5 Stylish Lessons In Italian Dressing From Pitti Uomo
Man in style Stephen Doig returns from the men’s shows in Florence and Milan with his guide to their sartorial rules
Pitti Uomo, the bi-annual Florentine men’s fashion trade fair, is — alongside the showcasing of clothing brands from across the world — a fascinating study in the kind of pack behaviour, primal posturing and mating dances one would normally see in a David Attenborough documentary.
For it’s here that the curious phenomenon of the “Pitti Peacocks” exists, a rare breed who arrive in perfect formation, dressed up to the sartorial nines in matching suits, fantastical coats and all manner of adornment in the hope of capturing the lens of the street style photographers. Utterly silly, but a lot of fun to watch.
At this January’s fair, on a crisp, bright morning, a pack took to their own personal Serengeti, the Piazza del Crocifisso, watched by a group of highly amused, seventysomething Italian men, and it was the latter that looked the infinitely more stylish of the two species. Sipping espressos, in pristine fedoras, handsome coats, leather gloves tucked elegantly into their breast pockets, they were a Fellini vignette in effect, a masterclass in that most hard-to-define-area, the art of Italian style.
British men could do well to take a tip or two from their Italian brothers, who historically haven’t been embarrassed by really caring about their clothes. There’s a very particular Italian greeting between men in Italy — “ciao, bello”, which means “hey, good-looking”; no chat-up, just an appreciation of how a man presents himself and the care he’s taken to dress well.
“Italian men’s style is about eleganza, it’s sophistication”, says Dolce & Gabbana at Milan Fashion Week Men’s, which follows on from Pitti Uomo. The pair conjure up the Sicilian tailoring heritage of Domenico Dolce (his father was a tailor), with a series of weighty wool suits in classic, masculine cuts.
“It’s about being refined but not obvious about it. It’s a modern way of dressing as it’s quite soft,” says Ermenegildo Zegna’s creative director Alessandro Sartori of the Italian approach to tailoring. So what are the rules — unsaid but instinctively understood — that govern the wardrobe of the bello uomo?
Historically it was the tailoring houses of Naples — a hive of suiting activity thanks to its proximity to mills — that created the soft-structure shoulder when Englishmen were in upright, more formal versions. The rolled shoulder became a calling card of a gentler approach to suits and coats; a more fluid cut and less weight in the jacket (by making it half canvas, which effectively takes out the lining, plus only including a back panel), as seen at Milan from Dolce & Gabbana, Pal Zileri and Emporio Armani; Armani took that sense of at-ease-soldier insouciance a step further by showcasing slouching suits in tufted textures.
If You’re Going To Dress Up, Do It Seriously
The flip side of this, is the propensity to really go for it in the proper sartorial stakes; and if you’re upping the ante you might as well do it to the nines. This means structured, upright tailored suits; there’s nothing like the sight of an elderly Venetian man in pinstriped suit, camel coat slung over the shoulders, Borsalino tilted just so, tie pin and brogue immaculate, to make you long to master the dark art of sprezzatura. This means layering up; a shirt with a jacket and a coat that’s airy enough to accommodate without crushing the fabric. Shoulder-robing is an innately Italian move; others might find it a tad effete, so by all means use it as God intended if you wish.
While the full flamboyance of the Pitti Peacocks isn’t something the average man might necessarily want to emulate, Italian men in general tend to give prudent attention to accessories (and how to wear them) — not to act as showmen but to add finesse. Hats are a mainstay, for example: handsome felt trilby hats and fedoras worn with ease instead of a costume-y boater. Likewise, neck adornment doesn’t necessarily have to mean the standard tie — I’ve watched Milanese gentlemen undo their ties at the end of a working day and turn them into pocket squares. In Italy it’s just as normal to don a cravat under a shirt rather than wear the more standardised alternative.
Marry Form With Function
There’s a reason that technical outerwear is a particularly Italian preoccupation; their fabric innovation is second to none, as seen at Tod’s and Moncler. And with that comes a twist on how to dress in winter. The sweater, for example, is often swapped with a quilted, padded gilet, worn in a less après ski way by incorporating it into classic, everyday wardrobes. Brunello Cucinelli’s suggestion is to wear it over a shirt and tie, and under a wool blazer; dynamic but not casually sports-centric.
Think About Your After-Dark Attire
Aside from the glitzy suits, Dolce & Gabbana also created soft, robed jackets and breezy trousers that look deliciously louche. The other tribe of Italian eveningwear is slightly more va-va-vroom — lean suits and what is increasingly known as the “athletic” fit T-shirt, one designed to show off those muscles for the bello uomo who knows exactly what he’s doing.
THE 5 BEST SHOWS FROM MILAN FASHION WEEK MEN'S AUTUMN/WINTER 2019
Fendi’s Seventies-tinged, soft-focus, caramel and chocolate collection was a mellow take on corporate dressing, with camel coats in fluid silks and cashmere, traditional pinstriped suits updated with iridescent fabrics and stripes in bronze instead of standard grey and chunky, and shaggy outerwear that looked as if Paddington wear had embraced some Milanese glamour.
Mr Armani’s Emporio line has always embraced a dynamic kind of man, with every type of activewear from alpine adventurers to urban speedsters catered to, for autumn/winter the elder statesman of subtle masculine style combined the two, turning technical denim into skiwear, showing heavy duty parkas with airy, fluid suits and a procession of yeti-esque, swamping coats and jackets trimmed in faux fur that’s been developed to have zero impact on the environment.
Italian behemoth Brunello Cucinelli is a byword for understated luxury, and this focus on exceptional fabrication carried through to his autumn/winter offering, which applied soft corduroy to suits and plush, deep velvet to a series of handsome tuxedos. The designer might use the most luxurious of fabrics — his cashmeres can fetch into the four figures — but doesn’t keep things precious; there was a sporty vim and vigour to Cucinelli’s cargo trousers and jogger-hoodie combos. This is leisurewear for the private jet, not the gym.
How do you make a big old parka look sartorial? Give it to Andrea Incontri, Tod’s head of menswear, who tinkered with the formula of outerwear to apply prints that evoke heritage style — subtle plaids in this case — and make them robust and waterproof, for a Milanese elegance when you’re in the Alps. The house, famed for its shoes and Gommino loafer, applies its technical capabilities with leather to its clothing, with suede pea coats and heavy duty puffers.
New Suiting Solutions
Ermenegildo Zegna’s creative director Alessandro Sartori doesn’t exactly rip up the rule book, but rather he discreetly slides it to one side to create his own. For autumn/winter, that translates into a new template for pattern. Houndstooth, plaids and Prince of Wales checks were artfully replaced; a fragmented pattern like broken lettering featured across coats and jackets. His new take on the suit revolved around a cropped, boxy blouson plus trousers that can be transformed from cargo pants to airier iterations.
And a special mention to being loud and proud...
There aren’t many brands who choose to fly the rainbow flag for their gay following, but Donatella Versace’s collection paid homage with a range of searing bright silk shirts, feather-trimmed suits and take-no-prisoners leopard print that called to mind the free and easy atmosphere of South Beach in the Nineties, which Gianni Versace was integral to. The Ru Paul soundtrack had the audience sashaying away with a spring in their step.