A Lynchian suited-and-booted character with a rabbit's head has grabbed my face. That's one goal in life achieved in the first month of 2012. This rabbit hole tale could only have unfolded as part of Pitti Uomo and their increasingly intriguing set of events that makes me come back, time and time again despite it strictly speaking being a hardcore menswear tradeshow. Remember the last edition when the curator Olivier Saillard orchestrated a Vestirsi Da Uomo (Dress Like a Man) show, where a group of women demonstrated the versatility and questioned the context of men's garments? The spotlight on the mainstream Barbour and Brooks Brothes clothes used in the show was minimal and thus we can be thankful that despite the commercial pressures of a gigantic tradeshow like Pitti Uomo, total carte blanche is given to creatives for my very own selfish enjoyment.
This time round, the carte blanche card for creating the second edition of Vestirsi Da Uomo fell on the legendary Marc Ascoli. If you don't know the name, at the very least you'll know his work through his imagery that he created with Yohji Yamamoto in the 80s and subsequently Jil Sander, Cerruti, Chloe and his wife Martine Sitbon. He's pretty much worked with all the photo biggies and was responsible for discovering Mert Alas and Marcus Piggot.
Best of all, there are no hoity toity airs and graces to the man. Since October, he's been working with the students at the Polimoda fashion school in Florence, newly relocated to the restored Villa Favard where this magic night took place. Ascoli's masterclass has resulted in this night where the students collaborated with Ascoli in taking pieces by the likes of Barbour, Brooks Brothers, Folk, Yuketen and Engineered Garments and putting them completely out of their context/comfort zone. The inspiration points are of course pure David Lynch, derived from films such as his Rabbits series and Inland Empire , but the result is probably something more magical and uplifting than the Lynchian vision. The Villa Favard (officially the most beautiful fashion school I've ever seen) was where Ascoli's vision of theatrical dreamscapes unfolded, beginning with these rabbit headed beings that greeted us at the entrance – a tell tale sign as to what we were about to see.
"It will be like a game, a game between real and surreal, between the real garment and the imagery it evokes: exuberant, filled with energy, fanciful, dreamlike and visionary." Marc Ascoli
Inside the villa, a frame of gold and glass housed a rotating run of characters that again evoked animal imagery with their crocheted and lacey rabbit and mouse masks. They play about with their masks, looking like they're not sure whether they're human or animal. The styling itself though is the key thing that grabs you, as those aforementioned macho men's brands are subjected to a blurring between masculinity and femininity. The result is this purist aesthetic where you don't need to question whether it's menswear or womenswear. As we looked up towards this frame, unknowingly, a widow character robed in black would sweep by us in a creepy manner. Raphaelle Boitel, a regularly performer at Club Silencio in Paris (another Lynchian link) was here to evoke the spirit of the Baroness Fiorella Favard of Langlade, just to remind us of the imposing venue we were in.
We then entered another room where a cornucopia of characters dressed in childsplay garments in primary colours along with a few of those rabbit-headed figures all gathered around a table in a weird game of musical chairs. Looking at wonderment at books, they were like entranced children, learning and discovering for the first time, who just happened to be trussed up in the Polimoda students' exuberant creations of patchworked knits, colourful crochet and deconstructed layers. At this point, I think you forgot whether we were supposed to be analysing some point by Ascoli about Dressing Like a Man and instead, we were just purely enchanted by the escapism presented here. Hell, let's do away with deep analysis and just say that escapist moments like this are rare in the fashion ecosystem and be thankful that Ascoli and his many collaborators attempted to stage something like this.
Again, on a superficial styling note, I was feeling all the neon laces, naive crochet and hyper houndstooth knits that made up these fantastical costumes. They're exaggerated pointers that could easily be taken away in real life.
The soundtrack and music accompaniment was a feast that could be heard three blocks away. Frederic Sanchez was the main soundtrack maestro. His list of fashion clients is as long as this post and includes Chloe, Balmain, Prada and Marc Jacobs. He could probably serve up appropriate musical ambiance in his sleep. I was mighty impressed though with this singer Owlle, a young French artist. If I was making lazy comparisons, then I suppose you could find echoes of Florence Welch, except less affected and slightly more haunting.
The third part had us all reduced to the same childlike stupor displayed by the characters in their musical chair set-up. Climbing the stairs up the Villa Favard revealed a chamber with a magic wardrobe where two jumpers exchanged a few moments of tenderness. Pictures are pretty much useless in this instance so I've made a little video. Another rabbit headed figure comes in once in a while to disturb this couple of loving jumpers. Seriously, I was waiting for a juicy smooch between the jumpers if knitwear are indeed capable of snogging each other. It was like a strange Punch and Judy puppet show without the cack-handed punchlines and instead there was something quite poetic in the tenderness displayed. Kudos to the human arms that operated the jumpers from the circus group Compagnia Dromosfisti.
The omnipresent rabbit motif didn't get in the way, when full outfits made more of a literal point. A Barbour jacket with a pair of rainbow crochet trousers and chunky Yuketen shoes isn't such an imaginative stretch for most people I think. If anything, these ensembles were well-trodden ground by forebearers such as Rei Kawakubo or Junya Watanabe. The actors inside these rabbits were clearly all men and despite the surreal imagery presented to us, I was intent on taking the surface of these outfits quite literally. That's just indicative of the progressions in menswear perhaps…
This was a triumph by Ascoli and one that managed to make a point with whimsy and theatre. We may have regressed to childhood moments at times but this certainly wasn't childsplay. The monumental task of assembling this all together and the scale of the performance conceived by Ascoli has to be commended. I'd also like to mention the involvement of Linda Loppa, the director of the Polimoda school who also worked with Ascoli to bring this event to life. Loppa is best known as being the past director of the Antwerp Royal Academy school and giving the Antwerp Six and the likes of Raf Simons a helping start in their early careers. Given that my love of fashion really took a gateway leap when I discovered all things Antwerp in my teens, I was therefore quite honoured to meet Loppa last night, who is now attempting to do a similarly stellar job at Polimoda in Florence. "I'm just like any other fashion teacher in the world really," Loppa said in modesty. I'm not sure I agree but I appreciate the humbleness. Art director, students, fashion school director, sound and light designers, theatre groups and of course the menswear brands – too many collaborators to even mention all in one breath and yet they all came together in a meaningful way. Pitti Uomo's next edition will find it difficult to top this edition of Vestirsi Da Uomo…