The whole premise of Pitti Immagine is as a menswear showcase, with thousands of brands pitching up in Florence to display their wares, take orders, and more often than not showcase anything exciting and innovative they may have in the pipeline. Of course, in fashion terms that's about flexing commercial and creative muscle - hence the plethora of custom-built pavilions housing dozens of new products.
Today I had the chance to trip around a few of the exhibitors, snap a few pictures and generally get a feel for the ambiance of the 80th edition of this Italian tradition. My first stop, ironically, was a batch of all-American traditions - Arrow shirts, and Brooks Brothers, veritable bastions of modern menswear. Arrow actually invented the modern shirt as we know if - before them, the shirt and collar came separated, the latter often made of easy-to-clean but hard to wear celluloid that sliced into the wearer's skin. The handsome, square-jawed 'Arrow Shirt Man', illustrated by J.C. Leyendecker for the company's turn-of-the-century advertising, epitomised the clean-cut masculinity the label wished to express: the fact the man idealised in these images was Leyendecker's long-term homosexual lover Charles Beach is besides the point. Arrow has revived this imagery for a re-launch, showing archive advertising sketches alongside their new line of shirts. There's nothing overly fancy about them - it's the classic button-down dress-shirt, perfectly proportioned, in a myriad of fabrics and finishes. It's nice to see someone who doesn't feel the need to pile on the bells and whistles.
Brooks Brothers is another age-old brand renowned for preppy staples - but over the past few seasons they have upped their ante with the Black Fleece collection designed by Thom Browne. At Brooks Brothers' Pitti Uomo stand - a well-aged slice of Ivy League heritage transported, weatherbeaten leather wing-chairs and all, into the centre of Florence - Browne's offerings were skilfully mixed with the mainline, with outfits offering a slightly twisted view of classic menswear. A polo-shirt came in sick, distorted shades of pea-green and baby-pink, an otherwise staid mainline outfit ended in shorts embroidered with a repeat-motif of tiny badminton racquets. That's a Browne signature - another pair, in seersucker, had tiny navy embroidered ants scrambling across the thighs. Is 'ants in your pants' too obvious a pun to pull-out? Well, it works - and people will be itching for these all over the world.