Step aside London and Paris: The alternative fashion weeks are giving cutting edge fashionistas what they really want

Step aside London and Paris: The alternative fashion weeks are giving cutting edge fashionistas what they really want
Pitti Uomo is a biannual menswear trade show that takes place in Florence.

New York, Paris, London and Milan host world-renowned Fashion Weeks, but there are others that have editors and influencers scrambling for front-row seats. Pitti Uomo in Florence is one of them. Niamh O’Donoghue rounds up the new, cutting-edge fashion destinations.

IT’S the time of year where there seems to be a major fashion show every week in all corners of the globe.

Almost all of the fashion behemoths already have their Resort 2020 shows behind them and are gearing up for the AW19 season.

June kicks off menswear season in London, Milan, and Paris respectively, before womenswear season commences in New York in September. 

Before the fashion flock embarks on that journey though, many of them are spending a few days in the scenic city of Florence, Italy, for the city’s Autumn 2019 and Spring 2020 shows. This season, I am one of them.

To a fashion outsider, it might seem that London, Milan, Paris and New York (the Big Four) are the holy quaternary of fashion weeks. 

Outside these mega events, fashion weeks take place in almost every major city around the world; from Sydney and Copenhagen to Shanghai and Tbilisi and even here in the ancient city of Florence. 

If you’re planning a rendezvous to Firenze during the second week of June, June 10 to 14 specifically, expect to share the city with an additional 36,000 impeccably dressed visitors, all of whom are here to celebrate Pitti Uomo.

Pitti Uomo is a bi-annual menswear trade show that takes place in an 11th-century fortress in the heart of Florence.

It’s the largest and oldest of its kind in the world, but you’ve probably never heard of it.

Traditionally, the Florentine fair was dominated by Italian tailoring businesses, namely menswear, but over the last decade Pitti has shaken up its strategies and successfully placed itself at the fore of key editors, buyers, as well as social media influencers.

Pitti Uomo street style captured by Jake McCabe
Pitti Uomo street style captured by Jake McCabe

Fashion events like this which reside outside of the mainstream Big Four have grown fiercely in popularity among the millennial fashion elite.

They’re more accessible, laid-back and undeniably cool, which make them incredibly appealing to brands looking to tap into the millennial and Gen-Z spend.

Though still in its infancy, Copenhagen Fashion Week (August 5-8), for example, has steadily grown a legion of followers since its introduction only 13 years ago in 2006. 

The week-long fashion event attracts new Scandinavian designers who are hungry for the world stage, as well as appealing to established hot-ticket Nordic brands such as J Lindeberg, Ganni, Hofmann Copenhagen, and Stine Goya.

Lesser-know fashion hubs like these are also praised for their innovation and sustainability efforts.

In Copenhagen, electric cars bring editors and buyers to and from shows — the absence of physical show invites and press releases were only a couple of the many new initiatives set in place last season — as it pivots itself as a leader in the industry, not a follower.

Copenhagne
Copenhagne

The city of Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, features two fashion weeks to accommodate its growing number of designers wanting to present to the international visiting crowds of press.

The city has become an incubator of inventiveness and newness. For SS19, conventional runways were replaced with a pasture of synthetic grass to highlight the theme ‘We must take care of nature’.

Here, everything goes and locals are rewarded across social media for their blasé approach to personal style in a way that’s admirable.

In ways, the emergence and resurgence of second-tier fashion weeks like these are an active response to youth culture and the need to nurture and fund emerging talent.

This season, Pitti Uomo featured more than 230 new designers, showcasing promising creative talent on a world stage that might otherwise be inaccessible.

Ask Caitlin Ní Chathain, founder of cncsocial.com, a luxury fashion consultant and social media consultancy firm, who works with a number of Irish and international labels at Pitti.

“Brick and mortar is no longer needed to be a successful brand, and showing at Pitti allows you to have access to all the world’s buyers, like Matches Fashion and Mr Porter,” she says.

Caitlin, who has been based in Milan for 20 years, tells me about the continuing trend of designers and brands disengaging from the mainstream fashion calendar. 

