OBSERVATIONS

The virtue of a trade show

KONRAD OLSSON
Observations from Pitti Uomo – and why it will go on for 50 more years
January 15, 2024

It was an emotional return to Florence and Pitti Uomo last week. Listeners to our podcast have already heard me reflect upon my reunion with the legendary menswear trade show. It’s now been four years since my last show, but for the better part of the last decade, I visited every season. First in as a freelance journalist, then as the editor of the menswear magazine Plaza Uomo, for which I founded a tent pole event on Tuesday eventing that still goes on. And finally with my platform Scandinavian MAN, producing several collabs with the organisation itself in the form of live talks and panels at the old fortress that constitutes the fairgrounds.

And even though we have collaborated with Pitti around some digital talks during the covid years, it was the first time I was physically present as the editor of Scandinavian MIND. It was an odd feeling, being back amongst my old crowd – reconnecting with menswear brands, global retailers, street style photographers, and other media entrepreneurs – while at the same time representing a platform that focuses solely on innovation and sustainability.

One could argue those are values not intuitively associated with Pitti Uomo, one of the industry’s most long-lived institutions, rooted in traditional tailoring and classic menswear. But one would be wrong. Even though the backdrop is that of a historical museum (the first fashion show was held at Sala Bianca at Piazza Pitti in 1952), Pitti has always been subtly tilted forward, leaning into fashion shows (from Martin Margiela to Raf Simons), global collaborations (Finland did an excellent exhibition a few years back), and technology.

Pitti Immagine, the organisation behind the event, regularly hosts e-P Summit, a conference about fashion-related technologies (our editor-at-large Oliver Dahle was there last year, read more here.)

And during my interview with their CEO, Raffaello Napoleone, I was surprised that the distinguished Italian gentlemen were sporting the smart glasses from Rayban and Meta/Facebook.

– I’ve always been curious about wearables, he said in the interview. This is the first step towards something that we will wear in the future.

Listen to my interview with Raffaello in our latest podcast episode, see link below, where you’ll also meet the thoughtful Giorgina Cantanari, a fashion journalist and the curator of the S/Style exhibition focusing on sustainable brands and practices. Giorgina is an unusual advocate for sustainable fashion, being an established contributor to magazines like L’Officiel and Vogue Italia.

– I love to combine a strong fashion sense and creativity with sustainability. I think it’s the strongest challenge brands face right now because sustainable brands lack in design. My research focuses on finding people who are creative enough that they can work with sustainability with the right attitude.

There were other highlights during my stay, including the launch party at Harry’s Bar for WM Brown magazine, run by author and photographer Matt Hranek. Besides being a good spot for reuniting with old acquaintances like photographers Jamie Ferguson and Robert Spangle, it was also a meet-up with the magazine’s cover star. Francesco Frank Conforti is a legendary Florence personality and textile tradesman who happens to be a long-standing supplier to our family company Ohlsson Tyger & Stuvar. Ever since I was a child, I’ve heard about the eccentric Francesco from my parents buying trips to Florence, and seeing Francesco again was a great treat.

Pitti is a place where worlds meet, and that brings me to my final observation: the reason we still go to trade shows!

Because let’s face it, it’s been a long time since we needed physical gatherings like this purely for their commercial value. Once upon a time, it was the only way retailers could connect with their suppliers, but with the advent of new technologies, most business is done off the fair.

I think what people are coming for is the luxury of the physical encounter. The chance meetings at the fair, the endless inspiration of a beautiful city, the camaraderie of the menswear community. I hear brands talk about not needing the business so much as the PR opportunity and brand value of a good trade show location. For some retailers, it’s not so much a buying event as a way to treat key employees with a boost of inspiration and free dinners courtesy of their clients. For the show itself, the a need to lean into soft values like the enabling of social meetings, industry insights (and gossip), as well as high-profile fashion experiences.

Either way, it’s the physical interaction that is part of the allure.

I can’t wait to return.

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