Vintage Selection n.28 - Pitti Filati

Originally published 19th July, 2016

While high-street retailers may claim multiple shopping streets encircling Florence's prized landmarks and awe-striking artefacts, it takes little exploration beneath the surface to uncover a wealth of independent boutiques and creative initiatives. Whether traversing the city's tourist tracks in the height of summer or embracing the breathable, humidity-free avenues during off-peak season, it quickly becomes apparent that this long-established epicentre of design is a rare fusion of domestic tradition and global innovation. There are few locales steeped in as much vivid heritage - particularly within such compact square mileage - and fewer still that manage to harness that historic abundance to craft unprecedented concepts in fashion and design. This creative synthesis is championed with palpable enthusiasm by sartorially-savvy locals - particularly in the heart of Florence's Oltrarno quarter, where its resident creatives are as likely to praise the latest incarnation of home-grown design labels as they are their eulogised palazzo.

This seamless concoction of old-meets-new manifests on a monthly basis in Vintage Selection, an eclectic marketplace housed within the city's sprawling Stazione Leopolda (famed as the first train station to ever be constructed in Florence, having forged the once-indispensable route between the Duchy Capital and the prominent seaport of Livorno). Its ever-evolving assortment of "pre-loved" pieces and unworn vintage collections offer a unique insight into the tastes and tendencies of decades past. Rather than strive to evoke an old-world atmosphere within the market's parameters, however, its orchestrators have an outlook firmly rooted in the present. Vintage Selection's welcoming layout is an inventive take on the modern-day shopping experience - wherein style neophytes can stumble upon diverse wardrobe additions, and designers can derive inspiration from the contents of their imaginative surroundings. None too dissimilar to a certain Milanese marketplace featured recently in colourful detail, regular event-goers and newcomers delve into each multi-faceted gathering with gusto. A celebrated example is Vintage Selection's 25th-anniversary edition, wherein Station Leopolda was bathed in sparkling silver decor alongside trademark features of live music, workshops helmed by industry insiders and a generous supply of aperitifs. With its status as a Florentine fashion behemoth thus fully cemented - and international interest throughly piqued - it came as no surprise that this year's announcement of a Pitti Filati partnership triggered unanimous excitement:

This high-ranking collaboration makes perfect sense for both fashion entities. With July marking the 79th instalment of Pitti Immagine's acclaimed textiles fair (and the 44th year since the initiative's first venture began elevating menswear to unprecedented heights), its ethos of pioneering visionary design talents is more strongly represented than ever; the emphasis placed on re-inventing manufacturing methods and encouraging widespread growth of sustainable fashion. Having spent innumerable seasons observing, analysing and acting upon the creative processes of burgeoning young designers and long-established craftsmen - and women - in equal measure, the induction of Vintage Selection's influential archive was the final piece of the puzzle to slot into this month's Pitti Filati showcase. And what a carefully-constructed puzzle it was: the trade fair's overall theme was entitled "Lucky Numbers", revolving around the eye-catching qualities of digits and their symbolism in fashion spheres and far beyond. As the final afternoon of Vintage Selection's Pitti summer edition dawned - coincidentally, my first full day exploring the Tuscan capital during a recent trip - I set off through the memorable streets of Florence, my final destination ensconced in a 14th century fortress:

