Perfect Pitti Uomo 1. June 2011

Dear Rowley,

You must have thought I’d been white slaved to Latin America darling. Sorry for not writing sooner but I’ve only just got back from a couple of days in Florence at Pitti Uomo: the bi-annual men’s fashion exhibition that brings together all that is new, now and relevant for the season. The entire city of Florence is treated like a canvas upon which the designers invited to show present their work in the most elegant and innovative settings. I have not been to the summer Pitti for eight years because it always clashed with Ascot. This year, I made my comeback. Norma Desmond has nothing on me.

Pitti Uomo is like family to me – so many memories – so it was rather fitting that after my recent trips to Menorca and Paris, I should revisit Florence for the hat trick. Not that I thought I’d ever get there. I think the directors had quite the sense of humour when they named EasyJet. I tell you, the ‘Gatwick experience’ with EasyJet made one realise how pin sharp the Little Britain boys were when they wrote Come Fly With Me.

On arrival at Gatwick, EasyJet has one big check-in that snakes up and down what can only be described as a cattle pen. Because it was relatively quiet, some of the more rebellious passengers  (me included) ducked under the barrier. An Asian chap  - who actually was a dead ringer for Come Fly With Me‘s Taj – bustled up and down like a bantam hen with a clipboard admonishing us in an officious, then ever so slightly disappointed schoolmaster voice as if he’d caught us with our hands under the sheets in the dorm after lights out. Somebody blew a raspberry. The whole experience was a hoot and made one rather proud to be British.

Isn’t it nice that a certain class of Englishman still knows the drill when dressing for the airport? Blazer, polo shirt, chinos and brown suede loafers. The Pisa flight was populated by much the same people who travel to Corfu in September and stay on the Saint Stefanos coast overlooking Albania. It’s the kind of demographic that you know read the Daily Telegraph and who will, to a man, order a large gin & tonic on the flight. There is an affable, almost resigned conspiracy between us that we SHOULD really be flying British Airways but ‘times is hard’ as Mrs Loveit sings in Sweeny Todd.

Won’t bore you with the epic, near Herculean labour it was to get to Florence but long story short an hour’s delay on the flight, a three-hour train journey that stopped in every hamlet between Pisa and Firenze, a momentary loss of mojo in Florence whereby I couldn’t locate the Anglo American hotel and hared around the city centre like Anneka Rice in Treasure Hunt. But the beauty of Florence does quite simply take your breath away. There is such a thing as Stendhal Syndrome whereby expat Britishers are simply driven mad by the beauty of Florence. It happened to me many a time.

By the time I’d showered and put on my cream Ede & Ravenscroft suit, it was aperetivo time so I hot-footed it to the Piazza della Republica for a cocktail with my lovely Lara Mingay who was, as usual, surrounded by handsome men and sipping a Negroni like a native. I cannot tell you how marvellous Florence is for the summer Pitti Uomo. Le tout British men’s fashion establishment is in town and you meet more friends between the Fortezza (where the main Pitti pavilions stand) and the Piazza than you do in a decade living in London. The entire city is en fete and the Brits behave as if we are on our hols. It is heaven.

I was persuaded to come to Pitti this season by Anda, Guy and Poppy who were all in town for their respective Savile Row  houses: Anderson & Sheppard, Dashing Tweeds and Huntsman. We haven’t been together in Italy since Poppy’s nuptials in Pisa. Anyway, back to Pitti. Lara dashed to a GQ dinner leaving me happily nursing another Negroni at an outside table in Gilli watching the world go by. Happy? Imagine the look on Oprah Winfrey’s face when she checks her bank balance online and you’ve got the picture. Just as the sun began to dip, Anda and Guy rocked up. They are staying in the pensione where A Room with a View was filmed and had clearly had an incredibly productive day at Pitti.

How to describe Pitti? The Fortezza is an ancient walled garrison/castle within which pavilions and great halls are built almost like a city within the city. Now imagine it filled with the world’s fashion press and buyers all dressed to the nines, in a terribly good Italy-induced mood and hungry for the scent of the new season. We are all looking for ‘the message’. In the past when I reported on Pitti for the Financial Times and the International Herald Tribune, I likened it to Madame Arcate the distinctly medium medium in Noel Coward’s Blithe Spirit swooping round the drawing room trying to summon the spirits.

You’ll be pleased to discover that the message came quite literally loud and clear at this edition of Pitti and I had a fascinating Friday (the last day of the fair and a little more laid back) reacquainting myself with old friends (Hackett, Hugo Boss, Adam Kimmell) and discovering new ones such as Paris-based shoemaker Louis Leeman who is, I think a great new talent and the lovely chaps at Oxford Clothes in Chicago (American bespoke or custom tailoring at its best) who made that colour drift of tailored summer coats in my snapshot.

This is where Pitti Uomo excels: presenting the classics with panache and discovering/nurturing new talent sh0wcased with elegance, energy and amusement . Much more to tell in my next letter.