“Color is seen as frivolous,” the Italian journalist Angelo Flaccavento said Wednesday morning, as a crowd formed outside the Museo Bardini for a show of the designer Federico Curradi’s drifty dusters, stiff jeans jackets, open-weave woolens and sleeveless summer hoodies, many dyed in watercolor washes as cumulatively drab as a mouse’s behind.
“And it’s a bit of a dangerous time to be seen indulging in frivolity,” Mr. Flaccavento added, though the wonderfully blobby, garish sculptures that the contemporary artist Glenn Brown had inserted amid the museum’s faded antiquities appeared to do exactly that.
Mr. Benedini made his own argument in favor of frivol. “Yes, blue is most of our business, but as a man now you have to come up with another way to get compliments and attention,” he said.
Color is one surefire method of achieving that, he added. As if to prove his point, he showed off a series of jackets whose olive dullness was jump-started with jolts of acid yellow or pink in the form of pocket squares and scarves.
“Social media and the bloggers have affected the way we are consuming,” Mr. Benedini said. “Men are not just dressing for women anymore; they are dressing for men.”
Certainly they are at Pitti Uomo.
So much has been written about the so-called Pitti peacocks that it is hardly worth expending more metaphorical ink discussing them here. Yet it may be worth mentioning that the aggressively natty individuals strutting about the grounds of the ancient Fortezza da Basso have begun to take on an aura of pathos. Their bright raiment may help them score big on Pinterest or Instagram, but in real life they come to seem as exquisitely ornamental and essentially purposeless as zoo birds.
Those preening types call to mind an observation made on Tuesday by Olivier Saillard, a distinguished French curator invited by the Pitti Uomo organizers to create a special fashion exhibition within the gilded salons of the colossal, Renaissance-era Palazzo Pitti.
“Fashion is not clothes,” Mr. Saillaird said flatly, after the opening of “the Ephemeral Museum of Fashion,” a show focusing on what might be called the metaphysics of fashion. Using both emblematic designs (Elsa Schiaparelli’s iconic shoe hat, say, or a famous sheath dress designed by the seminal 20th-century dressmaker Madeleine Vionnet) and ordinary suits from his own wardrobe, installed in ghostly tableaux, Mr. Saillard explores an element of costume ignored by most installations devoted to the subject: that is, the bodies that once inhabited the clothes.
“I would love to do a complete exhibition using no mannequins at all,” Mr. Saillard said, as guests sipping rosé Champagne crunched through the gravel courtyard of the Boboli Gardens.
The rigid conservation demands of most museum shows devoted to fashion tend to dictate that garments be regarded abstractly, as sculptural objects. One mostly faultless example of this is the exquisite show on view at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York: “Rei Kawakubo/Comme des Garçons: Art of the In-Between.”
“But fashion exhibitions can also consider the absence of the body,” its negative image, said Mr. Saillard, who for his show laid on a pallet a Vionnet too fragile to be displayed ever again after this exhibition; tossed jackets over chairs; and quoted Virginia Woolf’s description of a man who, while sleeping, “looked like a coat hanging at the end of a bed; there were all the wrinkles, and the sleeves and trousers kept their shape though no longer filled out by legs and arms.”
It is one of the surprising and admirable aspects of Pitti Uomo that its organizers use the pretext of selling clothes at a trade fair not much different from a car or boat show to investigate ideas, broaden cultural horizons and exploit the peerless history of their hometown. The opportunities they seize routinely are seemingly lost on fashion capitals like Milan, New York or Paris, where one fashion week monotonously blurs into the next.
Sure, duds and missteps occur in Florence. An absurdly pretentious Hood By Air show a few seasons back gave every indication that overreach was imperiling a promising design team and label; sure enough, the brand has since shut down.
And there is no question that even, say, the High Line could not compare for enchantment with Harold Acton’s villa, La Pietra, where Jonathan Anderson, one of this season’s guest designers, staged his show Wednesday evening.
The 15th-century villa (bequeathed on Acton’s death to New York University, which now uses it as a campus), is just outside Florence on a hillside terraced with ranks of dense green cypress, gray groves of olive and Baroque gardens bristling with mythological statuary. It made a gorgeous, if slightly anomalous, backdrop for Mr. Anderson’s designs.
Or maybe not: the cool wrap-front jeans, patchwork-denim Converse sneakers and outsize khakis were notable both for a restraint unusual by the standards of this designer and for ornamentation that leaned heavily on such elements of Americana as trading cards, jeans jackets, flip-flops, kiddie glitter hearts and Coca-Cola script.
Set to Maxwell Sterling’s “Hollywood Medieval,” a lushly druggie aural collage, the collection introduced to the Old World setting fragmented elements of the New. One got the sense that, once the initial shock wore off, Acton would have approved of the vision of pretty ephebes like the models Jonny Brown, Joshua Bering or Li Fuyang parading past moss-furred statues of Apollo and Neptune. Although in his memoirs, the wealthy aesthete Acton emphasized his British schooling and noble connections, the fortune he expended in creating his neo-Renaissance fantasia derived from his American mother, a banking heiress from Chicago. A little mythology never hurt anyone.
Obtruding reality, on the other hand, can muddle even the best intentions. If one takes Virgil Abloh — the designer of Off-White and another special guest at this Pitti Uomo — at his word, there is some benefit in staging a fashion show ostensibly aimed at illuminating the international refugee crisis. Hundreds of thousands of Instagram users follow Mr. Abloh’s every move, or anyway track his latest product drops.
Presumably, some of those people would have been enlightened by words that Mr. Abloh, in collaboration with the artist Jenny Holzer, projected on the rusticated ocher walls of the Palazzo Pitti on a steamy summer night. Guests in bleachers read grim texts crawling up the palace’s facade, most of them fragments of poems by exiles caught up in a global immigration crisis that is “cruel and killing,” as Ms. Holzer said in an email exchange.
As the son of Ghanaian immigrants, Mr. Abloh said his aim was to supplant the usual fashion-show escapism with political urgency, to use his presentation in Florence as a Trojan horse for sneaking up on consumers with crucial messages.
As a designer, Mr. Abloh is less an innovator than an educator, and it is his ability to elevate the taste level of his social media legions that makes him a go-to collaborator for brands across the consumer spectrum.
Schooling the Supreme crowd — he calls them “the kids on Prince and Mercer” — in the finer points of fashion is one thing. Quite probably, the men’s wear he showed — voluminous and literally cool, playing with transparency and his usual peekaboo effects — will accomplish that.
The success of his polemics, on the other hand, can probably be best judged by their effect on guests Thursday night. Sitting in the bleachers, they read for a time as poems evoked the terrors of war and a cruel ocean yielding a harvest of dead children. Then, like Mr. Abloh’s social media fans — like most of us, really — their eyes flicked away from the bad-news projections and back to the reassuringly seductive light of their phones.
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