Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Why the Obsession with Pitti Peacocks distracts from the real party

As this season's men's shows close up and the heat comes on to couture, it seems like as good a time as any to reflect on, um, Pitti.

As a journalist and editor, I've been lucky enough to visit tradeshows and catwalk events across the world, from Sao Paolo to Stockholm, Paris to Berlin. In this way, you always see the best of the event - just the good parts and none of the oily gubbins that goes on behind-the-scenes (even backstage is primped, polished and logo'd and ready for its close-up now).

Seeing a tradeshow, in this case Florence's infamous Pitti, from the perspective of the organisers though is a completely different game. In my Oliver Sweeney capacity, I was brought along with our sales team to rep the stand this year, and a few things struck me that never have before about such events.

Firstly, and it perhaps seems obvious, but the amount of effort, care, elbow-grease and money that goes into even a relatively small stand is enormous. Behind every single installation in the Fortenza da Basso (in which over 1000 brands exhibited), there's a huge team of designers, merchandisers, carpenters and installers who make it happen (not to mention the supply chain of the actual products themselves). Stands are either bespoke to each show or made to be transportable - before working at a brand I hadn't realised the scale of international logistics that are required to make it work.

Did you know, for example, that there are hundreds of vans, trucks and lorries from all over the world that queue around the block for 24 hours before Pitti starts? In order to get everything into the fort, they have only 3-4 access points, and everything has to be taken in and out on wheeled trollies. It's the same for fairs and catwalks the world over - in fact if you go down to Brewer St over the next fortnight you'll see a taster of the organisation coming together for LFW.

As a journalist, like I said, you rush around stands glad-handing friends and meeting new brands, marvelling at product but rarely having the time to appreciate the enormous supply chain that's been leveraged in order to put this stand here and now.

It's similar with the infamous Pitti Peacocks. They no doubt have a role to fulfil, but having manned a stand for 4 days, I can tell you that no-one with a caped jacket or with improbable levels of sprezzatura was there to do any actual work - they merely swished by to hang out on the Brunello Cucinelli stand and look achingly cool. As people come by the stand, you start to get an eye for who is who, the hallmarks of old-school international buyers (usually a business case and a young, pretty interpreter), or younger buyers (all-white kicks and all-navy outfits), or press (horrified facial expressions of how much stuff they have to cover, and a big bag full of press releases they don't really want). The peacocks are to Pitti what catwalk fashion is to the British fashion industry: a pleasant bit of theatre and a pretty distraction from the real business.

And I say this as someone who has worn improbable items to fashion week (my mind sticks on a technicolour overcoat that I borrowed some years ago). As with the courtyard at Somerset House, I've always maintained that the peacocks are essential to the fashion world, showing trends, personalities and fresh ways of being creative with fashion. But seeing inside a show like Pitti exposed the process of the industry which I find so fascinating: it's one of the biggest industries in the world, growing all the time and becoming a globally-recognised language.

It'd often difficult in the relentless cycle of seasons, shows and style to remember that. There's so much more to fashion than the glamour. It's why, when looking at shows like the Chanel Haute Couture show in Paris earlier today, I was thinking that's an unbelievable accomplishment. One that's repeated many times a year. It's always good to draw back and reflect - which is my theory (and excuse) for holding back on any AW16 menswear show comments yet. They're coming, promise.

Monday, 4 January 2016

White Tee Tales #1: The Colette Rave Shirt

Because I'm a glutton for punishment, I've decided to do my annual revival of the blog. Hopefully (hopefully) it'll last longer that last year's attempt. The plan this time is to work on two separate tranches of stuff: first off general fashion comment and wine-addled bollocks that compresses conversations with people in the industry with various bits of reading. Second, a series on t-shirts (weirdly predicted in the last post). Maybe that sounds dull? But anyone that knows me knows I wear - and own - a helluva lot of white T-shirts. I've had some of them for years, some for mere minutes, but each one has a story behind it. As do most people's clothes really - if you think about what you have, when you bought it, why you did, and where it's been with you since then, there's pretty much guaranteed to be a story there somewhere. (If you still think this is dull btw, feel free to stop reading at any time.)

Anyway, I've just had a root through my t-shirt drawers, and dug out what I think is the oldest T there. I bought this one *looks misty-eyed into the past* in roughly 2006, from Liberty. It might have been a decade ago, but they used to have a dedicated T-shirt table (it'd probably be called a 'bar' or something similarly wanky nowadays) in the basement, in the days when the building was still linked to the store that's now Cos on Regent St. It cost me, I believe, about £35 - expensive in its day, but not beyond the realms of possibility - and it's from a label called '2K by Gingham'. Google reveals this to be 'a Japanese brand with custom shirts made in the Us featuring leading designers', bt I'm sure I didn't know that at the time.

Back in '06, I was working at Foyles, and on paydays would pop out in my lunch break and pick up something to wear to go out in. Liberty was always a favourite haunt (and remains so; my Mum has always been obsessed with the fabric department there, and I've always thought the menswear floor was expertly-curated), and this table in particular was a source of some of my favourite pieces back then.

I was drawn in by its homonym comparison of two Colettes*. One was the ridiculously trendy boutique in Paris that I'd discovered for myself while living there during my year abroad at uni; at the time it was famed for having a 'water bar' with 50 types of bottled water; the other was the 18th Century author whose scandalous, scurrilous stories of semi-fictional Parisian haute socié fascinated me, and formed a large part of my shelf of reserved books in the fiction department of Foyles. This t-shirt also has the distinctive oblong label (now washed to plain) of American Apparel, whose shirts - back in the day - industrious vendors and t-shirt artists would purchase in bulk, screenprint, and then re-sell (the same as my jazzy WoodWood sweatshirt).

I was very proud of this T. I wore it to raves, parties and festivals for years after that; something about the blissed-out faces, French text and specific references (both of which I loved and still appreciate to this day) made it something of a talking point. I don't recall a specific party I wore it to, but I do remember pairing it with the skinniest jeans ever and taking it to many trendy events in Shoreditch, in the days when one of my best mates worked for a then-nascent party machine/'magazine' called Vice. It could have been the first time I ever fell asleep on a night bus, after drinking an unbelievable amount of free black Sambuca, or that might be another night. the specifics are, unsurprisingly, lost to the mists of time. I do recall accidentally ironing over the transfer after the first wash, smudging the coral screenprint, and being mortified - luckily this later washed out.

It's accompanied me to many, many, many events since then, gradually becoming less of a party shirt and more of an everyday, layering piece. It's still in pretty good nick, aside from a small hole on the upper left chest. I'm still loath to part with it because of the Colette reference - the combination of bawdy literature, ridiculous boutiques and Francophile culture is pretty rarely seen - and even now when someone sees it and gets it, I know we'll get on.

Anyway, that's the oldest white T I have in my drawers right now. As ever, apologies for the quality of the photo - I'm a writer, not a photographer. There's plenty more white tee tales to come.

*Translation - Girl 1: "I love Colette so much!"; Girl 2: "The writer or the shop?"