In addition to some of the best classic menswear brands, the best accessories, and the all-around best brands, period, Pitti plays host to some crazy and crazily impressive work. Here are three of the wildest brands at Pitti Uomo 91, brought to you by the discerning eye of Arianna Reggio.
One of the makers that impressed me the most at Pitti was Old Randa. Andrea, the creative mind behind the brand, caught my eye with his eclectic style. With his thin figure, the arms covered in tattoos, and the slim, straight moustache, he made me think that, if Baudelaire had been alive in 2017, that’s exactly what he would look like.
Since I am an incredibly frivolous person and I tend to dedicate attention to people with charm, I immediately approached Andrea to find out if his creations were as compelling as his style.
This is how I got swallowed up in a spiral of art, history, and tradition that almost left me overwhelmed as if I were drunk.
Andrea is a patina master, which means that he specializes in the art of dyeing leather. Because of his strong personality and his personal background (he worked in theater before dedicating his time to the Old Randa project) his creations are rather unique. Think Bontoni shoes tripping on acid.
Bright colors, such as absinthe green, bright purple, and mustard yellow, are combined using no apparent logic, and they make the shoes look like the skin of exotic, venomous animals.
I pointed at a pair of brogues that looked as if they were coated in the red marble adorning the Medici chapel in Florence.
“Ah, those!” said Andrea with a smile. “I dye them using wine must.”
As it always happens when I hear the word “wine,” I pricked up my ears.
“I retrieved an ancient recipe for making wine in the Ancient Rome. I dip the shoes in the must using an amphorae until they’re almost completely black, and then I polish away the excess until beauty is revealed.”
Then he flipped the shoes to expose the sole, and I was, if possible, even more blown away. On the leather sole of the shoe was impressed the strange figure of an animal; Andrea explained that he has always been fascinated by the drawings of ancient European explorers, who, coming back from their adventures, would try to illustrate the exotic, unknown animals such as lions, peacocks, elephants, and crocodiles. Because these representations were solely based on the memory of the explorers, they were incredibly inaccurate, and looking at them today they seem the drawings of mythological creatures.
I collected Jasper, who didn’t get a single word of the conversation – which was in Italian – and I walked away asking myself if this encounter really happened or I was still getting over last night’s prosecco. Or if this whole Pitti thing was a dream, and I had just woken up to find out I was at some batshit crazy contemporary art vernissage in Copenhagen.
Francesco Maglia is a big, ruddy man that, if it wasn’t for his perfectly tailored clothes, could easily be mistaken for Santa Claus. I timidly peeked inside their booth attracted by the varicolored umbrellas sprouting from rudimental metal tins, and Francesco Maglia literally dragged me inside and introduced me to his little crew – which were all family members.
“Hello, my dear,” he solemnly said, “I am Francesco V, and this is Francesco VI, my son.”
“Oh.” That’s pretty much everything I managed to say, partly because I was trying to figure out if the guy was shitting me, and partly because my hand had started to go numb in his vise.
“So…what’s going on here? You guys make some pretty awesome umbrellas,” I said, deciding that adulation is always a safe option. Besides, their umbrellas really are quite amazing: they look sturdy and practical, but with a range of colors and shapes that denote careful research in aesthetics. I would say that they’re the type of umbrellas I wouldn’t mind using to beat up a mugger on the bus, only to clamorously open it in a dramatic gesture a minute later and walk away in style, chin to the sky.
“We, young lady,” said Francesco V in his deep, low voice, “We are some of the best umbrella makers in the world.”
I stared at him for a long moment, finding myself speechless again. He said that in such a calm, confident way that I believed him immediately. He proceeded without giving me the time to process the information.
“Everything we sell is exclusively made in our workshop. We are a five-generation umbrella makers and we still use the same methods and processes that Francesco I used when he opened the workshop. Each umbrella requires more than 70 steps to make.
“You like that?” he asked, noticing I was eyeing a beautiful umbrella in cobalt blue.
“It’s really nice,” I replied sincerely, “The wood seems quite solid!”
“It is. It’s a single piece of wood. A whole branch of walnut, actually.”
Francesco went on explaining how they only use the best wood branches to make their handles, and how laborious the process is.
