Fashion: A man’s world


Fashion: A man’s world

The mix of dim and bright lights inside the famous Palazzo Corsini in Florence, by the Arno river, was mood-altering. That the new face of Moschino, American pop star Katy Perry, cheered designer Jeremy Scott’s Spring/Summer 2016 men’s collection added to the evening’s anticipation. But only till the models walked out into the frescoed salons. After that, it was a man’s world with fluid boundaries—chunky royal jewellery, crowns worn with bikini bottoms in red, blue and white, trousers emblazoned with cartoon motifs, ripe melon-coloured garments, 18th century coiffures, stick-on black beauty spots, bright lips, sheer lace ensembles and little else. Madness, shirtlessness, brazenness. The collection assimilated influences from baroque to rococo, magnified interpretations of princely jewellery and European hairstyles to fabrics from professional cycling. Amid symbols of pop culture, non-conformism was writ all over.

This was the finale of Pitti Uomo’s 88th edition. Known as the world’s biggest platform for men’s clothing and accessories, Pitti Uomo, created in 1972, is held in Florence twice a year. Stories of Pitti’s peacocks or street-style dandies are fashion legend. Every season, Pitti’s poster boys trend as heroes of street style on Instagram and WhatsApp. But only when you arrive at this fair, where more than 1,500 global brands and designers set up pop-up stores and innovative displays, does the creative vastness of men’s fashion hit you.

From shoes to grooming products; sharply tailored suits in rare or popular fabrics to contemporary cruise wear; men’s jewellery to knitted ties to handmade shoelaces; bags, belts, cufflinks, hats, umbrellas and sunglasses to shirts and T-shirts, this is a melting pot of ideas, products and possibilities. It is a reminder that trends may top the fashion system, but essentially it is about process—production quality, manufacturing bandwidth, marketing and publicity.

A number of Indian stores shop at Pitti Uomo—Westside, Raymond, Shoppers Stop, Arvind, Indian Terrain, Pantaloons, as well as online stores such as Flipkart,, Myntra and Jabong. They aren’t just looking for products that suit their client profiles back home but also for ideas. As Rishi Vasudev, vice-president, fashion at Flipkart India Pvt. Ltd, says, “Pitti is an evolved market. This is where we find ideas to mentor our sellers to innovate and build businesses, to show them how to grow, to try different things.” Vasudev says he was particularly impressed by the evolution in men’s shoes—the various treatments brought to leather and the number of brands available.

A 2013 luxury goods study by consulting firm Bain & Co. said the growth in the men’s ready-to-wear market outpaced that in womenswear, increasing between 9-13% year-on-year. Luxury brands reported a similar surge. In its first quarterly report of 2014, Italian label Prada declared its plans to double its menswear sales to $2 billion (around Rs.12,769 crore), announcing that the brand once primarily known for womenswear would add 50 more menswear stores across the world to the existing 30. On Flipkart, says Vasudev, men, who are bigger browsers than women, dominated shopping till recently. Flipkart does not reveal category-wise figures, but annual sales of $4 billion in 2014 have multiplied to $8 billion this year, across all categories, confirms Vasudev. Male shoppers have contributed enormously to the growth. “Men are buying a lot more these days evidenced from increased share of wallet and expanded wardrobes,” says Vito Dell’Erba, creative director and design head at Raymond India. “We are witnessing an increasing investment in accessories and leather goods in men’s wardrobes; also let’s not forget that India’s is the largest under-40 buying market in the world.” Earlier this year, London’s Selfridges store axed separate men’s and women’s departments and merged them into three floors of unisex shopping. There is a growing case for gender-blurred fashion, but the narrative of what is happening in men’s fashion stretches beyond a shift to androgyny.

When you see men in fedoras or in silver shoes paired with tattered jeans; in mauve-dyed suede slip-ons paired with green skinny jeans; in tailored ankle-length suits worn with white sneakers; intelligently interpreting the nautical trend (blue and white stripes), their swagger intensified by reflector sunglasses, you realise this is a men’s fashion movement.

Dozens of influences are on the boil currently. There is crazy experimentation tinged with a fondness for old-world classics; love for colour as well as for delicate fabrics such as cashmere mixed with fine silk. These were too feminine in old constructs of masculinity. Dell’Erba says there is a shift away from classical dressing, which exists only among older men. “The rest want to be comfortable, smart and updated,” he explains.

But this shift is peculiar to modern men; there is no such indifference to gender among women. The naked dress that leaves little to the imagination has been the biggest red-carpet trend for Western female celebrities recently. There is nothing androgynous about it.

At Open, an innovative section at Pitti Uomo at which designers were invited to create fashion without making gender an issue, I met British designer Caterina Belluardo, with her fascinating collection of fine linen shoes trimmed with leather. In the past, Belluardo has used Australian wool and silk, and even famous Italian designer Nino Cerruti’s fabrics as shoe material. Then there was the Japanese fashion designer Masakatsu Tsumura showing Jamdani cotton shirts stitched in Madurai with textiles sourced from West Bengal. Intrigued by Jamdani weaving after attending an Indian trade fair, Tsumura says his shirts would cost between $300-500 per piece in retail. Liam Maher, the design and brand director of Amsterdam’s Denham the Jeanmaker, spoke about how “men assemble their identity over a lifetime and why jewellery can be a part of that identity search.”

The reason why such prolific high fashion does not reach Indian retail stores is because the menswear market has yet to make a quantum leap in terms of change. Flipkart’s Vasudev would agree. “Pitti Uomo is the face of the supply, but there is the demand side too,” he says. Most of the sellers and designers at Pitti Uomo still term India as a “difficult market”. Even so, Dell’Erba believes that the exposure to newness is similar across the globe. Back home, Raymond’s “complete man”, a generic term, no longer means the same today, he says. “The ‘complete man’ stands strong today, but with different needs and values. Men are different from what their fathers were.”