“Inside it Scylla sits and yelps with a voice that you might take to be that of a young hound,
but in truth she is a dreadful monster and no one - not even a god - could face her without being terror-struck…
No ship ever yet got past her without losing some men, for she shoots out all her heads at once, and carries off a man in each mouth.”
'Is there no way,' said I, 'of escaping Charybdis,
and at the same time keeping Scylla off when she is trying to harm my men?'
I'm in my breakfast hoodie, drinking a watery cappuccino and looking at Favorite Imoutos as voted by the men and women of the internet. I'm a professional. I allowed myself to sleep until nine today, which was a good idea because I have a lot of work to do. I feel almost normal, like maybe I’m catching up on both rest and sanity. There is scaffolding going up on the building across from my hotel, and I hope that I am gone by the time they start making an unbearable racket.
My optimism doesn’t last. As soon as I get to the Fortezza, the day loses all trace of normalcy. I walk the gauntlet, eyes straight ahead, moving with the power and grace befitting a man of my status. I don't have the most cropped jacket I see here, which is a start. I'm pretty late, though. It's eleven. It turns out that I didn’t need to worry about not having shaved - no one has shaved. It works for them, though - I just look like an embarrassed hedgehog. I’m having a thought: all that bullshit that fashionable people spout about “We feel like us, we dress to communicate our uniqueness, our taste, our ability to consume with taste and discretion” strikes me as just that: absolute, total bullshit. It’s very, very simple: we’re trying to look good. More importantly, we think we look good. If we wanted to feel good we’d be in running shorts, but very few of us would admit it. Instead, we strut around the city and flaunt our plumage in front of people who have nothing. There ought to be an Animal Planet show about Pitti.
I'm wearing Ormonde Jayne Ta'if today, which is a soft, beautiful rose. Quietly intense, though. I imagine that it works nicely with the off-white jacket I’m wearing, but it’s unlikely that anyone else notices this act of calculated personal grooming. Speaking of personal grooming, why does everyone at Pitti have such terrible breath? I guess it’s understandable. We wander around all day drinking coffee to stay alive, after all. I hope I haven’t fallen quite that far yet, though. I try to smell my own breath without anyone noticing. It smells like nothing to me, and I can only hope that my ability to sniff things hasn’t been demolished by cigarette smoke and overpowering colognes. Someone is wearing l’Air du Desert Marocain, which I quite like.
Walking through the gravel that covers Pitti’s central courtyard is sort of like walking through sand. You shift and slip on it, stumbling awkwardly towards the pavilions. I hate the way it feels, how it makes me unbalanced, how I have to cling to my camera like a drunkard, or a lunatic. Like I’m in a movie about survival on a desert island the director is telling me to “act crazier” but I’m not even acting. I see another guy in an off-white jackets, but he’s not in jeans. People stand around waiting to be blogged, still full of energy and hunger. I don’t know how they manage. What's insane is that posing for the yelping cry of the cameras is a valid business strategy. I try very hard to act like I don't want to get photographed, but it’s not like I need to convince anyone. The scene is monstrous; beautiful and terrible. Sometimes it is better not to look.
I stop at Diemme to take pictures of all the pastel patent leathers and woven slip-ons. I go to Buttero next, and once again I name drop Greg, which results in increased friendliness. Wovens are big. M.I.D.A. comes next, which I didn’t get around to writing about after the last Pitti, but is made in the same factory as Aspesi. Light outerwear and semi-technical garments - I can’t say it gets me salivating, but it does make me wish I were on a sailboat.
The vendors are touchier this time. Suspicious. Like I might bite. Or, more likely, steal their designs. Many more people don’t want me taking photos of their wares, even people who were okay with it back in January. It’s interesting. Over lunch, David and I talk about how industrial espionage seems to be one of the main reasons to attend the fair - it’s both understandable and ridiculous that people would be that concerned about others stealing their designs. It seems inevitable, though, if you’re coming to give a presentation on what you’re doing for next year. Perhaps they should hide everything in curtained-off enclosures. It would make the whole thing more accurately pornographic.
