British influence reigns at global menswear show

Story highlights

  • Biannual menswear trade show Pitti Immagine Uomo draws 50,000 to Florence, Italy
  • British style influence is in strong evidence in vendor booths and in the piazzas
  • Trend evokes familiarity in turbulent economy, industry insiders say
  • It "brings out each guy's sense of inner peacock," GQ creative director says
All roads for the modern gentleman led to Italy this month, home of international fashion tradeshow Pitti Immagine Uomo, the nexus of the menswear universe.
More than 50,000 international retailers, designers, buyers and fans congregated in Florence for the weeklong fair to discover what will be next in the world of men's fashion.
Florence has hosted Pitti since its inception in 1972, but don't expect to find only Italians roaming the pavilions. This January, nearly 8,000 out of 20,450 buyers were from outside of Italy, a 5% increase from last year, according to official figures.
The foreign influence has gone beyond bottom lines and ticket lines. The British gentleman was a style mainstay this year, showing up in vendor booths and in the piazzas, clad in shades of tweed, sporting elbow patches and shoes with monkstraps.
With the success of the TV show "Downton Abbey," a jubilee and a royal baby on the way, the UK has edged its way into the global consciousness, fashion insiders say.
"It's a generational thing. If you wait long enough, these feel like new clothes to a new generation. Michael Bastian, Band of Outsiders [are] all interpreting classic design but in a younger, hipper incarnation. You could wear this on the weekend and not look too traditional or old-fashioned," said Jim Moore, creative director of menswear publication GQ.
"Menswear had its inception in Great Britain," he said."It's the land of tradition and tweeds, simple fabric, seasonally appropriate fabrics."
Others suggest there may be even more intuitive reasons for the current popularity of British menswear, especially in an uncertain global economy.
"The essence of British style is in its timelessness," said Sue Newton, spokeswoman for quintessential British heritage brand Barbour. "It is reassuring in turbulent economic times to turn to something familiar."
That familiarity has driven a "flight to quality" with consumers opting for the value that comes in owning garments that will last from season to season, she said.
Barbour was one of 600 UK-based buyers who showed at Pitti this season, which overlapped with the biannual menswear shows in London. Barbour, which has been making garments since 1894, showed at Pitti instead of London.
Menswear, in recent decades hiding in the shadow of a booming women's fashion industry, has seemingly come of age. What had previously been a woman's world is vastly becoming a playground for men as well.
"Back 10, 12, 15 years ago, menswear used to be not so open, as it has become in the last few years. In the past in Italy, it was necessary to have a uniform," said Raffaello Napoleone, CEO of Pitti Immagine Uomo. "Now it's much more open and more amusing, in the best way. You can be what you want."
The results of this newfound "peacocking" have been resounding. Men's items now account for half of the global luxury apparel market, according to the British Fashion Council. In a time when most European economies have been stagnant or shrinking, the menswear industry has been booming. In 2011, global menswear sales increased by 9%, taking in more than $33 billion worldwide.
"It's finally not the dirty little secret anymore, men really do care. Guys are thirsting for it. Not only on the runway but on the street," Moore said. "This whole British thing has brought out each guy's sense of inner peacock. They want to look great."