While little known to the public, anyone in the world of menswear knows of Pitti Uomo, a biannual trade fair in Florence. Located in the Fortezza da Basso, an old fort in the centre of the city, it’s a showcase of the best clothing, shoes and accessories from around the world. Set in a suitably operatic setting, it also attracts the best-dressed men in the world, from the besuited businessman to the rakishly-dressed dandy (see the accompanying articles by Aleks Cvetkovic for more on Pitti style).
This display of sartorial splendour is led by the Italians. Italian brands and immaculately dressed Italian men dominate the show: style, design and manufacturing are of course hardwired into the Italian psyche. But recent years have seen a growth in numbers of British brands exhibiting at Pitti Uomo. Indeed, at June’s edition, the number of UK brands was second only to the Italians.
The fact that there were over 100 British companies present, large and small, reflects the increasing demand for British-made products around the World.
This recognition of British menswear is no accident. Companies like Crockett & Jones have been making high quality shoes in Northampton since 1879, Ettinger making leather luxury goods, Gloverall, Grenfell and Chrysalis making outerwear and Christy’s and Laird Hatters making the best hats, all represent a heritage of style and quality that once placed the British clothing industry in prime position. Indeed, the shapes and style of modern menswear have their origins in British tailoring and manufacture. The country that started the industrial revolution developed the spinning, weaving and tailoring that founded the clothing industry and leather working skills that still can be seen at leading shoemakers like Crockett & Jones.
These skills only just survived the last decades of the twentieth century when cheap foreign production undermined British industry. But today they are back in force because British quality and design, backed by a heritage of skills and expertise, are internationally recognised. Consumers in Japan, the USA and elsewhere appreciate the decades of knowledge that go into making a fine pair of shoes, a tweed jacket, waterproof coat, a leather or canvas bag or a fur felt hat. Without that heritage, backed by design skills that have seen international fashion houses beating a path to British companies like Johnstons of Elgin, UK companies wouldn’t have the standing that they now have at Pitti Uomo.
...all represent a heritage of style and quality that once placed the British clothing industry in prime position.
So, next time you slip on a pair of Crockett & Jones shoes or a British-made coat or hat, remember how the skills that made it were developed over many decades - real quality isn’t made overnight.