by Eugene Rabkin

"Florence, Italy – As a reader of this magazine you may not be familiar with Pitti Uomo, the largest menswear trade show in the world that takes place in Florence twice a year, right before the Milan fashion week. As a matter of fact, “What are you doing here?” is the most common question I get from people who are used to my writing about the fashion avant-garde. What I’m doing here is my journalistic duty, which is to be curious. Besides, Pitti Uomo makes all the right moves by bolting on a runway program on top of the fair itself, and its organizers are impressively good at keeping their ear to the ground. This year the highlights of the program were Jil Sander, which is seeing a revival under the auspices of Luke and Lucie Meier, Telfar, the queer fashion cannonball out of New York, and Random Identities, a new venture from Stefano Pilati.

The Jil Sander label has seen several iterations since Jil herself sold the company to Prada, which promptly ran it into the ground before selling it to the Japanese conglomerate Onward. The Meiers are slowly steering it back to Sander’s ethos of minimalism, recalibrated for today. And today minimalism is hardly viable, so concessions by the brand are made (I almost wrote “must be made,” but I am not convinced by the “must” part) with logoed tees and coats, duly worn by some of the attendees to telegraph… what exactly, I don’t know. Jil herself must be cringing at what is surely an anathema to her ethos. Mercifully, none of the logoed stuff was in the lovely show held at the Santa Maria Novella monastery. Its medieval trappings were serene and so was the collection. The silhouette was loose and appropriately monkish, and so were the details such as tassels and silk collars. It was unquestionably chic. Coincidentally, on my flight two days prior from Paris to Florence, amidst the try-hard peacocks and logoed women sat a Catholic priest, who in his floor-length coat, his floor-length habit, and his jet-black tasseled sash, was undoubtedly the most stylish person on the plane.

If you can close your eyes on the history of abuse and violence perpetrated by the Catholic church all the way through the 21st Century and look solely at its aesthetic trappings, you will be rewarded. Can you make such a separation? When I read the news and history books, I cannot. When I sit at the Ognissanti church in Florence, or at San Luigi dei Francesi in Rome, or at Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari in Venice, overwhelmed by their beauty, I can. Such is life, a contradictory mess from which you try to carve out some sense. That’s what also keeps it interesting. Unfortunately, there was no mess in the Jil Sander presentation, and therefore not much sense to be carved out of it. It was all in plain view, easily digestible, beautiful, desirable clothes. The highlight was the voluminous silhouette that was neither over the top hard, nor immediately easy to adapt, with bell-bottomish pants and kimono coats adding a bit of oomph to it. The materials looked appropriately luxurious for Jil Sander, another plus in the industry that has been cutting corner on quality at the speed of a Formula 1 car. Hurray for that. Finally, there is something else to say in the Meiers’ favor is to repeat that our era of immediate and shallow fashion does not make their job of keeping Sander’s minimalist ethos easy by any means, and that they succeed more often than not.

The next day there were the shows of Telfar and Random Identities. On the surface the pair come from the same queer point of view, but the shows turned out to be the polar opposites. Telfar Clemens staged his at Palazzo Corsini, one of a handful of opulent Florentine palaces, adding Renaissance touches to his streetwear-inflected clothes. As before, the problem with Telfar is that what it stands for – giving perhaps the most disadvantaged group in the US, black queer teenagers, a voice – is worth rooting for, the clothes just don’t deliver. And so it was here, the stuff was too amateur for the runway, too DIY, too homemade to be called fashion with capital “F.” It’s the same problem that plagued Telfar’s predecessor, Hood By Air. One can only hope that Clemens improves as he goes forward."

Full article on SZ-Mag