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.

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