attendance numbers dictate that if all you have is two days, you make the most of them. LC: Men and Pitti is actually just the start of a fashion frenzy for pretty much everyone that has Milan and Paris, and a whole bunch of international long and short haul back-to-back events straining even the most understanding partnerships. So, mi dispiaciuto and get over it.
On display from the new ranges were the Atlantic Trilby and the Voyager Trilby with lightweight racing felt, fully roll-able for travelling inside ingenious round hatboxes and hat tubes produced only by Sawyers in the UK. The branding and customisation around this packaging is a very important part of the product offering says Hannah. Fabric is sourced largely from mainland Europe, Tweed from a number of Scottish mills and beaver from Canada. As one might expect, individual dedicated hat makers of some 25 years and 40 years standing have carried the traditions embedded with this doubly Royally Appointed Hatters company forward. I saw the Muirfield tweed cap favoured by David Gandy, Homburgs and Fedora’s, with a new appreciation for the collaborative possibilities working with the bands on the hats.
It seems the international growth opportunities for this most British of brands are there to be grabbed and part of the five year plan includes concession stores, a re-branding, more engagement with wholesale/ collaborative partners and products for men and for women also, (anticipate huge growth here) while maintaining the essence and quality of their long-standing brand and reputation.
In the same hall as the hatters, were Cheaney, the re-branded independent shoe company (previously written up for Fashion Capital). While being a mere 130 years young this year, William Church CEO, clearly very proud of the legacy, acknowledged. “We are the custodians of future generations of the brand.” It’s a measured deliberate policy employed by this brand that has a one-new-store-a-year strategy, and a canny awareness of its own place in the market. “We carefully look at where we sit in our peer group, and strategize accordingly.” Japan is their biggest overseas market, with a neat collaboration with Paul Smith (he of the modest 250 store real estate presence in Japan) actually only representing a relatively small percentage of overall Japanese business. And as if to demonstrate Japan’s importance to Cheaney, Yoshihiko Watanabe, of Watanabe & Co, their Japanese agent, strolled onto the stand just at that moment, a specialist in British brands only for the Japanese market that includes Church’s, Drake’s, and Private White V.C. amongst others.
“Pitti is very important for us as a global fair. Department stores from around the world visit, very influential buyers, clients we know and new buyers. Italy is also a unique market because it is full of independents,” says William. It is not just about working with the design strengths of some great classic shoe styles for Cheaney, now expanded with their County Collection with new olive colour ways. There’s a conscious fashion-forward strategy within this cult shoe brand giving them arguably some enviable positioning in the race to become the creators of the best street style ‘hip working boot’ – one of the most likely style leader contenders in men’s fashion for AW16, increasing significantly in popularity this last season already.
Cheaney have launched the ‘Aviator 1945’ as part of their strategic reach to a new demographic and to grow the brand perception within a fashion-conscious, younger buyer. It ticks just about every style and brand story box going. The design of the Aviator is modelled on a Second World War air force boot, in six styles (one shoe style) with brown surprisingly out-performing the classic black and with the recently added cherry-black finish the showstopper for me. High leg, rounded toe for extra comfort (all finger-polished for a sublime sheen), with an exquisitely woven paratrooper lacing that adds artistry to function – great to see. Dog tag embellishment and personalised customisation complement a great, slim design in look and feel. And just for good measure it heralds their 130 year history with a glowing tribute to the grandson of one of their founders, Flight Lieutenant Dick Cheaney, a Tiger Moth air force pilot who won the King’s Commendation Award – how’s that for a brand story? Peaky Blinders, the popular TV series thought so – check out the styling next time you watch. And expect to see some exciting collaborations from this cool, understated British shoe brand. Now if I could just find an aviator jacket brand to talk to…
Fashion appreciation is all about having an open mind. Sometimes, the only reason established high-end brands can’t provide a credible fashion-forward range to dovetail their classic styled collections is because we don’t imagine they can keep doing it. Then they prove us wrong. Pitti and the design-elasticity of the heritage brands on display was serving as a useful reminder of this prejudice. Classic design (why it is called Classic) has trans-generational longevity without the new, younger wearer needing to know the brand history or the illustrious wearers that preceded them – often the key (imagined) factors behind the brands lasting appeal and identity. Their relationship may start from zero, simply by appreciating the design aesthetic. They don’t let what they don’t know bother them. In short, “do I like it?” It’s a refreshing reminder.
