While I’ve only attended Pitti post-social media, one can easily imagine an earlier time in the trade show’s 45-year history when the Pitti Peacocks, the men who dress to the nines for the biannual menswear fair, were more authentic—simply exceptionally well dressed Italian men sitting on that famed wall because it was somewhere to sit, to smoke, to talk entirely free of photo opportunities, taking a man-sized inhale of your expensive cigar because you’re a red-blooded Italian and your machismo just can’t quit, not because Scott Schuman pointed his Canon camera at you. These days, the Peacocks’ posturing is pretentious at best and flat out obnoxious at worst. “If I see one more man in a three-piece suit and a hat with a feather in it pointedly check their wristwatch or adjust their cuff I might punch them in the face,” said one fashion editor. Then there came a point when it looked like some saboteur might save her the trouble. On day three as we arrived at the fair, there was a heaving crowd of people outside the Pitti gates, and the lights on the fire brigade trucks were flashing from within. “Apparently, there’s a bomb inside,” said one man. He didn’t look overly concerned. At first we were worried so we left the Fortezza for coffee and biscotti until a friend texted to say it was just a scare. Called in by who, we wondered? A sabotage by Berlin’s competing but embattled Bread and Butter trade show? And then the rumor mill attested to a controlled explosion. Probably some poor sod’s misplaced samples, and while the dandies escaped certain death, punches in the face were no longer ruled out entirely.
But while they elicit a definite spectrum of emotions from fascination and wonder to irritation and flat our anger, there is that eternal, existential question: Why? Panama hats and wingtip shoes sandwiching colorful suits with trousers so tight, you’d be forgiven for thinking the wearers were smuggling budgerigars about town. For all those pants leave to the imagination, the wearers might as well walk the fashion fair in Speedos, and honestly that sight wouldn’t even surprise me. This season, in a break from my usual place behind the camera, I got out in front of it and asked these dandies, why do you do it? First, I spotted a freakishly tall but extremely handsome Scandinavian-looking chap with a shock of naturally platinum-blond hair posing on his own and smoking an electric cigarette, dressed in a bright blue three-piece suit. I took his picture and asked him what he was doing. He told me he worked there and I asked if he meant Pitti or a brand. He told me a brand and when I asked him if he was modeling the clothes for the brand he got extremely uncomfortable. “I don’t want to do this interview,” he said. Now, I don’t know for sure, but my guess is that he was a model who’d been asked by a brand to wear their clothes in Peacock Alley. Upon questioning, he didn’t know what he was supposed to say, so he panicked. Bless.
Multiple other interviewees simply said they loved classic menswear and they blogged about it. “I’m an Instagrammer and I’m a brand ambassador for Panama hats and Casentino coats. I come every year, summer and winter. I’m a dandy, I prefer dandy style, the old style of my grandfather. I don’t wear this every day but on special occasions, events, parties,” said one. Others had tailored clothing companies themselves that they were promoting, and one stand-out group was there to promote a new book by Rose Callahan, sequel to her 2013 tome, I Am Dandy. “We’re here for the new book, We Are Dandy. We are part of a movement or a group, Les Barons. The founder of the movement is here. He’s in the book. We want to be dandies and also be masculine. We dress like this all the time. When I go to buy bread, I dress like this. I don’t have other clothes.”
Listening back to the interview recording, I regularly react in astonishment—stop it! I say after almost every sentence. This one “Baron” took me to talk to the big Baron boss, Baron d’XL. “The movement is a revival of elegance, or classic men from the 1940s to the end of the 1970s. All our brothers in arms dress like this, and we try to inspire these young boys to stop the sportswear and dress more respectably.” I felt a little offended in my Gosha sweatpants, Craig Green coat, and my box-fresh Yeezys, but I didn’t interrupt. “It’s a way of life. We give love and people give us love. We’re not fashion, we’re not vintage, we’re just Barons, you know? This is an attitude.”
So it would seem that the Peacocks fall into three categories: those who are simply style-inclined and vainly enjoy the attention of street style photographers; Instagrammers and other bloggers who are there to self-promote; or people promoting brands whether it be themselves or some hired-model help. And whether we like it or not, there is a showmanship that, when viewed charitably, can be appreciated. The street style at Pitti has become such a beast it is essentially a show within the show, and while it may not be as “authentic” as it once was, it’s a more accurate reflection of the world around us. The Oxford Dictionary’s Word of the Year 2016 was “post-truth” for a reason.
Click through the slideshow above to see the candid snapshots from Pitti—all lensed by William Buckley.