Major fashion houses are seeking alternative stages to showcase the new, and the traditional fashion calendar as we know it has split. 

The presence of coveted menswear labels at Pitti Uomo, including JW Anderson, Craig Green, Raf Simons, Roberto Cavalli, Burberry, Virgil Abloh and, most recently, Givenchy, cements this theory. 

“Seasons are irrelevant and showing and investing thousands of dollars of budget in a show is redundant,” says the luxury fashion consultant.

The see-now-buy-now is an established business model but new designers want to try and be as sustainable as possible. New brands sell directly to consumers via social and this will only speed up and get smarter over time.

Pitti also happens to be one of the most underrated street style extravaganzas on the fashion calendar. Here, every outfit literally looks edible, like a multi-coloured buffet of zesty rainbow drops, monochromatic fruit pastels and glitzy gumdrop buttons. 

It’s a bona fide homage to beautiful tailoring but also appeals to the street-style savvy. It’s bright, it’s ostentatious, it’s deliberate. 

It’s maximalist but it’s far from kitsch. It’s coordinated, considered, and fun, which is why I’m so drawn to it. Fashion Week or not, suave and savvy Italian men and women dress up for the sheer joy of it, and there’s a lesson to be learned in that.

A superb schedule of free fashion, art, and culture events throughout the week encourages non-fashion folk to get involved in the buzz of the trade fair too.

Most events are open to the public, encouraging non-fashion folk to get involved in the week’s offerings, including exclusive access to the biggest catwalk shows (Ferragamo’s catwalk show was held this year in the Piazza della Signoria, with ample standing room for the public) and restricted and exclusive locations around the ancient city.

The Gucci Garden Galleria showcases Sinéad Burke’s Met Gala gown
The Gucci Garden Galleria showcases Sinéad Burke’s Met Gala gown

The Gucci Garden Galleria, a concept store, restaurant, and museum situated in the elegant ancient Palazzo della Mercanzia in Florence, unveiled a flawless new exhibition dedicated to creative director Alessandro Michele’s imaginative and artistic vision. 

The jewel of the exhibition for me is seeing Sinéad Burke’s Met Gala gown, created especially for her in the ateliers in Rome. The garment sits proudly behind glass on a bust, surrounded with archive Gucci ornate vases and jewellery, where it looks as splendid as it did on Sinéad. 

Should time and budget allow, Gucci also offers private day tours of Florence, starting from €314.69 per person.

When the business of the day is finished, the fashion posse makes its way for a well-earned feed in one of more than 2,200 trattorias dotted around the banks of the Arno river. 

For an authentic and flavourful bite, try La Ménagère.

Originally a marketplace at the end of the 19th century, the cavernous space has been transformed into a contemporary and upmarket restaurant. 

Better still, it has remained true to its roots, selling fresh hand-plucked flowers, fragrances, modern homewares, and interiors to boot. Serving fine Italian fare, the menu is committed to taste, tradition, and innovation.

Try paccheri with mussels sauté with zucchini flowers and coffee to start and follow on with mushroom risotto and sea snail ragú or a tender rabbit thigh with seasonal potatoes.

The interior is divided into 10 different snugs and dining areas with ample seating choices, but the best seats are in the back.

Osteria Cinghiale Bianco, or ‘The White Suckling Boar’, is another local favourite across the Ponte Vecchio on the southern side of the city.

The charming restaurant serves traditional Italian dishes with signature Florentine flavour and wonderfully rustic charm.

The speciality here is meat: The wild boar with polenta and the pork shoulder will melt in your mouth. 

With its restrictive nature, people of prominence and international celebrities frequent the magnificent ‘La Terrazza’ Bar, so bring shades to keep watch.

Lesser-known fashion events like Pitti or indeed Tbilisi might never reach London or New York heights (the question of whether they need to warrants a separate thesis), but I think anyone, whether you’re a fashion editor, fashion connoisseur, or travel addict, would be hard-pressed to find a better location to showcase wearable art than in the home of art itself.

Fly to Florence via Rome or Pisa and connect to Florence via regional high speed train.

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