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Thursday, Sep 19, 2019

Travel: In the land of the Pitti Peacocks

To see human males exhibiting the splendour and extravagance of male birds, head to Florence’s annual menswear event

brunch Updated: Aug 03, 2019 23:43 IST
Arvind Vijaymohan
Arvind Vijaymohan
Hindustan Times
Pitti Uomo celebrated its 30th birthday in June this year
Pitti Uomo celebrated its 30th birthday in June this year(Shutterstock)
         

“Sei uno dei pavoni?” The gentleman who’d come to deliver the car to the estate asked, more in the tone of a statement than a question. Despite my long-standing history with the country, my Italian remains rusty at best, but Anna, my housekeeper very kindly translated – albeit with a sly smile. He was apparently asking me if I was one of the peacocks.

I have occasionally been called colourful things, but this was a first.

Gentleman dandy

Driving through the Tuscan country towards my destination later that day, I wondered what he could have meant. The answer was lying in wait, feathers in check, about two hours hence. Having parked the immaculately-restored 1963 Bentley S3 Continental Convertible that had quite literally breezed me from Montepulciano to my current location, Florence, I was now making my way towards the impressively imposing Fortezza da Basso. Weaving through a chaotic symphony of shutter clicks, courtesy the posse of a few hundred dozen cameras, you’d imagine I was heading towards a Cannes-esque style red carpet gala. Accurate but for the minor suggestion that those preened and primped beings, the objects of all this attention, were all men. Rarely before that day in June 2018 had

Montepulciano, the hilltop town, makes for a pretty stopover en route to Florence
Montepulciano, the hilltop town, makes for a pretty stopover en route to Florence ( Shutterstock )

I seen such an exceptionally wide-ranging and well-qualified turnout of gentlemen, of nearly every imaginable nationality. I’ve always derived excessive pleasure from going that extra yard to be well turned out. I daresay, placing modesty aside for a flitter, this has resulted in my being amongst the more considerately dressed men in any room. But in light of the lineup I was heading for, I was, sartorially speaking, woefully waifish.

The impressively imposing Fortezza da Basso is the venue for Pitti Uomo in Florence
The impressively imposing Fortezza da Basso is the venue for Pitti Uomo in Florence ( Shutterstock )

I was at the 94th edition of Pitti Uomo, the ultimate celebration of being a gentleman. It was beyond question the most powerful stage for announcements and launches showcasing the latest menswear clothing, accessories and trends. Despite the soaring mercury, there they were: “The Peacocks.” Decked in all hues from the classic to the lurid, in suits cut from mercifully appropriate linens to courageous three-pieces in heavier fabrics, accessorised with fedoras, neckerchiefs, vests, sequinned basketball shorts, grandpa suspenders, unorthodox eyewear and footwear, khaki kilts. From the bizarre to the basics, it was all there. A playground like none other that had me hooked from the first blink.

Ruffled feathers

I was genuinely baffled that in all my years of visiting Florence – a decade and counting – my beloved Uffizi just a few hot steps away from where I then stood, I hadn’t received so much of a whisper about Pitti. No point crying over lost lace – I was here now and would dive straight in, cufflinks, coattails and all.

Samir Imran is not only a Pitti veteran but is also the founder of Bureza, a made-to-measure product line crafted in Italy
Samir Imran is not only a Pitti veteran but is also the founder of Bureza, a made-to-measure product line crafted in Italy ( Arvind Vijaymohan )

Easier said than done. What lay ahead was truly a masculine maze of a legendary order, strewn across various sites within the Fortezza’s daunting walls, navigating which would call for a professional druid.

“ Strewn across various sites within the Fortezza’s daunting walls, Pitti Uomo is a masculine maze of a legendary order ”

Thankfully, my shepherd through this labyrinthine adventure was Samir Imran. A Pitti veteran and an Uomo legend of no small order, Samir perennially looks like he’s just stepped off a yacht having partied with Dickie Greenleaf and his entourage. I was introduced to him in Basel, or Hong Kong – I’ve lost track – by my good friend and art fraternity colleague Prateek Raja of Experimenter, one of the finest contemporary galleries in India. A corporate strategist, Imran is also the founder of Bureza, a made-to-measure product line crafted entirely in Italy. He spent years in the country learning the techniques and nuances of fine tailoring prior to launching his brand, and was back at Pitti for the fifth year in a row. A blend of affability and charm, he knew nearly everyone we encountered and had long conversations with most whilst I silently observed, making notes on how the business was conducted and deals stuck. Two days of walking with Samir was a genuine crash course in ‘How-to-Pitti-101’.

The writer (centre) with (from left) Osman Abdul Razak, Vishal Mawandi and two international buyers
The writer (centre) with (from left) Osman Abdul Razak, Vishal Mawandi and two international buyers ( Arvind Vijaymohan )

Beyond all the flashbulbs, it is a trade event and a mighty powerful one, at that, with orders worth millions of Euros raining on those exquisite dancing birds.

Plumes of desi glory

I returned to Pitti again this June to partake in its 30th birthday celebrations. Slightly less goggle-eyed this time, emboldened perhaps by the insider’s view I was privy to on the previous instance. Representing India at Pitti96 from the trade were Pranav Mishra and Shyma Shetty, showcasing their RTW homegrown label, Heumn in the Unconventional section. The line featured a series of sweatshirts and denims that served as a canvas for Kashmiri artist Syed Mujtaba Rizvi, who employed meticulous embroidery to portray facets, tangible as well as subliminal, of his rich homeland in a contemporary light.

The Uffizi Gallery in Florence is just a few steps away from the Fortezza
The Uffizi Gallery in Florence is just a few steps away from the Fortezza ( Shutterstock )

Gladly, I also had a circle of countrymen for company, all members of the trade (making me the outsider by definition) – Osman Abdul Razak from Chennai, Vishal Mawandia and Chandan Gandhi from Mumbai, Yunus Ahmed from Bengaluru, and Roshin Rahman from Dubai – all except Roshin being tailors with individual, successful practices. There to explore the landscape, learn about the latest trends on the horizon, touch-feel and book orders from some outstanding brands and embark upon new professional ties, we were amongst the 30,000 people who visited, of which 18,500 were trade buyers from nearly 100 countries.

Florence doubles as the centre for art in Italy
Florence doubles as the centre for art in Italy ( Shutterstock )

As I exited Pitti96, I imagined a gentleman walking towards the Fortezza in a soft cream dhoti, knee-high diced kilt hose socks in the subtlest green tartan, perhaps with French monk-straps, patinated in equal tonal turns of a dark cocoa bean and rich maple syrup, topped with a chocolate-mud toned double-breasted blazer in an Irish linen, sporting a furiously elaborate pocket square with a little dash of colour. I reckon he’d fit right in with those famous “Pavonis”.

I secretly wished I had the plume to carry off something like that.

Arvind Vijaymohan is the CEO of Artery India, an art intelligence and sales advisory firm. Follow his daily grind on Instagram @arvindvijaymohan

From HT Brunch, August 4, 2019

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First Published: Aug 03, 2019 23:19 IST