FLORENCE, ITALY -- They wore seersucker suits, harem pants and chambray shirts. They bore the 95-degree weather with bespoke jackets combined with shorts and multicolored wingtips with blue laces. They rocked straw fedoras, fluorescent sneakers and white boutonnieres. They even sported women’s blouses and pants with a male up-do.
They were the attendees of the Pitti Uomo 84 conference for men’s fashion, and, for four days last week, these finely and creatively dressed hordes of men (along with some fashionable women) congregated at the Fortezza da Basso exhibition center, a massive Renaissance-era military fort outfitted with temporary structures for 1,043 vendors, in the timeless city of Florence.
Just as the setting mixed old and new, amid the silk, suede, linen and leather, a number of designers were experimenting with new or different materials. Here are a few:
In 2009, Shwood began making eyeglass frames with sustainably harvested fresh woods, such as oak, zebra wood, walnut, maple, mahogany and rosewood. The Portland-based company now sells all over the world, from Thailand to Turkey, to Egypt to Estonia.
“There’s a lot of demand for things made of wood -- watches, iPhone covers. It’s like a return to nature,” says Sergio Ora, the Italian agent for Shwood.
The company also recently launched a limited line of (surprisingly light) stone frames made of slate with a walnut interior.
In 2011, Javier Goyeneche sold Fun & Basics, the Spanish accessories retailer that he had built over 15 years. He started all over again.
His goal was to build a new sustainable brand, one that upcycled instead of using natural resources.
His creation, Ecoalf, launched in 2012, takes materials such as discarded fishing nets, plastic bottles and tires and turns them into down jackets, swimwear, flip-flops, T-shirts and more. It even makes computer cases for Apple's MacBook Air and MacBook Pro.
The Madrid-based company now sells its bags, jackets and shoes in stores like Barney's, Bloomingdale's and Scoop, as well as in Harvey Nichols in London and Merci in Paris.
Goyeneche says, "Where people see trash, we see natural resources."
He named the company Ecoalf, which he says is making textiles for a new generation, for his son Alfredo, born at the time of the company's launch.
Born in Malta to Indian parents involved in the textile industry, Sunita Mukhi grew up seeing the Maltese "luzzu," or evil eye, painted on fishing boats.
She was inspired to create a handbag in the shape of an evil eye, and after Vogue Japan editor-at-large Anna Dello Russo carried it at Milan Fashion week in February, people clamored for a line. She just developed a collection, available at her Web site and at London's Dorchester Hotel.
While many accessories designers would first turn to leather, Mukhi decided to take a different approach and make her line a "vegan" line that doesn't use any animal products.
“I know a lot of people don’t want to wear leather anymore," the London-based designer says. "It was more important to me to reach out to everyone, but if it’s in leather, I’ve already presented a stumbling block.”
My Love My Leggings
Carlotta Gherzi launched My Love My Leggings, a London-based label that aims to makes elegant, comfortable and sexy legwear for women, in 2011. This year, she came out with leggings in "eco-leather" -- a shiny nylon and viscose fabric that looks like leather and is made by the same supplier of vegan designer Stella McCartney's faux leather.
When asked why she decided to make vegan leggings, she says, "I’d be a liar if I said for the environment. But I think it’s part of the future -- you can wear these pants in summer and won't sweat in them. [Pleather] is totally polyester, while this contains nylon or viscose, which is a natural fiber, from the fabric mill."
She also says that synthetic fibers are lower quality than less processed, natural ones, and that, for example, people can look at the wardrobes of their grandparents' generation, in which "our grandmas would have one silk top and wear it all year."
Top collage: Scenes from Pitti Uomo. (From top left, clockwise: Enrico Labriola; Claudio Bonoldi Studio; Luca Perticoni/Eikon; Enrico Labriola; Enrico Labriola.)
Other photos, from top to bottom, Shwood Florence frames (Courtesy of Shwood); Jacket, bag and shoes by Ecoalf (Courtesy of Ecoalf); Diagram of shoe and materials (Courtesy of Ecoalf); Evil eye hand bag with beading (Courtesy of Sunita Mukhi); Red eco-leather leggings (Courtesy of My Love My Leggings).