Pitti Uomo celebrates 30 years of men’s fashion with groundbreaking exhibition

Garments jump out of white pages of gigantic books as if they have come alive across the rooms and lounges of the Palais Pitti in Florence, the former residence of the Médici family. Facing each other between two of the pages rest two trench coats by Burberry and Allegri, positioned shaking hands.

Elsewhere, a white shirt worn over a t-shirt and paired with black trousers seems to be pushing the page in front to swiftly jump out. The idea? To immerse the visitor in the world of men’s fashion with frivolity and a sense of humour to brush off the traditional world of menswear and its serious and somewhat boring image.

Garments jumping out from the pages of a book - ph Dominique Muret

With its successful bid to showcase “Romanzo breve di moda maschile” (Romantic Histories of Men’s Fashion), the exhibition organised by the Fondation Pitti Discovery under the leadership of curator Olivier Saillard was inaugurated on Tuesday, June 11 to coincide with the opening of the summer edition of Pitti Uomo. 

In a bid to celebrate 30 years of the Pitti Uomo trade show, which has become a pillar of the men’s fashion industry over the years, the curators asked participating designers and brands -- each one a former special guest since the event's inception in 1989 to date -- to give or donate one of their designs previously showcased in Florence. A total of 110 brands answered the call and garments from 10 other brands were bought back for the exhibition.

“When I received all of these clothes, I realised that men’s fashion had changed more in the last 30 years than in the last 150 years! Especially with the game-changing arrival of sportswear,” said Saillard. 

“What surprised me was the variety of designs. Even a simple black suit can be constructed in a thousand and one ways and in all kinds of shades of black. A black suit will indeed be very different if it is designed by Giorgio Armani or by Yohji Yamamoto,” said the curator.

Saillard has also taken advantage of the Palais Pitti’s extensive collection of paintings to select portraits of men from the last few centuries who engage in a dialogue with the garments in a refined setting to add an intimate atmosphere to the exhibition. 


Clothing engages in a dialogue with portraits by famous painters - ph Dominique Muret

The exhibition’s rooms follow on from each other like chapters of an imaginary book, each one centring on a theme or trend such as travel, exploration, daily life, and ballroom. Contemporary clothing is juxtaposed against 18th-century costumes sourced from the collection of the Florentine Fashion Museum. The precociousness of the period “when appearance and frivolity were reserved for men” clearly shows the contrast with the austerity of the modern man’s dress.

“The strength of men’s fashion today is that it is very timeless,” said Saillard.

Excerpts from texts by writers and poets such as Baudelaire, Aragon, Virginia Woolf, Francis Scott Fitzgerald, and Oscar Wilde and a video compilation of all of the runway shows presented at Pitti Uomo over the past 30 years complete the exhibition and offer an unprecedented panorama of men’s fashion.
 
To give a little soul to the clothes on display, Saillard chose not to drape them on mannequins but to hang them as they are.

“I wanted to capture the spontaneous gesture of a man undressing in the evening and throwing his clothes over a chair, with some falling on the ground or wherever.”


To the right, a dancing silhouette wearing Victor & Rolf - ph Dominique Muret

Somewhat inflated, trousers and jackets seem to move. Here, a silk scarf wrapped around a neck flies away and there a tie runs off in another direction. The laces from two different shoes embrace as in a loving gesture. A jacket sleeve rolls up to reveal a sky blue shirt and straw hats float above some of the silhouettes.

Thanks to the generosity of the designers, who gave the exhibition their creations, all of the clothing featured will be donated to the museum of fashion and costume at the Palais Pitti which is part of the Uffizi Galleries group of Florentine museums.

The garments will make up “the first contemporary men’s fashion collection in the world”.

The collection will then be added to each season with new garments that Pitti Uomo will request from its special guests. 

Translated by Isabelle Crossley

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