For Pitti’s Sake: Florence’s Leading Men
Pitti Uomo is one of the menswear industry’s most important events. Meet the men who make it what it is today
Florence is the dark horse of the Italian fashion industry. While nobody can deny the contributions it has made – this is the birthplace of Gucci, after all – it has long played second fiddle to its neighbour to the north, Milan. Depending on who you ask, though, the balance of power may well be about to shift. Italy’s recognised fashion capital has the glittering catwalks, the A-list front row and the attention of the international press, but Florence? Florence has Pitti.
Pitti Immagine, to give it its full title, is a series of industry events that dates back to the early 1950s and incorporates Pitti Uomo, a menswear trade fair that was founded in 1972 to champion local Italian designers. It has since blossomed into one of the biggest events in the menswear calendar, a twice-yearly coming together of buyers and retailers that hosts an ever-increasing lineup of brands and welcomes tens of thousands of visitors from around the world.
There is an industrious buzz surrounding Pitti Uomo, which takes place over four days in Fortezza da Basso, a 16th-century fort in the centre of Florence. If Milan Fashion Week is where the headlines are made, Pitti is where the deals are done; editors and influencers accustomed to the royal treatment at other events might find themselves sidelined at Pitti as buyers and brands scramble to place the orders that will determine the fate of their businesses over the next six months.
That being said, you can’t have so many well-dressed men under one roof and expect there to be no flashing of feathers, and for all that it might present itself as a serious trade fair, Pitti is never without a certain amount of pomp and pageantry. Indeed, in recent years it has developed its own distinctive style scene, one which has been thrust into the international limelight by street-style photographers such as Messrs Tommy Ton and Scott “The Sartorialist” Schuman. The dapper gents that throng the Fortezza da Basso during Pitti have earned the less than complimentary sobriquet of “Pitti Peacocks”, and their trademark look – double-breasted suits, pocket squares, trilby hats and stacked leather bracelets – has become indelibly associated with the show itself.
Pitti Uomo isn’t just a few guys sitting on the walls of an old fortress waiting to have their photograph taken, though, nor is it just an industry trade show. It’s also one of the menswear world’s great social occasions, and, for MR PORTER, an all-too-rare opportunity to catch up with the men behind some of our favourite brands. So, when the last fair took place in June, we did just that.
Mr Yuki Matsuda, owner of Meg Company
Mr Yuki Matsuda is the owner of Meg Company, a multi-brand organisation based in Hermosa Beach, California, which incorporates the heritage clothing brand Monitaly and the artisanal shoe brand Yuketen. He’s at Pitti Uomo to showcase the two brands’ SS19 collections. (Our highlight? A ghillie sandal mounted on a chunky sole from Yuketen, which was produced in collaboration with a team of folk craftsmen in Yosemite.) We caught up with Mr Matsuda to talk about the more recent autumn/winter collection from Monitaly. Unlike those sandals, it’s available now.
What’s Monitaly all about?
We take heritage clothing and update it for a modern feel. I love the way clothes were made in the old days, but the silhouettes aren’t always right for today. We recreate these clothes, changing the pattern and fit while trying to be as faithful as possible when it comes to material and production techniques.
What’s new this season?
We’ve developed an amazing new fabric called Vancloth Sateen, which is based on an old fabric that was used in WWII. You have to look through a magnifying glass to really see the quality of it. I was like: woah! So I went to the original mill, which is in North Carolina, and asked them to start making it again.
It’s great that you’re investing in American-made fabrics at a difficult time for the industry. White Oak, the last selvedge denim mill in the US, closed at the end of last year.
I don’t know the exact circumstances there, but I think if you have a great product you should keep making it. It sometimes feels like America is ruled by a corporate mentality, where the only thing that matters is profit. I don’t agree with that. Profit is important, of course, but you don’t need a Ferrari in your garage to be happy.
Is this your first time in Florence?
No – I’ve been coming here for 12 years now.
What made you first come to Pitti Uomo?
I wasn’t interested at first, but my friends said, “Hey Yuki – if you don’t show your product at Pitti Uomo, we’re going to do it ourselves.” I was like, really? I’d better go, then.
Why weren’t you interested?
At the time the image of Pitti was very dressed up, very formal. Personally, my style is more relaxed. But when I got here, I realised that the way that people dress, the way they try very hard to look their best, reflects a deep appreciation of quality. They have a great attention to detail. That’s when I started to feel at home here.
Mr Guido Bondi, CEO of President’s
With Pitti Uomo welcoming more and more international designers every year, it’s becoming harder to find men like Mr Guido Bondi. Florence born and bred, he comes from a family of Tuscan clothiers. His grandfather founded Manifatture 7 Bell S.p.A., which has the distinction of being the first company to produce denim in Italy. Mr Bondi graduated from Polimoda, a fashion school in Florence, and completed an apprenticeship in the family company before deciding to start his own brand, President’s, in 2011. We caught up with him on the day before Pitti Uomo to find out more about his brand – and to pick his brains for a few local dining spots.