Aquascutum have the long vision and presence of mind to see and value this, with its new version of the Humphrey Bogart Trench Coat. (Impossible to write without seeing a rain-soaked airport tarmac and a tear-drenched Ingrid Bergman and the silhouette of that most famous of Trench coats worn by ‘Bogey.’) And amazingly, it’s all going on for a younger, fashion-conscious male, with the slightly over-sized sand/ beige coloured Trench, and its new slimmer modern design for AW16, and its raglan sleeves, lapel and belt styling details from the 1st World War, still in place.
Chosen to celebrate its 165 years anniversary, it’s one of those much admired and sought after, ‘made and sourced in Britain’ staple British design products, manufactured by London Tradition, clothing and fabric manufacturers in East London. The fabric is a cotton and polyester mix, shower proof and breathable. Retailing at £800 it’s an outer-wear investment that should be a style winner attracting both city and street wearer, each making it their own in any ensemble they choose, night or day, rainy tarmac or otherwise.
It was a joy to talk to Daniel Bradley, International Sales Manager of Aquascutum, whose long tenure managing the history and development of such a well-known brand yielded definitive experiential Pitti wisdom. Humphrey Bogart wore the raincoat out of preference, way beyond Casablanca – not as a product placement, he tells me. “Pitti is very important for us, as we have a strong presence in Italy, being our second biggest market after the UK. It is where buyers come to do real business.” Daniel says they tend to use Pitti to see clients and showcase some of their collection and use it as a driver to invite the buyer to the nearest showroom (Milan) or London. They will do the same shortly with ‘Capsule’ in Paris with a ‘teaser’ collection.
Daniel recounted that Aquascutum has always been the pioneer of a technical product, creating the first idea of a breathable raincoat.
(Aquascutum is Latin for ‘water shield.’) Current designs are also inspired by arctic uniforms worn by Sir Edmund Hillary, to include parkas, raincoats and bomber jackets. (Hillary and Tenzing wore Aquascutum fabrics on their climb to Everest in 1953). “Authenticity is what makes us desirable. Being ageless is what makes it work for us.” And it’s hard to disagree. Can’t wait to see those HB signature Aquascutum Trench Coats: collars turned up just so, hands shoved deep into the pockets, belt tied with aplomb, worn without fuss, on the backs of the style cognoscenti on our streets.
Richard James, Bespoke
One of the things noticeable about Pitti is the camaraderie and friendships between visitor buyers and brands – existing over many years. It’s also a to-the-point business meeting. No one is really wasting anyone’s time, tyre kicking. The matter-of-fact art of managing how was revealed in a snapshot interview with Stefan Furenbrink of Richard James.
“We show at LC: Men on London on Sunday. We bag (the collection) Sunday evening and fly on Monday morning. We dress the stand and steam the clothes ready for Tuesday. We do the show twice a year, write orders, and see existing clients. It’s about international recognition. And that’s about it. It’s our third time at the show.” It is what it is and there’s a tacit respect for understanding how important this show is for brands, often hard earned. “Someone said it takes 5 visits before you get noticed. The first year we didn’t bring enough clothes. We are a lifestyle brand and so now we bring the accessories too!” Live and learn. Newbies are strongly advised to visit and soak up the experience of the old hands who, providing you are not a direct competitor one feels will be obligingly frank in their opinions and advice to assist you.
Derek Rose, London
With the sad demise of a number of family owned Italian brands, it was great to see a 3rd generation family business with two of its progeny manning the Pitti stand and talking the talk. ‘Derek Rose’ a London based business started by Lew Rose in 1926, was handed on to Derek the father and is now run by his son, Sacha. I chatted with Sacha who gave me the skinny on this innovative menswear brand that had evolved from pyjamas in the 1920s.
