As I worked and walked my way through the third day of Pitti Uomo in Florence, I realized fashion leaves me with more questions than answers. What makes us feel good, and is that directly related to how we look in an item of clothing? Is our character driven from the inside or can it be changed depending on our mood but also our outfit? Can a fabric like Véritable Wax Hollandais from Ivory Coast, one that has been imitated and exploited in the Western world, finally take its rightful place as a fashion classic, alongside tweeds and tartans? All are debates that I'd love to continue with friends, readers and colleagues.
The morning of day 3 started in passionate style, with Constellation Africa, a group presentation by four talented designers from the great continent. They are MaXhosa by Laduma, designed by Laduma Ngxokolo from South Africa; Projecto Mental, designed by Tekasala Ma'at Nzinga & Shunnoz Fiel from Angola; Orange Culture designed by Adebayo Oke-Lawal from Nigeria; and Dent de Man designed by Alexis Temomanin from Ivory Coast/UK. The word stunning doesn't even begin to describe this fashion show, which I'd been looking forward to all week.
So, I wasn't disappointed, far from it, but I actually walked away feeling even better than I thought I would. The groundbreaking show in Florence was promoted by a project called the Ethical Fashion Initiative headed and founded by Simone Cipriani, an initiative that is part of the UN International Trade Center. Supporting and encouraging a sustainable, fairly traded African fashion industry should be a priority in a world that cherishes creativity, like the fashion world. Yet, while major fashion and design houses have "borrowed" African fabrics and styles for ages, culminating in last season's Afrocentric madness, the creative forces from the continent have not made it to a breakthrough. Until now. With a major event at what the designers of Projecto Mental call "the Mecca of Menswear," Florence, supported by the voices of Stella McCartney and Vogue Italia's Franca Sozzani, the buzz reverberating was definitely positive.
As the first outfit from Ivory Coast's Dent de Man came out, I felt goosebumps, wowed by its beauty and style. Wax fabrics have always been a part of my life, as long as I can remember I wore them wrapped around my waist in the summer, at the beach, or had jackets made on a 125th Street in Harlem by the Senegalese tailors there. But to finally see them take their rightful place upfront and center stage, in perfectly tailored, wonderfully wearable menswear, was breathtaking. Here's to hoping they'll continue to be made into men's suits and shirts, for generations to come. I also enjoyed the blanket looks at MaXhosa by Laduma, a tribute to Xhosa tribal blankets with a modern spin, and the "Wes Anderson meets a Vietnamese intellectual in a village of Nigeria" looks from Orange Culture. Yup, I came up with that quote all by myself.
The afternoon belonged to the cocktail party co-hosted by Saks First Avenue and the Italian Trade Agency at the Westin Excelsion. On the hotel's rooftop Sesto Lounge, they served gnocchi with butter and sage, mini sliders and ribollita, a complete blend of Italian and US cuisine. The atmosphere was a great mix too, of fashion bloggers, industry executives and designers and the goodie bag awaiting guests as they exited reminded me of just how classy Saks is and how much I miss the store when I'm not in NYC. Yes, there is Saks location in Dubai, but nothing can equal a shop that takes up an entire city block!
The evening was Moschino. With Jeremy Scott as the fashion house's new creative talent, I knew the show would be irreverent, fun, exciting and colorful, everything Franco Moschino himself was known for. Again, it turned out to be a goosebumps moment for me, because inside the Palazzo Corsini, just steps away from the Arno, I felt Moschino's soul in the rooms (yes, models marched through several rooms of this XVII Century palace, adding to the show's magic) among us, finally, after years of wannabe fashions with a lame sense of humor. Scott has the heart and soul of the brand down to a proverbial "t", and his irrevent kings, half-naked matadors and rockstar Marie Antoinettes in this first collection for the brand prove it. Oh, and I almost forgot, he had Katy Perry there to support him too!