“First, you have to select the branches. Then, you have to straighten them, and that requires a lot of time – up to 6 months – during which the maker steams the wood and softens it in order to bend it to the correct shape.”
I suddenly felt reverential respect for this man, who was clearly passionate about his profession and was taking the time to illustrate his art to me. It broke me a little when his face changed to a sadder expression as he told me that people don’t seem to care about quality anymore.
“People don’t understand that an umbrella like this is an heirloom piece that will last through more than one generation, because my umbrellas simply don’t break. My sister has had hers for over 30 years, and we just recently replaced the canopy: it looks like new again.
“The demand is so low that we had to come to terms with some of our offerings; for example, we are no longer able to offer silk as a choice. Our fabric is now a blend of cotton, silk, and wool.”
His big smile came back as soon as I told him that I work for a menswear forum (it took a while before he understood what that was) where quality is not only appreciated, but also worshipped like a goddess, and I promised to introduce his brand to the community.
I walked away after one last, vigorous handshake that thankfully didn’t make my $3 Hello Kitty umbrella fall off my tote bag. That would have been embarrassing.
Since both Jasper and I have the sense of direction of a blind mole in a maze, we found ourselves lost in the main pavilion more than once trying to find the shopping area, which was supposed to be a pretty big deal this year. During one of our aimless wanderings, we ended up in the area dedicated to maîtres parfumeurs, as in: the beauty section.
Honestly, I feel pretty at ease around beauty aisles, so I suggested going through them in hope to find the shops and maybe even a perfume to bring home as a souvenir.
“But…what does beauty have to do with Pitti Uomo?” objected Jasper.
Oh, God. Men. Always asking irrelevant questions.
“Aren’t you a big connoisseur of fragrances yourself?”
“Yes, but…is this a good use of our time?”
I stared at my colleague in dismay: he succeeded in the attempt of making me feel more guilty than my husband ever has.
“Fine. Let’s go this way, perhaps we will find the…”
“Ohh, look! Roses!” breathed Jasper, waltzing towards the stand of Essenzialmente Laura, which had rows upon rows of elegant perfume bottles protected by crystal cloches.
I followed him to the stand, where a woman was elegantly waving her hand, spraying perfume all around.
“This is Mystic Rose,” she said smiling at us. “It’s part of our collection dedicated to the Bible.
“Roses are a biblical symbol of wisdom and purity. The thorns represent the sins, and the Church itself is oftentimes represented with a rose. Do you like it?”
Jasper seemed pleased with the smell of Mystic Rose, so the woman showed us the rest of the Bible collection.
“This is Incense of the Churches of Rome,” she announced, spraying off the fragrance on a piece of paper and handing it to us.
“It smells…like a church,” I commented stupidly, but I did mean what I said. If you ever entered a big cathedral in Europe – whether it’s Notre Dame or St. Peter’s, you know what I’m referring to: that smell of melted wax, incense, and wood has probably been the same for centuries. It is actually not unpleasant: it instantly brought me back to my trip to Bruges, when I had one of the most intense sensorial experiences of my life. I was walking down the aisle of the enormous cathedral in the central square of the city, and someone started playing the harp in a little hidden chapel. If you have never heard the sound of a harp resonating through the marble walls of a church, let me tell you: it was the most poetical sound my ears have ever perceived, and even if I chased it desperately in hundreds of harp concerts after that day, I was never able to grasp that celestial melody again. It was one, ephemeral moment of pure beauty, and it’s lost forever.
That’s what I was thinking when I smelled Incense of the Churches of Rome: I felt grateful for the privilege of having shared the stage with Beauty one day many years ago, in a semi-desert church in Belgium inundated with the morning light.
Perhaps it’s not a perfume I would wear on a daily basis, but the melancholy those notes of incense instilled in me is more precious than the average “I’d have sex with myself” fragrance.
So here we are! Hopefully you enjoyed reading about the more unconventional people and brands that populate Pitti Uomo. Watching the photos online and reading about it on fashion magazines and blogs doesn’t even begin to explain the variety of incredible personalities that you can encounter. If you take the time to talk to them, they’ll tell you stories – their stories – that will transcend the menswear field, and you’ll find yourself wondering if you really should be listening to these mad individuals rather than concentrating on the clothes and the products.
“Oh, but you can’t help that,” whispers a voice in my head: “We’re all mad here.”