It’s January, the second week of the year. At approximately 06:12 the high-speed train sets out from the medieval town in the northern part of Italy to reach Florence. The biannual pilgrimage to the places, where the heart of Italianism in language and culture beat the most, is a ritual for a rather differing crowd: there’s those who embrace and welcome the feast for the pageantry and opulence it offers, and then, on the quite opposite, those who read the signs and draw their conclusions. Me, I am just there for the crew of enthusiasts, performing in their vintage military rags, street stylists by nature, kin by the same heartbeat. And, contrary to the essence of fashion itself, they show how timeless style can be achieved. A modernist soul can feel, even if not consciously, I fear, how these garments of military and civilian origin preserve their basic values of ruggedness and durability even more than half a century after they’ve experienced usage by a soldier or a worker in an automotive factoring plant. It’s a clear statement of an innate indulging in the research for the “who made” those vintage pieces. At the time, when those garments were made, we refer to mid century production processes, the worker in the production facility and the end user of the produced commodities could easily be the same person. Behind every clothing item there was a known face, who guaranteed for the values and the beliefs of the production company. Today, knowing how to trace back the origin of the cloth or of the tiny details such as the thread used to stitch the back pockets on a pair of work pants or the material used to make the buttons or the zippers, is highly regarded amongst the archeologists of vintage garments.
Acting like curators in a very personal style universe, they constantly search for answers to key questions: what was the purpose for making the garment the way it’s been made, which corpsmen did wear it, which army made changes and why, and lastly, was it worn by a soldier or has it never seen a battle field?
Nowadays the battlefield seems to have shifted from the muddy countryside to the gentrified urban landscapes. We can find those inhabitants, at least the male part of it, at the fair in Florence. Here they admire the contemporary take on the battledress blueprint, cut accordingly for their daily duties in the office, in the streets, in the pub, at a dinner etc. Prowling through the different areas, we’re confronted with an apparent “new” theme in menswear production and consumption habits.
A new “value” has been introduced in the menswear industry: “sustainability”. Except, the crew never needed this attribute to brand their style. Since “sustainable” is the buzzing sine qua non in the globalized fashion industry, all but a few niche players feel obliged to spray-paint this adjective in phosphorescent lettering on every piece of their collections. Some indicators though reveal the not so hidden truth: trying to implement the strategic consultancy in “greenwashing” expertise they acquired in the last 6 months won’t work so long as the stakeholders in the headquarters insist on their revenue precepts of profit maximizing. The hierarchical division between function and design appears to be one of the leading techniques to establish a constant stream of consumption. While the functionality of clothing as a key indicator of quality in the production processes and advertising campaigns until the 1950is underwent only smallest adaptations, the changes in form and design show to be the driving impetus for the increasing speed in the production and consumption cycles. It seems that the Emperor’s New Clothes just change their degree of transparency at every season’s turn. That’s basically the synopsis from the dominant “new” narratives to be witnessed at this year’s fair. You may forgive me, if I repeat myself, but If we look back at a time, when the design and the function of commodities still formed a unity with a timeless character, the re-enactment of the values and beliefs of modernism offer a viable opportunity to overcome some of the postmodernist issues of the Zeitgeist.