Sacha is clearly not one for coasting on the brand reputation of his predecessors, investing time and intellectual endeavour in evolving the family business. “Each season we have introduced new product categories. We only introduce a product if we think we can make it the best in the world.” Now if only more people thought this way? Wouldn’t that be a bar raiser for the discerning buyer, able to pass on value-added product benefits to an equally discerning consumer? Talking to the straight-shooting Sacha soon reveals the divide within our industry. One that either cares about function and comfort and the values associated with product design and development, (with an integrity to the thing itself) or doesn’t and isn’t prepared to pay for it.
Sacha will talk philosophy with you, peppering his conversation with the great and the good, (Sartre, Kant and Derrida is probably a good enough start on day 1 of Pitti) demonstrating an engaging awareness of the human condition. His mission seemingly to clothe it in aesthetically pleasing and ergonomically inspiring ways. Good on you Sacha – there really is no point in doing it otherwise, is there?
To illustrate his point (and he has many good ‘uns), he gestures to the underwear on display behind him “To make something great, you need to understand fabric, fit, manufacturing, price, presentation, packaging and brand. That was two years of R&D sitting there on the rails.” It’s not too often you can have these kinds of conversations at trade shows. They are usually the domain of the designer or product specialist, not always the best sales person and so usually ‘not available’ to deconstruct their passion over a tray of liquorice all-sorts and jelly babies. It’s meat and veg for Sacha however.
Like a sartorially sensitised shark, he needs to keep moving ahead to stay engaged with the purpose of his own calibrated, benchmarked endeavours. Or die the slow, painful death of mediocrity by a thousand discounts. “My behaviour is driven by a paranoia that I need to constantly improve. Or it won’t work. The company had been stagnating before I took it over – and I like to innovate. It’s important to embrace the role fear plays in innovation. Apple Computers doesn’t have the fear. It’s not scared of change.”
When are we going to get back to undies I thought? In truth, we hadn’t actually left the subject once. “I am totally consumer-centric in design and thought. A huge believer in form and function. If you are good at design, form will follow. It’s all about the sum of the parts. Look after the small details.” And there you have it, the smalls.
I was being given a privileged insight to their brand/ design authenticity and integrity. Sacha explained how armed with a ton of information on peer underwear brands from his travels around the world, documenting their various shortcomings, he went to his experts. Three guys with 120 years collective technical experience in men’s underwear design, and then asked them to improve on his discoveries. The end result is borne out with superior comfortable fit, an ultimate stress-tested underwear shape that ‘seriously works’ and some long overdue innovations along the way. Namely, a trade-marked ‘magnetised fly close’ on the boxers as an ingenious solution to the irritating button solution favoured by virtually everyone. And there’s an inspiring attention to detail on the selection of the count of thread on the manual welt – used where it’s function in the garment requires greater or lesser flexibility. No lazy, one thread fits all mentality.
Sacha revealed another area often by-passed in the R&D – and it’s a classic piece of after-sales wisdom. (I would like to think Lew and Derek’s time in the business played their part here!) Watching attentively as the various retail assistants took the packaging for the underwear he was interested in analysing from their various shelves, he could see the lack of consideration for handling and product descriptor clarity on the packaging. Retail assistants unable to see exactly what is inside the packaging, means more man-handling and a deterioration of the packaging – off putting for consumer and irritating for the vendor trying to sell on your behalf. Solution? Employ the same magnetised solution for ease of opening on the box. And print the product descriptors on an omni-visible edge and front of the packaging when stacked on shelves. Idiot-proof to find at a glance.
This was back in 2013 and Mr Porter played their part with an exclusive to sell and position the new brand to critical acclaim. Now multiply this ethos across all products and styles, including one of the most luxurious T-shirts you will ever feel, and you get a sense of what under Sacha’s stewardship, Derek Rose is now all about. The thinking man’s non-crumpled clothing, with a luxury feel that engages mind and body, making you want to come back for more for all the right, aesthetically pleasing reasons. I like where Sacha and this brand is intelligently inclined to go, like a Dyson sweeping up a lot of the homogenised somnambulists in its path. Sharking in Florence.
It’s good to be pleasantly surprised by a brand you knew nothing about before Pitti and then to be floored by it.
