The invite was one clue and the venue address was another but I somehow could not put the little quaint illustration of the waiter and Club Firenze together into one equation. That is until we arrived at the Pitti Uomo Carven S/S 13 menswear show to find about thirty tables laid out on a football pitch slash velodrome ready to feed us with summer's Italian produce.
I've seen a few Pitti spectaculars now and I hate to name favourites but if there was a "Most Fun and Imaginative" award, then last night's Carven's show would win it hands down. Carven isn't a lofty brand and neither is creative director Guillaume Henry an overly conceptual designer. He was never going to come to Pitti to do obtuse installations nor was he ever going to be inspired by Florentine art to create a film projection. No, Carven is decidedly playful and Henry seemed determined to serve us all a rollocking good time.
I couldn't quite settle down to the enticing dinner setting of sweet cherry tomatoes and fresh mozzarella as I knew the "show" or the "performance" was going to happen and I'd have to leap up with my camera in a flurry. Sure enough, fifteen minutes later as soon as everyone was settled at their seats, the commotion began on the other side of the velodrome and from a distance, a vaguely hilarious looking race of waiters and waitresses emerged, each one balancing a glass and water on a silver tray, accompanied by rapid Italian commentary over the tanoy. This was a apparently a nod to a Parisian tradition ""course de garcons de cafe", where waiters race through the streets with loaded tray, seeing who can balance their tray and simultaneously be the fastest. I was initially established to improve the recognition of the waiter profession. Guillaume over the seasons has built up Parisian/French-inspired codes into Carven, without ever being cliched. This was definitely an unexpected cultural reference to draw upon and you had to smile at the arbitrary quality of the set-up.
Alongside this bevy of wait staff were the Carven boys, jogging along or cycling in a sun-catching palette of sherbet orange, royal blue, fluoro flecks, multi-coloured checks and forest green derived from vegetables and summer goodness.f Shorts and neat blazers were the order of the day as per the menswear collections we've seen filtering from London but they never strayed from Carven's preppy with a twist remit. Henry's codes for Carven womenswear haven't been transferred to menswear point for point, but the spirit is certainly the same. Like the Carven girl, the boy is a thinker but is playful and not too serious at the same time. The lightness of touch, which has made Carven's womenswear so appealing and successful is applied in this collection in spades. The botanical print ensemble, the fluoro orange flecked knitwear, the candy sprinkle tweed collar on a raglan sleeved trench coat, the stripy tie and shirt combo that's a twist on City boy office wear and the diamond quilted jackets that make you want to eschew Barbour – these collection highlights aren't necessarily tied into one specific theme but they are definitely housed underneath one house umbrella.
Now what's a cute menswear collection without greedy pigs like myself wanting to steal something? The no brainer items are the Carven floral embroidered oatmeal sweatshirt and the botanical print and neon orange patent backpack. That'll be another *ahem* "gift" for Steve. He'll be thankful that we're sharing it.
After the race, an Italian brass band from a local regiment resembling Dad's Army came trooping out in feathered hats. At this point, I had to marvel at the randomness of life bringing me to a Florentine football pitch slash velodrome, having dinner and then gawping at an Italian brass-playing troop as well as a line-up of models and waiters. The "mayor" of Florence and Henry proceeded to present the winning waiter with the cup. Someone from the Carven remarked "This is all the world of Guillaume (Henry)!' Whatever Guillaume's world is, I think I definitely want more of it.
After the festivities of the race, we could finally sit back down and enjoy the feast laid before us consisting of the sort of food that I could eat all summer long. Light pastas, simple salads, good charcuterie and a big old casket of wine. The dinner was generous and relaxed spirit, as indicated by the mismatched tablecloths and crockery and non-perpendicular tables. You could draw similarities with the way women (and now men) in their droves approach Carven clothes with that same relaxed attitude.
I may have relaxed a little bit tooooo much though as the night went on because once I realised it was summer solstice, I became singularly obsessed with the idea of creating crowns out of the table decorations of flowers and herbs. Unfortunately I dragged Lou Stoppard from SHOWstudio and Dan Thawley of A Magazine down with me and so by the time we left the Carven dinner, we had fashioned some makeshift crowns and corsages. Mine was decidedly more like a bouquet garni for a bouillabaisse in comparison to Lou's wedding appropriate head of roses. The night carried on at Business of Fashion's five year anniversary party at Polimoda nearby, where we ended lying on the grass, watching the stars (or BoF's massive logo projected on to the beautiful Villa Favard), like the flower children that we became last night.
I can only blame Henry and his Florentine fiesta for our pagan antics. If I came on to the pitch loving Carven, I came off it loving it even more. Pitti may have been the primary facilitator of the event but it was all Henry's vision; one that makes you understand why Carven have enjoyed such a meteoric rise. As I was leaving, I spied the Carven team running around the pitch doing cartwheels in a flurry of lime green and royal blue lace from the current summer collection. These are clothes destined for unpretentious and good old-fashioned fun. How could anyone object to that?