President’s isn’t technically a new brand, is it? Can you explain the story?
The company was registered by my grandfather in 1957, but he never used it. The idea was to create a high-quality brand of trousers made entirely in Italy. They’d be fit to dress a president, hence “the President’s trousers”. When I was looking to create my own brand, I found this in the family archive and decided to run with it.
Why not create your own brand from scratch?
I loved the name and the family history, and the idea of entirely Italian manufacturing was very close to my heart. Everything President’s does is made in Italy, and where possible it’s made in Florence. The knitwear is a Scottish yarn produced in Lastra a Signa, which is just a few miles away. The denim comes from Japan. The leather comes from Santa Croce, an area between Florence and Pisa that’s famous for vegetable tanning. I like to bring a blend of well-researched materials from all around the world – but everything is made in Italy.
What does it mean to have such a big menswear show on your doorstep?
For me, it’s the best show in the world. And being in Florence, it’s a perfect match. It’s a small city, so much more relaxed than Milan Fashion Week, and there’s no need to take a taxi. If you want to go up into the hills for a couple of days to relax, the surrounding Tuscan countryside is beautiful – and there are some great places to eat.
Speaking of which, what would you suggest for a visitor with a few hours to kill?
The Uffizi Museum is unbelievable. And, I don’t know if it’s open, but I would recommend the Galleria Vasariana. It’s a gallery full of works by Michelangelo and Donatello that was built for Lorenzo de’ Medici to walk across Florence away from the public.
And a good restaurant?
Cross the Arno river and go to Alla Vecchia Bettola for an authentic Tuscan meal. If you want something chicer, try Al Fresco in the garden of the Four Seasons.
Mr Yasuto Kamoshita, CEO of Camoshita and co-founder of United Arrows
Army-Green Cotton-Corduroy Suit Jacket Coming soon
Army-Green Cotton-Corduroy Trousers Coming soon
Mr Yasuto Kamoshita arrived at Caffè Gilli on Florence’s Piazza della Repubblica for a coffee with MR PORTER looking every part the street-style icon. The founder of Camoshita was soon out of his seersucker suit and into one made out of corduroy from his autumn collection, which he describes with a wry smile as “English Country Gentleman 2018”. As the creative force behind United Arrows for a number of years, a 250-strong network of high-end Japanese clothing boutiques, Mr Kamoshita is style royalty in Japan and widely regarded as one of Tokyo’s best-dressed men.
You’re a well-dressed guy. Do you make a special effort for events like Pitti Uomo, or is this just your default state?
No, I dress like this every day.
Who is your style icon?
The Duke of Windsor.
And how would you describe your own style?
I respect traditional dress codes, I believe that when you go to a restaurant, you should dress accordingly. Now, people dress too casual. They don’t dress for the occasion. I don’t like this trend.
Army-Green Cotton-Corduroy Suit Jacket Coming soon
Army-Green Cotton-Corduroy Trousers Coming soon
You’ve spoken before about the style of the Ivy League being one of your big inspirations. Why?
This is what I grew up with. There were no European cultural influences in Japan when I was young – only the United States.
How about the style associated with Pitti Uomo, that dandy look that guys go for here?
I don’t like that, either. For me, it’s something in the middle. Not too dressy, not too casual.
How do you feel about being a street-style icon?
I treat it as a challenge. When I see my own photos, it makes me want to be more stylish.
Messrs Carlos Castillo and Jorge Navares, co-founders MAN 1924
Grey Harris Houndstooth Blazer Coming soon
The extravagantly bearded cousins behind MAN 1924 are among the most photographed men at Pitti Uomo, but their trademark look of elegant, softly tailored jackets and New Balance sneakers couldn’t be further from that of the archetypal “Pitti Peacock”. They have been making the twice-annual trip from their native Spain to Pitti Uomo for 30 years now, first as buyers for their family’s multi-brand stores and latterly as wholesalers for MAN 1924. They found time in their hectic schedule to speak to MR PORTER and model a few pieces from their autumn collection.
What’s the history behind MAN 1924?
Mr Castillo: The brand was founded in 1924 by our grandfather, Ambrosio Navares. It was a tailoring factory, and the name comes from “Manufacture Ambrosio Navares”, so capital M-A-N. Then there is the multi-brand store, named Denis after Dionisio Navares, our great-grandfather.
You’ve been coming to Pitti Uomo since the late 1980s. How has it changed?
Mr Navares: When we first came, it was held in a garden.
Mr Castillo: And no photographers!
Mr Navares: So, obviously the first difference is the size. There’s been an incredible expansion. But before, Pitti was purely a trade show. You came here to buy, to work. Now, it’s becoming more of a cultural show. People come to pose, to be photographed.
You’re photographed quite a lot here, too.