I might in fact have missed Vocier. Luggage not really my thing, back corner end of the hall, near one of the exits to the ‘smoking balcony’ that surrounded the upper level. But the constant footfall was not to be sniffed at as I engaged with the earnest, charming designer and founder, Michael Kogelnik.
Vocier – a name inspired by an amalgam of all the international prefix words suggesting travel, with a suggestion of European sophistication. And more to the point as Michael pointed out – it had a ‘free’ domain name. But oh what treasures lurk behind this inspired brand with a genius piece of design to boot.
Vocier founder & designer Michael Kogelnik with Paul Markevicius
Let’s just all go on a journey for a moment. A voyage if you like. A crumpled, annoyingly upsetting unpacking suit journey. Been there? Despite investment in what promised to be the “luxury wrinkle-free suit carrier of the universe” bare-faced lie that you had bought into. How many times? How annoying? Imposing an unwanted search for the unavailable dry cleaner/ presser/ steamer at the wrong time, in the wrong hotel, the wrong place, for what was your time-pressurised, supposedly effortless city-to city business meeting? Well, my friends you are in for a big surprise. And no hyperbole or fatuous bullet-pointed nonsense need convince you further. The hunt for the best suit carrier in the world is over. O-V-E-R. And before you stifle a yawn or reach for the elephant gun, it’s not me saying so.
Vocier won the Golden Award from Germany in 2015 (they’ve only been going since March 2015). And it’s Germany’s highest award for a product or brand. So there. And if that wasn’t enough, it also won the Dyson design award. That’s like God and God’s cousin endorsing your product, man.
What’s the paper bag-to-carrier bag, back story of this overnight success? Our golden boy Michael studied industrial design, then got interested in the investment banking world (naturally, as you do), and then encountered all the crumpled suit travails that us mere mortals have had to deal with for ever, on his business trips. And lo, the frustration was channelled into a solution, backed by design know-how. But most importantly, with the desire to solve the problem (once and for all?) that had evaded all erstwhile ‘reputable’ business luggage design brands.
Like many of the best designs, there’s often a radical, left-field, left-thinking approach to solving the problem. In this case, an ingenious thin interior layer support that wraps inside itself in a circular pliable contour around the garments (two suits max), without applying pressure so there’s no corners and no wrinkles. And NO creases! In appearance it says clever engineering but it screams simplicity. And that’s its beauty. It’s also carry-on size with an easy access for passport built into handle, and an even more user-friendly top opening for the time-consuming toiletries airport examination, in its own see-through container. They think of everything. Plus a built-in container for shoes at the bottom.
As one might expect, there’s a satisfyingly internationally sourced provenance for the executive leather and nylon options that includes; Italy for leather unsurprisingly, Austria for plastic, zippers from Japan, small toiletries packs from Germany and all manufactured in China. Why China, I asked?
“Italy just couldn’t do it. Chinese are more open-minded. When it comes to training people to the quality level I want and training people to the product level I need – there really was no choice.” That’s not to say he isn’t keeping an open mind on sourcing and manufacturing in other countries.
I see Vocier, currently operating out of Germany and Austria, as the inevitable go-to default luggage brand for men and women, the business traveller, the executive, the week-ender (anyone who gets on a goddamn plane frankly). I see collaborations to die for with the hi-end quality menswear brands, with an automatic value- added complementing the suits being promoted. It’s a great way of saying, we value our suits so much, we want to help you look after them the best way. Their biggest problem? Fulfilling demand would you believe. And daring perhaps to dream as big as their potential can fulfil globally. God’s engineers surely can’t be wrong. www.vocier.com
It was a conversation on-the-hoof with the amiable and knowledgeable Nick Preston, Trading Director of Hardy Amies. Strategically well positioned, first stand on the left of the main entrance in the main hall. You get a sense of just how well placed he is, and how well known he is by how long it takes before he receives a hand-shake (not so many hi-fives I was very grateful to see in Europe) or is embraced, or has a key buyer passing the stand he knows or one who is paying their respects to him. In short, it was around every 1-2 minutes. Pretty impressive. He never lost the thread of his conversation and always apologized for any interruption. As a journalist, it’s all part of the theatre and buyer primacy respect always deferred to at any trade show.
