The Nature of Man: Technology and Technique

I stopped covering the international menswear shows after two decades because the sheer number of womenswear collections became overwhelming. But I still like to dip into the masculine world of fashion – especially now, when the meld of the technical and the streetwise has such urgent, mixed-gender appeal.

After a quick trip to Pitti Uomo in Florence, I realised that new attitudes and demands are sweeping away the neat tailored clothes and colourful mix-and-match neckties that once formed the foundation of a man’s wardrobe.

From the 1,240 participating brands (45% from abroad), today Pitti Imagine tries to reflect the new generation’s searching for meaning in what they wear and how it is made. The result is what can best be described as fashion’s climate change.

Sease: Clean Ocean Clothing

Combining “sea” and “ease” creates the name of this new brand from Franco and Giacomo Loro Piana – grandsons of the founder of the famous Italian fabric company, co-owned by LVMH since 2013.

Symbolic of a new attitude, the duo is creating a streamlined sporty menswear that mixes wool and nylon – in a ratio of 70 to 30% – using no chemical substances. They also have pieces in 100% recycled polyester.

“This project was always in the back of our minds, and once the Loro Piana story was set, we developed this brand around passions and our everyday life,” Giacomo explained. “Most of us live in the city; we work, we are very busy, very stressed. It’s good that at the weekend we can go out and release the pressure and get in touch with nature. We started from passion and then went back into the city.”

He and his brother Franco showed me a sailing kit of shirt, swim trunks, shoes and a wind jacket, explaining that from this outerwear inspiration the brothers developed clothes for everyday, while others were inspired by skiing or yoga.

But more than swimming trunks come from inspiration by the sea. The brothers explain that being around the sea puts us in touch with the “disgrace” of pollution.

“When the costumer makes the choice, that is what makes the difference,” Giacomo said. “Sustainability has to be a way of doing business, not just a way of doing marketing. We do our best to educate our customers so they can make the right choice. They are the ones who are really changing the consumer’s path.”

Christopher Raeburn: A Creative Call to Arms

A digital projection of a leafy forest climbed across a blue sky at Pitti’s “I Go Out”, an area at the Fortezza da Basso dedicated to the great outdoors. The 20-plus designers here focused on nature – including its salvation – and none more so than Christopher Raeburn, the British designer who is dedicated to recycling and to creating a fair balance between man and environment.

“It’s a creative call to arms,” said the designer, displaying patterns developed from NASA images of our planet taken over a 30-year period.

“I think we’re in a really interesting moment, where we are all part of the problem and we know it,” Christopher continued. “Lots of people say to me, ‘Oh, I don’t really know what I can do to help.’” But the good thing is that we are all part of the solution. It’s a design-led solution, because if we design things in a really good way, then it already solves a bit of the problem. So, unsurprisingly, everything you see here is either re-made, recycled, or reduced. What that really means is that ’remade’ is all made in our own studio; and ‘recycled’ is lots of PVC plastic and cottons manufactured. We just try to keep things simple.”

Cavalli: Athleisure For a Heritage Brand?

Roberto Cavalli is a proud name in Italian fashion history, with a particular connection to Florence, the original designer’s home. But now that its founder has only a minority stake, the new Creative Director, British designer Paul Surridge, has set out to modernise the brand without losing its core values of richness, grandeur, and decoration.

First there was the choice of venue – the Certosa del Galluzzo – an ancient monastery in the Tuscan countryside with its grey stone floor covered with carpet in vivid blues and reds in a geometric pattern.

The designer kept the decorative effects, but propelled them into the 21st century, as the brash glamour of earlier years was replaced with animal or python prints, rather than embroidery or genuine fur. “Snake, high velocity and injection moulded,” Surridge revealed. “It wasn’t actually snakeskin – it was three-dimensional rubber!”

Artisan effects came with stitching, but all eyes were on the elaborately designed sneakers that would have stolen the show, had the collection not been so strong. As the designer put it, “Tension for the future is embedded with awareness of the past.”

Z Zegna: Tennis Game, Set and Match

Imagine playing or watching tennis in smartly tailored, yet pliable, clothes that can be slung into the washing machine when at home. Z Zegna, the sporty side of the Italian house of fine tailoring, has achieved this. And the company has proved how “smart casual” can be a menswear fashion reality.

Alessandro Sartori, the Artistic Director of the brand, has made sense of the sporty line, which has been shown in previous editions of Pitti Uomo as a wardrobe for sailing boats or for hiking in forests. The more surprising aspect was the vivid colour, with shades of red or plum that could have done with a bright white shirt to create a background for the more intense shades.

Birkenstock: Treats for the Feet

Other executives might have quivered at the sight of menacing clouds gathering over the historic Giardino Torrigiani in the centre of Florence. But Birkenstock shoes are made to cradle the feet and protect them from rough land, so CEO Oliver Reichert watched the rain fall, then stop, and the show started.

With models wearing simply-cut clothes and that sturdy but increasingly stylish footwear, Birkenstock not only proved that it has developed a modern look for what are often described as “Jesus sandals”, but also introduced its new Birkenstock Natural Care cosmetics line, including foot treatments containing cork extract.

Moncler: Introducing Hiroshi Fujiwara

Remo Ruffini, Chairman and Creative Director of Moncler, has a talent for finding unlikely venues. So when the soaring stone courtyard of the 14th-century Museo Nazionale del Bargello started roaring with music, it seemed like guest designer Hiroshi Fujiwara would start his show. But the elusive creative, who worked previously with Comme des Garçons, is not only a designer, but a musician, producer and DJ. So there was more sound than clothing in this “Moncler 7 Fragment Hiroshi Fujiwara” collection that will be on sale at Matches.

And for an extra treat – only in Italy – Donatello’s statue of David stood at the top of a soaring stone stairway while Michelangelo’s Bacchus and a feast of art stayed serenely out of site from the revellers below.