Mr Castillo: Yes, but that’s not the reason we’re here. It’s business, business, business. We have four days – three, actually, because the flights are always delayed – to make all of our orders for the next six months.
Grey Harris Houndstooth Blazer Coming soon
What’s the calling card for MAN 1924?
Mr Navares: The Kennedy jacket is the piece that everyone associates with us. It’s not lined at all, you can pack it in your bag and take it away with you...
Mr Castillo: ... It’s the sort of jacket I can wear with a shirt, tie, trousers and a smart shoe while going to work in Bilbao, in my office, but if I have to travel at the weekend, I can take the same jacket and wear it with a polo, a cotton trouser and a sneaker.
The cut of the jacket is quite unique.
Mr Castillo: We put a lot of thought into it. How wide are the armholes? Where are the buttons positioned? We adjust things by just a few millimetres to find that perfect balance of comfort and style.
Mr Navares: The manufacturers have the terror. They start trembling when we go to see them.
Mr Riccardo Valenti, CEO of Anderson’s
Mr Riccardo Valenti is the man in charge of Anderson’s, an artisanal belt-maker based in Parma, Italy. Not one to be seduced by the empty glamour of the fashion industry, Mr Valenti opted to meet MR PORTER in an Irish pub in the heart of Florence, where, over a few of pints of Guinness, he opened up about the difficulties of running a family business.
How long have you been working at Anderson’s?
Since I was 18. There was no room for university. We just had to move our asses and get to work. It was very difficult in the beginning, because it’s hard to trust someone who’s 18 and the manufacturer’s son. “Who are you? Who do you think you are? You’re just a kid!”
To what extent is Anderson’s a family business?
You can look at a family business in the traditional, vertical sense, where you have the father as chairman, the son as CEO and the grandson as managing director. That’s one way of looking at it. In reality, these things are much more complicated. My head of cutting is the father of my head of dyeing. My financial manager is the mother of someone who works in the sewing department. There are family links everywhere in the company.
You must feel very responsible.
You do feel responsible, because if something goes wrong then entire families get affected. The good thing is this, though: because of the family business model, we have established a tradition of craftsmanship that is passed down generation to generation. We have a network of artisans that has grown up around the company. In the same way that Goodyear-welted shoes can only be made properly in Northampton, you simply can’t make our belts anywhere else.
Is it difficult to replace staff?
Every time someone in the factory retires, we have to plan for it five years in advance. We need to find a replacement, train them and give them the time they need to learn, to develop and to make mistakes.
What’s the secret of long-term success in this industry?
You have to be reliable. And you have to be hard-working. These are two words that have been over-used in the last few years. Hard work is something you have to practise every minute of every day. Blood, sweat, tears and toil. This industry is full of overestimating people, but sooner or later they have to pay the bill. We may never be billionaires, but in 10 years’ time we’ll sit down and talk again. We’ll still be here, trust me.
Mr Matteo Bozzalla, CEO of Valstar
It was Mr Matteo Bozzalla who first suggested that we visit Pitti Uomo and meet some of its attendees. If you ever get the chance to meet him in person, you’ll understand why we said yes: the man could sell ice to an eskimo. Luckily, he doesn’t face such a tough sell in his day-to-day working life. As the CEO of Valstar, he presides over one of Italy’s most beloved outerwear brands, creator of the Valstarino, a luxe reworking of a US Army A-1 flight jacket that was first designed in 1935 and is now recognised as one of the most iconic jackets that a man can buy.
You’re clearly passionate about the Valstarino.
Of course. The Valstarino is not just a piece of clothing, it’s a piece of design! And I don’t say this lightly, either. In 2007, it was featured in a design exhibition in Milan next to the Vespa Piaggio, the Arco Floor Lamp by Achille Castiglioni, the Vanity Fair Armchair by Poltrona Frau and many other icons of Italian design.
Why do you think it’s achieved this iconic status?
It’s something completely new every time you wear it. You can mix and match it with different pieces. It’s light and breathable, so you can wear it in the sunny Italian peninsula, have a coffee, or maybe a martini... but for me, the real secret is the passion with which it’s made, and the craftsmanship that’s passed down from generation to generation.
Why did you decide to show at Pitti Uomo?
Well, we are Italian since 1911! When the most important menswear fair in the world is in our home country, we can’t not show.
There must be a business case for coming here, too, though?
Of course. It’s an opportunity to meet customers from all over the world, talk to them and find out what they want. This kind of experience is vital for us to develop and move forward.
That’s quite a progressive stance for a brand with such a strong heritage. How do you move Valstar forward while staying true to its legacy?
We might add a few new styles each season, a few new colours or a new method of tanning leather. But we have to be careful. When you’re a product-driven company with a strong heritage, it’s not easy. If you create new products all the time, then sure, you can afford to be experimental, but if you do just a few things… it’s like making a great spaghetti. There may only be three ingredients, they all have to be perfect.