One of the brands I look at is called Byungmun Seo. It’s, I guess, South Korean space goth bling. There’s a lot of power mesh, a lot of pants that look like they were made for astronauts. Some cool stuff, too. They’re all friendly. The kind of people who are just doing what they love. Byungmun calls his collection “Rebels at the Dawn of a New Era.” He’s wearing Rick Owens. The clothing doesn’t seem rebellious to me, but I am trying very hard to appreciate what I see today.
Perhaps taste itself is shifting. Is that possible? Maybe Byungmun is right. Maybe we are rebels at the dawn of a new era. Would it be any different from the #menswear set? Is seems obvious that these brands don't really belong, but is there any reason that should be the case? Jesus, does it even matter? The scary thing is that these people, the ones wandering around, invested in the fair, are the people are decide what sells. And that's all that you'll see. We're slaves to the whim of the vendors. It's a bit unpleasant to think about.
The truth is that this Spring/Summer presentation has not impressed me. I can’t quite put my finger on why. Churning out a season every six months is lunacy - how can anyone be expected to create anything of value? Everyone I speak to tells me that Pitti happens too early; many people haven’t even taken full delivery of their samples. But if you want to show at the January Pitti, you must also show during the summer. There must be grist for the mill, fodder for the bloggers and the journalists and the schmucks like me who wander around with cameras, trying to build hype and web traffic. What are we selling? What are we buying? Clothes seem peripheral to the entire production. For me, in particular. I am only trying to get home, I think; a metaphorical home, of course, but the endless meddling of petty gods and mindless monsters makes it difficult to reckon a proper course through the spray.
The press lunch has lost some of its charm. David and I find seats at a table, which is then invaded by a drunk lady who is very mean and complains a lot. David spots a woman he met at the last Pitti, or the one before that maybe, and we are invited to join her, two male bloggers (one Italian, one English), and two female Russian magazine employees for wine and gelato. I find these moments much more interesting; when you talk to the people who come to the show, when you can try to - either directly or indirectly - dissect their humanity and what makes them tick. Behind us, the mean lady is complaining about how she is treated, and is telling everyone that if she were a CEO she wouldn’t be met with such disrespect. She’s not a CEO, as David points out. For myself, I think that everyone I’ve met has been very accommodating, especially considering the kind of loonies they have to put up with. But the woman keeps ranting, until the group of young, fashionable people around her plies her with enough assurances (and, I assume, liquor) that she quiets down.
“She's drunk,” says Elena. “And French, which is worse.” I think this is very funny. We talk about jeans and I drink wine and eat gelato. I like it when people speak French, because it makes me feel less like an ignorant American. They change the flavor selection every day, which is a touch that I appreciate. Everyone at the table is friendly, knowledgable, and interested. I have no idea what's going on. I never do. My theory is that the best thing to do is enjoy the ride. I will note that, when it comes to the female of the species, David is incorrigible.
Elena loves Tom Ford. The fragrances, I mean. That seems okay - I like them too, and they very much match the mood at Pitti Uomo. She’s wearing Black Orchid too, and I try to engage her in a discussion of perfumes that quickly fizzles. I fade in and out of the conversation, busy myself with people-watching. I wonder what the drunk French woman thinks of Tom Ford. She probably hates it.
“I just need to sleep,” Elena is saying. “With Nick Wooster?” I ask. Apparently, I am confused. She understands. Everyone at the table understands. I can’t tell if we genuinely dislike being here, or if complaining about Pitti is part of what makes a person successful at Pitti. We talk about blogging. We all blog. I hate the word, I hate the way it feels on my tongue. My god I have to pee. I know enough Italian to recognize the word "prostitute". That's all, though. I make a face at David. Elena fetches a final round of espresso for the table. She takes sugar in hers, which I have never understood. I like how Italian women say “Ciao, regazzi,” in a way that manages to be both friendly and dismissive. I wonder if I can learn to communicate that way. Outside the restaurant, I take pictures of David, Paul, and @Dirnelli. It is very entertaining for me, but I am never sure if my experience of the fair quite matches up with anyone else's. Some of the people who work at Pitti take pictures of us taking pictures of ourselves. I take a portrait of one of them. His response is appropriate.
