by Alexander Fury .

Re-imagining Pitti Immagine

Image: Nick Knight

Dapper chaps by Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pier Paolo Piccioli for Valentino

Olympia Le Tan's book-bag installation at the Museo Bellini

A Machiavellian fashion choice...

Fade to Grey: Hardy Amies Autumn/Winter 2011

I am writing my introduction to Pitti Immagine on the final day of this season's fair in Florence. Maybe that says it all: it certainly seems to underline the fashion system at the moment, whirring ever-faster, seasons spiralling out of control and even multiplying. When will fashion reach zero gravity and implode? Judging by the wan faces of designers and PRs alike, sometime in the next week.

Pitti Immagine, however, is a welcome break from the conventional fashion circuit - it opens the year, and the season, catching the press and designers when their minds are still fresh and excited by the new, as opposed to burnt-out by hundreds of shows and thousands of garments (see any of my blog posts from the middle of Paris womenswear for an insight into that). In its eighty-first edition this year, Pitti Immagine offers designers the opportunity to dream, ironically something that has been missing from fashion, the ultimate dream factory. Pitti is a tradeshow first and foremost, but it's the meat-and-potatoes aspect of that (and certainly the money it generates) that opens up the possibilities for designers at Pitti to push the boundaries in the presentations of their collections. Last season, Kate and Laura Mulleavey of Rodarte installed their demi-couture 'Fra Angelico' dresses like Renaissance icons in a burnt-out shopfront; in 2010 Raf Simons showed his Jil Sander collection amid lush greenery, before a well-timed electrical storm (I must confess, I thought the lightning and rain at the show's finale was just clever catwalk showmanship. Maybe I've already been in the business too long). 

For the Autumn/Winter 2012 instalment of Pitti Immagine, Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pier Paolo Piccioli erected giant LED screens in a sixteenth-century Doge's palace as the backdrop to an 'old meets new'-themed Valentino menswear presentation. Olympia Le Tan, meanwhile, created a selection of her signature trompe l'oeil 'book bags' inspired by Italian literature's greatest hits and showcased them in eerily lit glass cases in the Museo Bellini - another of those omnipotent, gilt-encrusted palazzos. If you're willing to wear your Machiavellian affiliations on your wrist, she has the tote for you.

The catwalk debut of the Hardy Amies menswear collection was, understandably, a rather more British affair. Well, debut is the wrong word - Sir Hardy showed his menswear on the catwalk half a century ago. But this was the first collection from new Hardy Amies blood Claire Malcolm. Inspiration came from the houses' founder's time in Berlin during the roaring Twenties. Perhaps that's why I saw shades of Helmut Berger as Martin von Essenbeck in The Damned, shrugging on his mother's fur stole and dressed in head-to-toe dove-grey. The face was a matte base with an eyebrow, said make-up artist Petros Petrohilos post-show. 'Like no make-up make-up.' No Dietrich impressions here then: the Deco echo on the Amies was as subtle and sophisticated as the steel-to-slate grey palette and the geometric jacquards that resembled especially intricate parquet.

My highlight, however, was Marc Ascoli's contribution: Vestirsi da Uomo - Dress Like A Man. Last season, Olivier Saillard of the Musée Galliera dressed women as men: this time, Ascoli dressed the Villa Favard as the man. Well of a type: the villa became the inside of Ascoli's head, a series of quasi-psychological, slightly hallucinogenic vignettes that blurred the line between dreams and reality. That was expressed not only through the Lynchian vision of rabbit-masked men, a ghostly brass band and a truly terrifying 'dancing shadow', but the clothes themselves, combining fantastical pieces created by the fashion students of Florence's Polimoda with ultra-trad menswear brands like Barbour, Brooks Brothers and Borsalino. I'm still trying to wrap my head around it twenty-four hours later. Hopefully I'll have it unravelled before Milan kicks off tomorrow...