Florence: Art At The Heart
THE MANIC SCRIBBLES of a Jackson Pollock pattern on a necktie, photographs by Robert Mapplethorpe printed on Raf Simons outfits, and intense handwork from students at the Polimoda Fashion School… Art is at the heart of fashion in Florence this season.
Displayed in majestic Renaissance buildings or, in contrast, a derelict 20th-century train station or Fascist-era factory, the shows had an urgency that was rooted in menswear, but encompassed the current fashion move for merged genders. The result? The presentations that surrounded Pitti Uomo, Florence's mighty menswear trade show, were much more powerful than an appendage to the main act.
"Twenty years… I didn't tell anyone, but I wanted them [the clothes from the past] to be like fragments, looking like a gathering of people," Raf explained, describing the vintage mannequins on the vast floor space where his show was held. He called them "puppets" and they appeared like ghostly figures under the iron scaffolding in the empty space that was once the Stazione Leopolda.
So many mannequins had originally been intended for female clothing, so the result was to make Simons seem clairvoyant about mix-gender clothes in his early menswear collections.
The menswear for Spring/Summer 2017 could not have seemed further from even Raf's most avant-garde offerings for Dior. The cuts were over-size, asymmetric, off-kilter and would often slip up off the shoulder to reveal a photographic print of Laurie Anderson, David Bowie or Debby Harry as Blondie, but primarily the work of Robert Mapplethorpe.
These photographs also appeared at the side of the body or the hem of roomy shirts - perhaps a prequel of what Raf might be thinking in his rumoured new role as Creative Director at Calvin Klein.
Whatever the thought process, the show - with its electronic music from Jean-Michel Jarre and also the stately strings of Henry Purcell, re-worked in the 1980. The different musical experiences both suggested angst and urgency.
Talking to Raf at the after-show dinner on a long refectory table in one of Florence's hidden cloisters, I remembered his earliest collections of boys as young as he was then; of his first time at Pitti eleven years ago, with the models striding down the hillock in the Boboli Gardens. He is a powerful and thoughtful menswear designer. And that is what he delivered in Florence.
The frightening, but compelling, video of "A Day in the Death" of a post-Soviet young man seemed to summarise the inspiration of Gosha Rubchinskiy, the Russian designer who seems to reflect the truth of today's youth.
Hooked on football - expressed in references to tribes from the past, such as the 1980s Fila logo - Gosha's message was clearly expressed before a single scarlet or yellow sweatshirt and joggers arrived on the circular, outdoor runway space.
In front of the audience was an abandoned cigarette factory from Italy's period of monumental Fascist architecture. This setting and the skinny teen "models" chosen from Instagram, increased the feeling of purposeful anger and even violence that was embedded in the video of an ugly Soviet world.
Since the logos were mainly in Cyrillic lettering, I could not fathom, only feel, what was spelled out. But there were some clothes a step away from sportswear: suits and jackets, hanging on wirey bodies, as if borrowing outfits from an elder brother's closet.
Since Gosha's raw talent was spotted and supported by Adrian Joffe of Comme des Garçons and Dover Street Market, the Russian designer has built a cult following. And this strong show will only increase his power.
Is the menswear world ready for Fausto Puglisi's world of seductive women with gladiator references? The designer believes so, and his colourful creations, competing with body-covering tattoos, produced a unique his'n'hers look. In a presentation that had his women flicking their circular skirts and stretching their patterned leggings in the direction of males who, Fausto said, had been cast for the part from ex-convicts, the outfits made a powerful statement. But too much of the show looked like costume, rather than credible male clothing.