After visiting the press room, David and I return to the central pavilion. I ask him why Isaia is showing such wacky stuff when Eidos, which is a sort of independent sub-brand, has such relatively subdued things. These big companies only bring Pitti clothing to Pitti, though. Their business is largely in conservative clothing, and even if Mr. Isaia was in a patterned suit and yellow flip-flops yesterday, that doesn’t mean his clientele will ape him. He’s here for the media statement, to get the attention of the buyers and the press and the people who will go on to tell the world about his wackiness. I find it somewhat terrifying, but would have issues converting my existential dread into appropriately descriptive language. I feel as though I am standing at the edge of a very great precipice; as though I am walking a tightrope between not two, but a multitude of sea-monsters. Streetwear on one side, classic tailoring on the other; beyond them both lie wastelands of compromised journalism, camera-starved sycophancy, and shallow worship of the dollar bill.
There is a hard kernel of dedication amid the sea of madness, though. There are people - those who are wedded to Homer’s fast, black ship by more than casual commerce - who believe in what they do; who look deeper into tradition and into modernity. They seem unruffled by the whirlpools that rage around them. Am I one of them, I wonder. I like to think that I try to understand; that I, too, am drawn onward, pulled by a pursuit of aesthetics that is more powerful and more lasting than a tumblr reblog. It is possible that I give myself too much credit. I am not tied to the mast, and the Siren-song of the hashtag is, without a doubt, alluring.
Thankfully, my pessimism is offset by a wonderful interview with Mr. Kamoshita of United Arrows. For me, it makes the whole day worth it. It feels like a legitimate exercise; like I’m back to being a real journalist as opposed to a mindless worshiper. We talk about the purpose of aesthetics. We talk about respecting those around you. We talk about suits and clothing as communication. We cover post-war social conventions, the stratification of society, and the significance of Italian tailoring to Japanese culture. It is obvious that Mr. Kamoshita is a very thoughtful and intelligent man - as is his friend and interpreter, Masako.
I recognize a word here and there, but I wish I spoke Japanese so that I didn’t have to worry about nuances getting lost in the syntactical cracks of our conversation. At one point, Mr. Kamoshita tells Masaka that the collection is oishii (delicious). I like the way he says it, as though the mind can delight in the digestion of images and ideas the same way I enjoy gelato, as though aesthetics can be nourishing. They can be - I know this, for a fact. The mind needs beauty, needs stimulation, in the same way the stomach needs churned milk and sugar. I ask him, as a follow-up, whether clothing can become art. “No,” is his immediate answer. As we leave, I tell Kamoshita-san that his collection is “Honto ni oishii,” which is as much Japanese as I can manage. He and Masako find this amusing, and ask if I speak Japanese. I resist the urge to tell them that I watch a lot of mindless anime.
Really, that’s the end of Pitti, Day 3. David and I part ways again. I take a picture of a guy posing on the wall, because he was just sitting there asking for it. It made me feel a little weird. It makes me wonder about the ethics of casual photography. I don’t do it again. I wonder if he'll try to find the picture later, on the internet. Good luck, man.
It's impossible for me to find anything in the basement central pavilion. I spend most of my time lost. Finally I stumble upon Eidos, where Antonio isn't. So I make small talk with Sarrah from Isaia, who bemoans her choice of platform heels (I tell her I'm impressed she can even wear them), until it becomes apparent that Antonio isn't going to be returning immediately. And so Sarrah goes to fetch him, while I listen to Quentin tell an interested party about a "color story.” Antonio comes back, and we reschedule so that we can both go watch a movie about Naples.
The movie is, cinematographically speaking, quite lovely. But we arrived late, and are too close to the screen. It makes me feel nauseous. It is lovely, but I wonder about the ethics of documentary making in the same way I wonder about the ethics of any form of communication. The film was commissioned by Pitti Uomo, and to say that it is “Fair and Unbalanced” would be as much of a lie as it usually is. I guess it doesn’t matter. It was a movie made precisely to the specifications of the people who are here to watch the movie. I like the director’s follow-shots; I like his views of Naples from the sea. I like hearing the Italian, and the score (recomposed Vivaldi) is very lovely.