Nick’s congenial, relaxed manner gave an insight to Pitti that almost belied the experienced voice behind it. “Tuesday has a fair sprinkling of people looking for discounts, Weds is the big hitters, the serious buyers. After the Burberry show on Monday and LC: Men, people start to arrive. How important is it? It’s the most important show on the planet.”
To the onlooker, Pitti provides a useful compare and contrast perspective on the international markets for the British brands. “After Pitti, New York is becoming more important. The strange thing is, even though it sounds like a cliché – the US buyers don’t travel.” For many brands the US is indeed a key market. Nick commented on how the buyers appreciate the visits, not just the key cities of NY and LA, but all the other cities. “They all have big named department stores – it’s really worth going the extra mile.” And, he say’s they are now understanding the price-value proposition of the quality of their suits (Hardy Amies) compared to other more expensive ‘named’ European brands. He commented on the challenges facing brands looking to sell abroad, particularly in the Far East where they are re-grouping, “When you are nine hours away it’s easy to forget all the disciplines of retail that need to be managed. The stores all need assisting with prices going in, and inventory on the way out – it’s very labor intensive. Wholesale I believe, is dying out.”
For Nick, the allure of China is understood in terms of a sanguine realist view of its many pitfalls. “China is the most competitive market in the world – everyone is there, or wants to be there. You need multi-million pound budgets to make a difference.” For Hardy Amies and Nick, the key objectives center on finding people on the ground and bespoking a solution market-by-market. And it’s not a one-size fits all strategy these days. Short but sweet and informative, I had to wait to look forward to more of Nick’s perspective on the menswear market as a touchstone for what 2016 has in store – a key buyer had just turned up.
Johnston of Elgin
A number of brands will be the equivalent of Pitti lifers – they have always done the show, in whatever incarnation it was before it morphed into Pitti. In Johnston of Elgin’s (JofE)case, a 200 year old privately owned family business – that’s around 25-30 years. A stalwart supporter of the event, Graham Wilson, Sales Director gave a value for money run down of his experiences.
“The key thing is quality, service – looking at the customer as a partner. And innovation through re-investing in new machinery and consistency of product. If you visited, you would see two to three generations of the same families in the factory.” There’s a high-end woolen product range on offer, classic styling with a contemporary feel, some with twenty hand-finishing stages, with a price point of 600 euros. The target demographic is 30+ for clients who expect durability and know what they want. Brand UK and Scotland is certainly a strong sales factor for the JofE with particular resonance in Japan. “Japan buyers do their research before they come. When abroad, characteristically the Japanese will have already sourced the stores they want to visit. It’s not an accident. And of course the US adores the British brand.” The rich mix of visitors to Pitti, for JofE last year was “96 visitors from 26 countries.” They have showrooms in New York, Tokyo, Dusseldorf and a recently opened flagship store in London. The UK is their key market, followed by Japan, with the US and China key target markets. As I talked to them, Japanese, Belgian and Dutch buyers came on their stand. And this wasn’t the busiest day apparently.
It’s a brand name whose origin is still being researched – even by the owners! What we do know is that it is most definitely a UK brand with a solid reputation, as fifth generation of sock producers. Made in Leicester, with yarns sourced from Italy, Andrew Lovelock, Head of Sales said, “As a single focus manufacturer, our expertise and knowledge is centered on what we do best – socks. Which includes making for Ted Baker, Vivienne Westwood and Brooks Brothers – our design teams work with theirs.” They do reasonably well in Japan, with agents and distributors and are opening independent websites in the US. They have been attending Pitti for many years, with buyers placing orders with them they only ever see at the show.
Taking in the sartorial assault on the senses, just about everywhere you look at Pitti, it would be myopically stupid not to notice one singularly common characteristic in the male attire. ‘Trousers are being worn short. Men are accessorizing via the socks.” And when you really stop to consider this, it makes you realize, the sock, certainly in Italy, is not an after thought, not the last thing worn, or the poor relation to the ensemble look for the day. It’s what makes the outfit. Who would have thought? You kind of have to be in Italy to appreciate this fully.
By Paul Markevicius