1. Suzy Menkes
  2. Suzy Menkes

Suzy Menkes

Vogue International Editor Suzy Menkes is the best-known fashion journalist in the world. After 25 years commenting on fashion for the International Herald Tribune (rebranded recently as The International New York Times), Suzy Menkes now writes exclusively for Vogue online, covering fashion worldwide.

A Sense of Place

How Florence offers dramatic venues for designers

20 Января 2015

Cloakroom, a performance by Olivier Saillard and Tilda Swinton. Pitti Immagine


Looking up in wonder at the gilded ceiling of the theatre, I sat down to watch Tilda Swinton and French historian and curator Olivier Saillard put on one of their fashion double acts.

Tilda and Olivier take a bow

It was about the secret world of a coat-check lady – how she accepted one jacket with reverence, stroking and folding; another with a shrug of dismissal. A coat might be wrapped, animal-like around her body, as she rolled in ecstasy on a plain wooden table. Another would invite love – this woman moving from rapture to enchantment, as she filled the empty coats with perfume, flowers, a poetic message or even coins.

Cloakroom, a performance by Olivier Saillard and Tilda Swinton. Pitti Immagine

“For once it isn’t about a coat going out – but coming in,” said Saillard, known more for his exhibitions at Palais Galliera than for putting coats on hangers. The point, he explained, was th­­­­­at the garments were brought up randomly by the audience, so that Tilda’s reaction was not pre-planned.

I wondered whether this show, with its agonising slowness but fascinating story, would have seemed different if I had seen it in Paris, where the usual venue for the duo is the Palais de Tokyo -a rough, deconstructed temple to modernism. There, I saw An Impossible Wardrobe, when Tilda unfolded historical objects belonging to Napoleon or to Coco Chanel.

This show, maybe because of the surroundings, seemed much more like performance art. “In a funny way it all started when we made Impossible Wardrobe – however amazing it was to have Napoleon’s clothes, in the end it is just a man’s jacket,” Tilda said. She went on to explain that she envisaged her coat-check character asa “Martian”, reacting to these objects intuitively, often without understanding their purpose.

Cloakroom, a performance by Olivier Saillard and Tilda Swinton. Pitti Immagine

“One inspiration was the last three years clearing out my mother’s things, deciding what to get rid of and what to keep – even if some of the things were with holes in rags,” Tilda said.

I left the theatre thinking about the emotion of a fashion presentation and how much was dependent on where it was held – crucial to Florence, where each Pitti Uomo season produces another extraordinary historical or modern building as a show background.

The ornate ceiling at Teatro della Pergola – the location for Cloakroom

Marni: sculpted texture

Marni’s choice of space and place was the Museo Marino Marini. Its figures in raw stone from Italy’s modernist artist are a world away from the smooth marble of Renaissance sculpture. Instead, Marino Marini’s figurative shapes and simplicity of form seemed a perfect fit with Marni’s almost childlike innocence.

A view of the Marni menswear show, the guest designer of Pitti Uomo 87, at Museo Marino Marini. Pitti Immagine
A view of the Marni menswear show, the guest designer of Pitti Uomo 87, at Museo Marino Marini. Pitti Immagine

On the runway, the men’s collection and the tactile and rugged terracotta were a fine combination. For Marni’s 2015 winter menswear collection, structure was king – but so was texture. Tailoring had surface interest, whether it was a pattern of small checks, or leather and shearling with textural effects. The knits were the most tactile: fluffy and feathery, but always manly, in an artistic way. Florence did creative director Consuelo Castiglioni a favour by offering a venue that fitted so neatly with Marni’s vision.

The ceiling at Palazzo Corsini for the Andrea Incontri show

With grotto and fresco

The ornate grotto and historical frescoes at the Palazzo Corsini in Florence threatened to outshine Andrea Incontri’s simple lines – but that was doubtless the point: to contrast streamlined modernity with baroque complications.

Andrea Incontri designer project at Pitti Uomo 87. Giovanni Giannoni

Even as the models walked the runway at speed in functional outfits – but stylish footwear – I thought (beyond the din of wild music) that there was some sophisticated work. Maybe it is the designer’s background in Mantua that makes him so sensitive to texture, comparing the raw and the refined. It was a smart meld of past grandeur with the sleekness of the twenty-first century.

The grotto at Palazzo Corsini for the Andrea Incontri show

Fabulous feet

In another part of the Palazzo Corsini, the shoe shop and headquarters of Aquazzura has all the extravagance of an Italian palazzo, from its Florentine architecture through ceilings inspired by Pompeii frescoes to shoes vivid with colour and lush with hand-worked decoration.

Eduardo Osorio, the Colombian-born designer, who came to Italy via Miami and Central Saint Martins. His fashion trajectory included working with René Caovilla and Ferragamo.

The store, overlooking the Arno, takes visitors back to Florence’s artistic past – and offers shoes as complex and colourful as they are chic and wearable.

Musical interludes

Was the Villa di Maiano in Fiesole, up in the hills above Florence, an ideal way to show the work of Hood by Air, the cult brand from New York?

The answer is, yes – if the idea of designer Shayne Oliver was to play dramatically with opposites – as with the building’s mix of Gothic and Neo-Renaissance.

Villa di Maiano in Fiesole towers above a see-through cube, erected for the Hood by Air show

Guests arrived to sweet choral singing from the musical Academy of Florence – until it was shouted down by DJ’s using blasts of music. The show ended with an operatic orchestra on the balcony, overlooking Florence.

And the clothes? I am not sure that the hallucinogenic white light swooping over the floor and the ear-splitting music prepared me for fine, streamlined outerwear, loose trousers flowing to the hips on one side, and platform boots, like a revival of the Seventies.

But then, anyone can go to a fair and see the clothes on a rack. But a choice of space brings intrigue and surprise.

Hood by Air. Pitti Immagine

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