I didn’t exactly know what to expect from Pitti91, beside a whole lot of tight pants and narcissism. I am familiar with fashion events such as the Women’s Fashion Week, so I am pretty much immune to the nerve-racking parade of individuals that dress up like lion tamers in hope to snatch a feature on a fashion magazine.
However, attending Pitti Uomo as a woman has been a fascinating experience. First of all, nobody pays attention to anyone who’s missing chromosome Y, unless they are buyers, models, or photographers. The only stares I received from the Pitti crowd were on account of my camera, which was permanently hanging at my neck, and they were sending clear signals that they wanted to be immortalized.
Second, I think I finally realized what men feel like when they are forced to go on a shopping date with their significant other, and endure hours of meticulous inspection to determine how clothes fit.
Essentially, my job at Pitti was to follow Jasper around and take pictures of him trying on anything he thought was cool. This ranged from mini top hats with silk ribbons to vampiric Venetian capes, nylon field jackets, and–of course–Camoshita overcoats.
Regardless of what he wore, Jasper looked as if he just walked out of a GQ cover. I stared at him long enough to understand that he’s that unnervingly type of person that would look good even wrapped up in the recycled plastic they use on luggage at the airport. He probably thought that I was searching for the perfect frame to take a picture, while in reality I was secretly hatching plans to kidnap him and turn him into another underpaid model in LA.
The peak of this try-on frenzy was reached at the stand of a quite talented Italian hat maker, where a small crowd of adoring women insisted that Jasper tried on every single hat that was displayed.
On a personal note, I’ve had the pleasure to meet one of the few women present with a booth, Deborah from De Bonne Facture. She’s Jasper’s female equivalent: wearing a menswear shirt and a pair of trousers from her own collection, her face completely free of makeup, she reminded me how French women’s class and elegance shine from within, no matter what they put on, and I instantly felt as sophisticated and graceful as Kim Kardashian on Paper Magazine’s cover.
The Pitti people warm up to the opposite gender during social events, when the drinks replace cameras in the hands of the attendees. I’ve had the privilege to meet many inspiring and talented people and talk with them over a nice glass of rosso, and the only awkward moment was when, at a dinner, I somehow ended up sitting in front of a wine maker who kept insisting that I described the aroma of the wine we were drinking.
“I don’t really know,” I blushed, swirling the liquid nervously in the glass.
“Come on, give it a try. I smell leather,” he said, inhaling loudly into his chalice.
I am pretty sure that “red fruits” would have been a safe answer, but I didn’t want to sound unsophisticated, so instead I said: “Bitter almonds!”
“Excellent! What else?”
I desperately looked for Jasper in hopes of being rescued, but he was deeply engaged in a conversation with a French designer, so I dipped my nose into the glass and smelled again.
“Er…dry leaves? Crackling fire?” I will never know if the guy actually figured I was just listing the names of my favorite Yankee Candles, but he did seem satisfied with my answers.
Besides indulging Jasper’s obsession with indigo-dyed everything, the show itself gave me the opportunity to talk with the makers and the creators of brands – both emerging and established – and understand the ideas behind their product and the character behind their brand.
As customers, we encounter the final product on the shelf of a store or on a webpage, but that is only one of the final steps in the lifespan of each object. Before being handed to us, a designer came up with an idea, sourced the materials to create it, failed several times along the way, and eventually delivered the final product to the retailer.
When we make a purchase, we miss out on a whole process that oftentimes adds value to the product.
I listened to a leather dyer narrating how he lost his job before trying his hand at what he was doing only as a hobby, and his hands were shaking when he handed me his creation to inspect; I witnessed a tear peeking out of the eye of a shoemaker when he told us about becoming an orphan at the age of 16, and moving to Italy from Tennessee to follow the footsteps of his dad, a shoemaker, who never got the chance to teach him the job; I saw the smile of satisfaction illuminate the face of a hat maker when Jasper complimented the fine details of her creations.
Today’s easy access to almost any item on the market comes at a cost: like in Plato’s myth of the cave, we only see what’s projected in front of us, but that is nothing but a shadow, a ghost, of the show that is happening behind our backs.
Without history, material things are merely stuff. Knowledge is the key to understand the world around us: without knowledge, we could stare for hours at the Last Judgement in the Sistine Chapel and see nothing but a bunch of bodies painted on a wall.
Our mission at Pitti Uomo was to unveil a little bit of the hidden beauty that’s lost in the process that exists between maker and customer, and remind everyone that beauty comes in different shapes and forms – but that it does require an effort to understand it from our part.
You can choose to blindly accept what’s presented to you, and nobody will judge you for being lazy or content with it; or you can choose to take a bite of the forbidden fruit, and embrace new depths of satisfaction.
Either way, I hope you will agree with me that it is perfectly acceptable to make fun of a pompous wine maker.