After a weekend off in Florence, it was a train to Milano Centrale for the final two days of men’s shows before I return to London. The train to Milan gave much pause for thought – don’t they always? – about Pitti Uomo and the state of men’s fashion now. Suffice to say, the passing show of peacocks and dandies at Pitti will always show you the extremes. But where is the George Cruikshank de nos jours to chronicle and caricature the extremes of the male silhouette?
The look at Pitti has reached the tipping point. Trousers have been drainpipe-tight ever since Dior Homme’s Hedi Slimane told us so aeons ago. They have now reached epic comedic proportions made in primary colours and bold tartans then rolled-up above the ankle. Ever since The London Cut exhibition at Pitti in 2007, Savile Row’s influence has loomed large on menswear. But I think perhaps the fashionable male has taken one too many lesson from idols such as the Duke of Windsor to heart.
As an ex-king with extreme but not clownish taste, the Duke could get away with subtly clashing checks, spots, colours and textures. The Pitti peacocks now consider it ‘divinissimo’ to throw absolutely everything at their outfits: bow ties, pocket squares, patterned shirts, loud ties, plaids, checks, jewel-hued socks and clashing shoes. The look amongst the younger is a formal brogue worn sockless for which I blame Thom Browne entirely. Clearly you are never fully dressed without a man bag of ludicrous proportion and a watch so weighty that one’s knuckles drag on the floor under the burden.
So where will it go? I suspect fashion will simply calm down, dear. I’m ready for a clearing of the palette, aren’t you? It is too obvious to predict minimalism of the Jil Sander, Prada or Helmut Newton 1990s variety. What I do see is boys to men of all ages utterly embracing the suit jacket, shirt and tie aesthetic. But below the waist? It’s got to be separates to break-up the suited and booted look and I would bet my last farthing that the barometer will swing towards a fuller, more Brideshead trouser.
As a veteran of Pitti Uomo, I invariably see the bella figura of Florence: the palazzi, the fabulous restaurants, the very beautiful people and the good life. But there is indeed something dark at the heart of Italy. Isn’t it interesting how a country’s national psyche takes its cue from the leader? For twenty years ex-President Silvio Berlusconi has raped Italy and filled his boots without remorse. Berlusconi’s dumbed-down, sexualised media empire – an echo of his Bunga Bunga private peccadilloes – has rendered at least one generation of young Italians crass, vulgar and dumb.
I have nothing but respect for the old Florentines with their fine manners, fine clothes and generosity towards those intelligent enough to look beyond Duomo, the Ufizzi Gallery and the Ponte Vecchio. But what I have seen in the city on this visit to Florence is a very downcast, down at heel population with a curious disdain for tourists and an aversion to work. If you want a lesson in all that is wrong with Italy’s economy at present, take a table outside Gilli on the Piazza della Republica. We all know about the omerta that means Italians are charged roughly 50% less than tourists. We accept locals are treated like Princes while visitors pouring money into their ailing economy are viewed as dupes who deserve to be fleeced.
What we don’t expect is to be treated badly while being swindled. The waiters at Gilli won’t serve on another man’s turf so you’re left parched for half an hour until your waiter returns. When his shift is over he’ll insist you settle the bill then conveniently forget to return with any change owed. When called on this he will shrug as if to say ‘fair cop but tell it to someone who cares’.
I do sympathise with Italy struggling under the Euro and Frau Merkel’s lash but Florentines do themselves no favours by treating visitors as fat wallets who are there to be emptied by fair means or foul. As soon as we arrived in Florence, the taxi driver basically pulled a multi-faceted fast one by traversing the historic centre far too many times and re-setting the metre every time we made one of three drop-offs. This behaviour was roguish and charming when Italy still had the Lire. In Euros it is venality.
And yet I still love Florence and saw the very best of the city’s soul and its cuisine over a final dinner at Olio & Convivium on Via Santo Spirito. I do understand the Florentine frustration with the day trippers who view their beautiful city only through a camera lens. I don’t think there is another city in the world with art, architecture, archives and a cultural landscape as rich and vibrant as Florence. You could live here a lifetime and still not see all of its riches. I have been privileged to see much and hope to see more. But until one speaks Italian like a native and the Euro collapses, a visitor will always be viewed as a target for the corruption that is I fear endemic.