The screen goes black, and a title appears: “Part 2: The Connoisseur.” I laugh. No one else does. You must be able to laugh at yourself, I think. To be human. Mr. Jacomet looks very cool on screen, despite what I consider to be a gross misreading of Baudelaire’s aesthetic theory. It is worthy of argument, though, and the relevance of dandyism also deserves discussion. It is likely that I do not know enough about tailoring to understand the parallels. I am left with several questions:
1. Is clothing a means to an end or an end in itself?
“Huh,” seems to be the simplest answer.
2. When there are so many peacocks, do the clothes make the man of does the man make the clothes?
“Huh,” seems to be the simplest answer.
I may have fallen asleep during the conclusion, which is a musical panorama set at what appears to be Ezio Auditore's mansion. During the credits, David claps too loudly and too long. This amuses me, but I get sort of panicky and embarrassed because I don’t know if the audience has the hard-eyed, barely subdued violence of the Painter of Modern Life; whether they have the requisite humor to laugh at our transgressions. The credits continue to roll. People continue to clap, intermittently, because the lights stay off and we don't know what to do because for all of our sprezz we are skittish herd animals.
After Greg, David and I stand around and talk (they do) with everyone who is anyone at Pitti, the three of us go to Harry’s bar. We talk about @Dirnelli hiring a photographer to follow him and Paul around for a day. New shoes, new suit, and a photographer. “Doing the whole thing,” he called it. I barely did my laundry. I like them both quite a bit, though. Paul, because his interests seem to span just about everything, and @Dirnelli because of his ability to take it all very seriously but remain, to all outward appearances at least, a human. I would like to talk about Baudelaire with them.
It was really a pretty nice evening
We take a seat inside Harry’s. There’s a pretty girl in the ballet-like cocktail dress with a mohawk, and Greg and David laugh at me when she ignores my polite invitation for her to proceed through the lounge ahead of me. I wonder how many photos would be taken of her, were she to attend Pitti. I imagine she would have been reduced to nothing in an instant, the innumerable snatching jaws of the cameras tearing her away from safety and into the hideous guts of the blogosphere.
Greg and I order Negronis, David has a prosecco. He’s right: we feel good about paying the exorbitant prices. It’s cool, here. It makes me feel cool. Cooler than I really am. We applaud the songstress, who croons in English and French, we sip our cocktails, we lounge and watch the world stream by through the small window that is the entrance to Harry’s bar. Our farts probably smell like roses.
We talk about sneakers, we talk about Edward from Twilight, about Casper the friendly ghost, about the Gerber baby. These are topics that are chosen in order to embarrass me, but I am not embarrassed. Take that! Someone gives us prosecco. “I like this place,” says Greg. I like anyone who gives me prosecco. I do like it here, though. It's busy but friendly. David asks me if he can write about me finding women attractive. Sure, I tell him. I tease him enough - he’s earned his chance.
After we finish our drinks, we head back to the restaurant. I can’t ever remember the name of this place, but it’s where we came in January - the place where David and I took awkward photos of Nick Wooster. You may remember the host’s hairy chest. We sit, and the same waiter gives us our menus. He is an amusing, somewhat overbearing guy. He would do well at Pitti. I have the wine menu again, because apparently I’m the only person willing to try to make sense of the lists. I just order the house Chianti, though. It’s pretty good, and I usually don’t much care for Chianti. I consider ordering a 500 euro bottle of something French that I can’t remember, but it likely wouldn’t be appreciated by the rest of the table. Heathens.
“I think in Italy you have to get used to the bullshit,” says Greg. “It’s the first line of defense.” He asks me if the 500eur bottle was Italian. “No,” I tell him, “French. Nothing in Italy is worth 500 euros.” They oblige me with laughter.
