How Pitti Uomo is changing
Luca Rubinacci – “Pitti is the place to be and be seen. It’s the best collection of well-dressed men in the world”
Have you heard of Pitti Uomo? If you have, it probably conjures up images of smartly dressed Italians striding across a piazza, their short trousers flapping in the breeze, and lots of male jewellery. In recent years, Pitti has changed. A reputation won online for seriously stylish men and larger-than-life characters has led to it being swamped by photographers, bloggers and more of those characters. They congregate outside the main building, in a self-sustaining swirl of smiles and SLRs.
More interesting things, however, are going on inside. There is a trend towards manufacturers becoming brands, to the removal of middle men and the ascendancy of craft. All of which could be very good news for men like you and me.
Begg is one of the best scarf-makers in the world. But until last year, few outside of the industry knew the name. The Scottish weaver made its scarves (in Ayr, Scotland) for some of the biggest luxury brands in the world, who applied their own designs and labels. While such ‘white label’ work is still part of its business, it now also produces original designs, with its own sales and marketing. Begg’s first Pitti as an independent brand was in January 2013. The reception was good, and sales are growing fast.
Lino Ieluzzi – “I come to Pitti to see friends and to meet people from around the world.”
Drake’s, an English tiemaker, is another that has grown its own brand in the past five years. It now only has a couple of white-label clients. Bresciani socks has a similar story. Merola, from Rome, is perhaps the finest maker of gloves in Italy and one more example: its white-label work has shrunk to 20% of production.
The reason the manufacturers find this so attractive, of course, is margin. If there is a standard multiple for wholesale to retail prices it is around 2.8, so socks that cost £10 to make will be sold in the shops for around £28. But some of the designer brands take this to extremes: Merola recently saw some of its gloves sell for fifteen times the wholesale price. If the manufacturers can sell their own product – and the internet is making that increasingly easy – they can deliver quality at a better price, as well as ensuring the future of quality manufacturing by holding onto more of the profits.
Sometimes, you need the middle man. Manufacturers do not always make good designers. But these companies and many others are proving that they can create a successful brand. “A lot of the small retailers who come to Pitti like the idea of having a direct connection to production,” says Ann Ryley of Begg. “It creates a sense that the priority is the craft, rather than the branding, and gives them a great story to tell.”
Alessandro Squarzi – “Pitti has the combination of great brands exhibiting and style everywhere you look.”
This trend is independent of Pitti. Words such as ‘artisan’, ‘provenance’ and ‘bespoke’ have become ubiquitous in luxury marketing over the past few years. But it is felt most keenly at trade shows such as this, where small manufacturers have to decide whether or not to buy a stand – which will cost €10,000 and up – to try and establish their brand.
It is a big gamble, highly dependent on buyers stumbling past and seeing something that catches their eye. “Things have been a little bit quieter this year, possibly because it is a week earlier than normal,” says Michael Hill of Drake’s. “Some of the Russian buyers are still on their Christmas holidays. Small things like that can have a significant impact.”
This is particularly true because of one knock-on effect: “Increasingly the stands are seen as window displays, as marketing rather than places to take orders,” says Stefano Merola. If exhibitors can no longer count on orders to offset the costs of attending, the risk of shows such as Pitti is even greater. Many said they are travelling more than ever, off to Milan, Moscow and further afield over the coming weeks.
But then these are the costs of establishing an international brand. The internet and social media can only do so much, and Pitti will always be cheaper than glossy ads or a runway show. Trade shows such as this may become the perfect launch pad for smaller, manufacturing-led brands.