Menswear AW19: the picks of Pitti
Pitti Uomo 95 in Florence came to a close on Friday, providing the usual diverse mix of great brands and products - many of them British – complete with a variety of peacocks on parade trying to out-style each other. Searching out the new, interesting and rejuvenated companies and product offers is what makes Pitti such a menswear must-visit for any buyer worth his Fedora. Here’s six of the best from the latest edition.
Brand new and showing upstairs in the ‘My Factory’ block, Original Grade is the work of UK footwear specialist David Butler, who’s been living in Florence and creating this collection in a factory in Tuscany to finally realise his very own line – a project in the making for a good eight years. Butler knows a thing or two about what makes certain footwear a winner, having been the man behind the early success of Toms shoes in the UK, as well as Sperry Top-Sider, Frye boots and heritage US boot supplier Chippewa, a brand he still sells in the UK market. The Original Grade line, which also includes some contrast colour knitwear in a sweatshirt style and heavy weight Tees, is well edited, good-looking and with high production values using quality leathers. It draws on famous sneaker silhouettes, but reinterpreted in a very Italian way. There’s certainly an element of fashion in the mix, but in quality tan leather a hi-top favourite becomes an altogether more classy creation.
AW19 is the first full collection from creative director, Sean Lehnhardt-Moore, seeing a new focus on the brand’s heritage and reflecting his love of the roots of the brand, which came back in to British ownership towards the end of 2017, acquired by UK chemicals giant Ineos, whose tycoon owner, Jim Ratcliffe, is said to be a big Belstaff fan and customer. Founded in Stock-on-Trent in 1924, the brand is these days more ‘at home’ at Belstaff House in Mayfair. There’s four key design areas for AW19, which all have in common a distinctive spirit derived from a history of outfitting motorcyclists, aviators and adventurers. There’s a real focus on quality fabrics and finishes, hand-waxed leather and cotton, suede and shearling as well as the finest Merino wool and cashmere. Technical fabrics capture the modern-day equivalent of the innovative treated natural materials that Belstaff pioneered in its early days. As well as the jackets and coats for which the brand is rightly famous, the collection also sees an extensive exploration of knitwear styles as key layering pieces. “Our customers have a real thirst for nostalgia, but they also want something new and exciting. This collection is all about bringing it home and honouring the roots of Belstaff,” says Lehnhardt-Moore.
All hand cut and hand-made in Corby, Northamptonshire, Chrysalis is quite an unearthed gem of brilliant British outerwear, co-founded in 1985 by Chris Blackmore, whose career goes back to working at Austin Reed when it was a proper menswear powerhouse in the 1960’s. True, Chrysalis does currently supply some prestigious gentlemen’s outfitters in London, particularly with its outdoors-inspired traditional shooting coats, but their business is mainly export. Some of their coats, however, should really be selling in the UK’s finest contemporary menswear stores. The Japanese and Italians try to replicate the style and craftsmanship of products such as this, but Chrysalis is the real deal. And, with traditional men’s coats and military styling now being so prevalent in the fashion arena, this is one brand that should clearly be making a mark with the sharpest dressers in town. “I’ve always been a big fan of clothes generally, so I always look for pieces that I really aspire to,” says Blackmore, who gets ideas from old magazines and TV shows such as The Avengers. “We take a lot of care in the production to make them to look high-end.” The prices, around the £700 retail mark, reflect the high production values. These are investment outerwear pieces, not mass produced, that are clearly built to last as well as looking extremely stylish.
Woods Arctic Brand
The original Canadian outerwear specialist brand, long beating the likes of Canada Goose to the crown, is back for AW19 with a whole new collection which delves into the archives while also utilising superior modern fabrications fit for colder climes. The jackets look pretty damn good with it. The Woods brand was actually founded as far back as 1885 and is the original purveyor of cotton canvas materials. A team from Toronto, Canada, headed up by Woods and Nobis co-owner, Robin Yates, who was largely responsible for the early global growth and success of Canada Goose, has spent the last 18 months tirelessly going through the Woods history for its AW19 collection. It’s using branding on the jacket sleeves featuring a tree in a triangle patch, with ‘Woods Arctic Brand’ lettering and Canadian red maple leaf, that dates back to the 1930’s. The reinvented Woods ‘Arctic Explorer Parka’, originally created for a 1913 expedition, really does look the part and is seam-sealed, waterproof yet breathable with white duck down fill. There’s also the re-released signature orange check plaid wool boucle ‘Rider’ jacket, which goes back to a popular piece from the 1950’s and 60’s that is a piece that Yates remembers from his youth with great fondness. Also expect to see bags and rucksacks inspired by those used for the Klondike Gold Rush, which Woods provided in the late 1800’s, being added to the offer going forward.
Best known for its quality desert boots and centre seam shoes, Italian footwear brand Astorflex has added a whole new line of shoes and boots to its AW19 offer, plenty of which hit the mark. The family-owned company and factory has been making shoes for generations, going back to the 19thCentury, though the Astorflex brand was only established in its own right in 2012, with flexible soles (hence the name) and comfort being key. Brand owner, Fabio Travenzoli, is big on eco-friendly and ethical production and has introduced the use of non-solvent glues, vegetable tan leathers and natural crepe soles. New styles of note include the ‘Navaflex’ boot, inspired by native American moccasin styles but with a higher and thicker crepe sole. There’s also the new ‘Boatflex’, their take on a boat shoe but with more of a Yuketen kind of styling in quality leathers, and ‘Bitflex’, a suede or leather on-trend Chelsea boot style with a crepe sole. Then there’s ‘Aldflex’, more of a sturdy workwear inspired toe cap boot, though more comfortable and lighter-weight than real work boots. Retail price points go from £115-£180, well worth it for such well-made, and made in Italy, footwear. The profile of this brand could be set to rise considerably.
The Workers Club
A young British brand, now in its fourth year, co-founded by Adam Cameron, which is raising its style stakes with some great contemporary jackets. “Our mantra is we make wherever it’s made best,” says Cameron. “But, for this season, the biggest shift is that we are making a lot more in the UK. We’re predominantly an outerwear brand, and we want be known for outerwear and denim.” The four-pocket camo field jacket, in a Halley Stevensons’sdry wax cotton, is a strong piece for AW19, and the camo itself is The Workers Club’s (TWC) own, which Cameron developed. Another worthy piece is the three-button travel jacket with throat latch on the collar, in a cotton and nylon blend, which makes it more hard-wearing. There’s also reversible Tweed jacket styles, some great British-made boot socks, denim popover shirts, jackets and jeans in a slim-fit and new relaxed style. The jeans are actually made in Japan, retailing at approximately £270 for raw denim. “They are real connoisseur’s jeans,” adds Cameron, who says they’ve been having success with the more diverse retailers, such as The Rake.