While late January marked the first public fashion alliance between Vintage Selection and Pitti Filati, the market's summer edition broke venue tradition for the very first time, travelling a mere two kilometres to immerse itself in Fortezza Da Basso. Participants were guided through a dimly-lit (if expansive) passageway to the main entrance hall, a jet-black space punctuated by the multi-coloured offerings of nearby market-traders. While tickets to Pitti Immagine's main itinerary are typically reserved for buyers, press members and the students of certain fashion colleges, for the sum of five euro, style enthusiasts of all genres could happily access this vintage-culture initiative. The scene unfolding beyond the market's entrance gates, however, was a decidedly more subdued affair compared to its Stazione Leopolda congregations. Far removed from the high-energy ambience of most flea-market shopping experiences - often peppered with loud music blasts from a live DJ and the infectious buzz of chattering attendees - most visitors travelled solo or in quiet packs of two or three, fully intent on absorbing this one-of-a-kind archive with minimal distraction. Pre-emptively described as a cross between a perusal of rare designer archive pieces and a streamlined vintage-shopping experience, its atmosphere had the distinctive feel of an awe-inspiring exhibition. All pieces on display were available to purchase, harking directly from a well-curated selection of Italy's most treasured vintage boutiques; from the resplendent garments of Florence's Street Doing Couture to the print-filled finery of Vintage Delirium (a Milan-based specialty shop founded by Franco Jacassi and regaled by Vogue Italia). Accessories labels and costume-jewellery collectors on the west section housed their collections in pristine glass cabinets, while neighbouring mannequins were clad in luxurious Balmain suits and golden-era Versace numbers. Given the pristine condition of each and every display on offer, onlookers were notably cautious in their browsing of clothing rails. Rather than charge extortionate figures for their collectors-item wares, however, the overall price range was reasonably balanced - a colourful 70s sequin jacket found at one stand retailed for circa €80, while a Moschino dress suit crafted from the most incredible flower-power fabric was priced in the region of €250. The exhibit space was compact but allowed for plenty of space to absorb collections at one's leisure - the abundance of heavy-embellished, multi-hued designs only increased in volume as I entered the east section: 

While the decibels of conversing market-goers were still turned down several notches compared to Italian expectations, the splendour of innovative vintage pieces was on hand to captivate all attention. Akin to the western stalls that preceded it - where you could find lavish designer gowns as seamlessly as inventive, bohemian-luxe garments (the latter combination does actually exist!) - diversity was truly the operative word. Rows of jewel-encrustened jeans resided alongside generously-adorned lace frocks, while Iris Apfel devotees could discover a hive of statement maximalist jewellery she herself would fawn over. Intriguingly, an exhibition-within-an-exhibition concept was introduced halfway through the Vintage Selection shopping route. Devised as a testament to the industrious fashion-design figure Stefano Chiassai - whose eponymous studio is considered one of the most influential creative hubs in Italy - Caosordinato is a collaboration between Chiassai and his daughter Corinna, encompassing an exhibit of contemporary menswear looks and an accompanying book which comprises 35 years of research and active participation in the evolution of eclectic male fashion. Directly translated from Italian as "organised chaos", the project tied in perfectly with Vintage Selection x Pitti Filati's marriage of traditional inspiration sources with unprecedented design notions. The 25 looks conjured up by this father-daughter duo were, most refreshingly, the antithesis of copy-and-paste fashion. Each piece possessed its own unique backstory; its source and production method entirely separate from the next. Collectively, the display sent out a strong message that the future of fashion cannot be traced back to a conveyer-belt mechanism, mindlessly generating identical looks with increasing velocity.

Marketplace regulars and haggling aficionados may not find instant common ground in Vintage Selection's Pitti Filati incarnation. As a dynamic inspiration base for makers seeking innovation, however, this bi-annual vintage archive is an invaluable resource. The summer edition's participating vendors hailed from various boutique gems scattered across the country, all displaying a genuine passion and through knowledge of their well-curated collections. As a result, the space offered the perfect means of visually drinking in each multi-layered silhouette and unusual woven fabric, where design-oriented questions could be asked and answered without risk of being drowned out by a high-powered DJ set or incessantly loud (if good-natured) chatter. Those seeking visual refuge from carbon-copy fashion will find immediate solace amongst the vibrant collection displays, as well as encounter some eclectic independent retailers worth noting for future Italia voyages (A.N.G.E.L.O's rainbow rail has given me more than enough incentive to make a one-stop trip to Lugo). With such innovatory means of concocting ideas right at their fingertips - and with their Florentine surroundings brimming with heritage - there's no limit to what this city's trailblazing designers will conjure up next.

Vintage Selection at Pitti Immagine Filati showcases its summer editions at Fortezza Da Basso, in tandem with keeping up monthly instalments and winter markets at Stazione Leopolda. Full details are announced in advance, on both VS and PIF's websites "here" and "here" respectively. A full list of the summer edition's individualistic traders can be found via this link, while vintage-fair tickets can be bought on the day at the main reception hall. Following Vintage Selection on Facebook and Pitti Filati, additionally, on Instagram and Twitter will ensure you're keep fully au fait with the latest news and creative concepts brought to fruition by this dynamic design partnership.

Amelia xx

La Femme Éclectique