In January 2020, we published our last article on Pitti ‘What a Pitti’. It’s been 18 months and the “huge crowds” of 2020 were no longer around. This years’s fair can be summarised by a slight tweak to our 2020 slogan:
huge crowds in small spaces
Although “What a Pitti” would also serve as a neat summary of this year’s 100th anniversary edition, we have noticed a rather hopeful atmosphere in Florence.
I will go out on a limb and claim that traditional fairs are dead.
Inform, inspire and connect are a trade fair’s essential elements. However, people are no longer required to meet in person to receive information or to talk to the industry’s stakeholders. Connecting online is easier and much less expensive than flying to Italy (and spending tons on Negronis and champagne).
In addition, many young entrepreneurs who are just starting out in the business and for whom visiting a fair like Pitti would yield great opportunities – to find production partners, packaging experts or potential marketing channels – are often not welcomed at Fortezza da Basso.
Finding a solution to this problem seems less complicated than one might think: If you register as a blogger, Pitti will bid you welcome – even waiving the admission fee. Journalists, influencers and photographers are an integral part of maintaining the status of the Italian fashion industry. However, at times, it seems as though they are more important than the actual industry.
This also shows in the fact that to many visitors it matters more which events they were at, with whom they were photographed and what they wore than to ‘do business’. In the current state, you’re more likely to remember how much you drank during the fair than which exhibitors were most exciting. (We lost count at about 20 Negronis, 5 bottles of champagne, 10 litres of beer and just under 5 litres of wine.)
Giovanni Battista Giorgini, an Italian entrepreneur from Tuscany, held fashion shows in Florence in the 1950s, which were hailed for the elegant presentations in Giardino Torrigiani. They quickly became a success precisely because they also focussed on the commercial aspects of the collections.
As demand among exhibitors, buyers and consumers increased, so did the number of fashion shows, and they were increasingly held in the nearby Palazzo Pitti, originally built in 1458 for the banker Luca Pitti. Due to the increasing demand, the first Pitti Uomo (Pitti = Palazzo Pitti, Uomo = Italian for ‘man’) with men’s fashion shows was held in 1972. Unlike the women’s shows, which were moved to Milan, the men’s fashion shows remained in Florence and have been held in the Fortezza da Basso since 1983.
Much has changed since then in terms of communication, presentation and media attention. However, the basic idea of the trade fair is still very much present. Sure, it is never easy to change a long-established institution. That’s why sometimes it takes an unpredictable event to change how things are going. With regard to Pitti, the pandemic might be one of these wake-up call.
Pitti Uomo 100, an anniversary that the organisers were determined not to let pass after more than a one-year break. Apart from spinning wind chimes in different colours with a bold 100 on them and 100 flags with quotations, there were no huge celebrations.
The organisers seem proud of what they have created so far, but they also acknowledge the need for reform. With the past two fairs, Pitti Uomo 98 and 99, Pitti Immagine, the fair’s umbrella organisation, already had the chance to address this.
In the last few years, the number of visitors has dropped from about 30,000 to 22,000 (in January 2020) and to 6,000 (in June 2021). Thus, the need for change seems obvious. These figures would mean a heart attack for any half-decent manager. However, they say nothing about the all-important atmosphere – which was surprisingly good.
After the pandemic, many things are different, but different doesn’t mean bad. A smaller fair with a more relaxed atmosphere and more time for elaborate and meaningful conversations might be the way to go for Pitti.
Now it is important to keep up the spirit of optimism and to celebrate the momentum of a generational change, new values and the opportunities of digitalisation. Falling back into old patterns would be dangerous for Pitti and a big step towards self-destruction. YS/PPS