We order. I get pici. It is good. Simple, with tomatoes and cheese and a light sauce. Once again I’m impressed by the way that Italian pasta actually tastes like food, as opposed to cafeteria slop. I would eat this again. Maybe I should have ordered two plates of pasta. Greg calls our dinner “A capsule collection of Florentine dishes.” I love it when internet humor makes its way into real life. While we wait for our main courses, I ask David and Greg what Neapolitan inter-tailor relationships are like. In fact, I record the discussion that follows - I will try to transcribe it later. And then Greg asks me what I’ve liked most at Pitti. I have to think about it for a while. Finally, I tell him that Eidos is the thing I liked most, followed by the cotton shawl-collar suit at Camoshita. I’d wear it with a tee shirt and vans, probably. I reiterate that I haven’t been very impressed. Both of them have had a similar response, which makes me feel slightly better about myself - like I’m not just burned out and dismissive, but that maybe, just maybe, I sometimes know what I’m talking about.
Food arrives. We get down to the serious business of eating. I have ordered the osso buco, which is the same thing I ordered the last time I was here. It’s very good, but not unbelievably so this time. The bone marrow is the best part. Greg wears a very thoughtful expression while he eats his pasta. “I dunno if his is the most articulate, designer way to describe this,” he says, “but this is the shit.” I feel similarly.
Another discussion of suits and economics turns into talk about children. Greg’s the only one who has any. He doesn’t seem to mind them, either. He talks about “Freestyle Lego Making.” I talk about how I look like a child when I shave. David makes another comment about the Gerber baby. Greg twists his beard so that he resembles a catfish, adding insult to injury.
Greg, having only had a salad and pasta, orders cheesecake. We discuss, again, the fact that Italians aren’t great with dessert. I have limoncello. I really like limoncello. Greg’s cheesecake comes, and he sends back the extra spoons. He does not want to share his cheesecake, which is okay with me. The restaurant is mostly empty, except for an English guy and an LA girl who sit at the table behind us and with whom I find David and Greg engaged in halting discussion upon my return from the bathroom. They don't Ike me. I lead with a joke and fail. I tell them to check out the fortezza and watch the scene. There is silence. Perhaps they’re not into fashion.
Greg did OK, too
We leave. The main shopping drag leads directly to a church. This interests me, and I wonder if it says anything meaningful about Italian culture. There is some sort of event, or something, and we see nuns, priests, and what I assume is a Cardinal, since it’s an old guy in red robes. This makes me think of the Three Musketeers. We walk past Gilli, and I convince my companions to have a drink. I get Jack Daniels, because what else am I going to get? Greg makes fun of my white “Pitti jacket,” and calls me “White Shadow.” I get David a Jack Daniels, too, but he’s not into it. He’s tired, and his flight leaves tomorrow. It’s understandable - and is how I’ve felt all week. And so he leaves, while Greg and I remain with a selection of nicely-dressed people who deal in the business of dressing nicely. I introduce myself, and one of them asks if I’m the guy who wrote “Day 1.” I see that there is a very noticeable spill on my lapel. “Eidos is the coolest thing I've seen,” I tell Antonio. I hope he doesn't think I'm drunk, but I might be. It’s hard to tell. Maybe this strange, floating sensation is just the way that life works during the four-day man-eating whirlpool of Menswear’s biggest trade-show.
What follows is a sort of protracted, strange evening that moves along in fits and starts. The highlight is that it turns out the guy I sat next to not only works in Vail but coached Nordic skiing at my alma mater, and seriously, what the hell are the chances of that? Greg an I make awkward eye contact a couple of times, I try and fail to find the person who is wearing Portrait of a Lady (which involves a lot of sort of embarrassing questions and answers), and I have another whiskey. I ask for Jack Daniels, but they give me an unrecognizable scotch. That’s okay with me. And at some point during the night I realize, while watching the fray and taking notes on my phone, that I don’t have any friends. Does anyone here, I wonder? Does the chumminess continue after Pitti is over? Is the schmoozing really something deeper? It’s possible that I’ll never know. This seems like my cue to leave. And so I do, walking down via Roma, past the remains of LVR’s butterfly installation (here for Pitti and gone just as quickly), past the bars and the cafes and the Duomo, back in the direction of my shuttered hotel.
I consider peeing on the wall for fun, but it seems a useless crime; petty and unfulfilling. Despite what Baudelaire said, sometimes a moment of jouissance, no matter how infinite, isn’t worth having to live with the act.