While the catwalks of menswear fashion week are luxurious, extravagant and sometimes downright weird, the concurrent trade show Pitti Immagine Uomo reveals the direction of high-street fashion for men - and menswear, it seems, is getting more particular. A decade ago it was the norm for most men's clothing to have been produced by brand giants - fashion's household names. Now the market is becoming increasingly niche, with a label for every taste.
It speaks volumes that this season's Pitti Immagine Uomo, the international menswear trade's spring/summer 2012 pow-wow held last week, had as is guest designer Band of Outsiders, an obscure, cultish New York company making preppyish classics named after an even more obscure 1960s Jean-Luc Goddard movie. Or that new brands - the likes of Victor Dzenk, New Order, Gilda Midani - are as likely to come from Brazil (Pitti's "guest nation" this season) as the US, UK or Italy.
This trend for more insider choice is one major companies are following too, with the likes of, for example, Filson and Woolrich - both long-established American outdoors clothing manufacturers - pushing their underground Filson Black and Woolrich Woolen Mills lines; underground, that is, despite working with name designers such as Mark McNairy (for Woolrich), Adam Kimmel (for Carhartt) and Neil Barrett (for the print-loving T-shirts and shorts line Sundek). But it is with the lesser known and younger - or rediscovered - companies that interest really lies.
Their emphasis on a smaller scale, both in terms of collections and production, and focused appeal is capturing the attention of a consumer increasingly keen to wear brands whose status lies more in their not having been heard of than everyone having done so. That is allowing independent retailers - among the 20,000 to visit Pitti this time - truly to develop destination shops through distinctive buying. That could mean picking up the growing clutch of so-called heritage brands; the more progressive - new label 10A, for example, with its knitted cuff or brace-button trousers, Camo, with its short, big button cardigans, or avant-garde shoemaker Louis Leeman; the artisanal, such as Venice's Barena, with its unstructured, workwear-inspired jackets; or the reinvented, such as British designer Christopher Raeburn's new Remade in Switzerland collection for the Swiss army knife-maker Victorinox.
There is also a degree of specialisation from which menswear is benefiting, both in terms of design and innovation. The Hill-side, for example, is a new US brand focused solely on handkerchiefs, bandannas and ties (with bold florals and blanket weaves among them). Meanwhile, Arc'teryx Veilance (from Canada), Esemplare (from Italy) and Namamica (from Japan) each work with technical fabrics, particularly in blending them with natural fibres - as Namamica now has with denim - to retain their functionality without that sci-fi look, one key trend of the show. Arguably it is these brands, collectively, that are taking over from the catwalk kings in shaping the trends that men will actually wear, rather than simply raise a quizzical eyebrow at.
If Pitti is a gauge of that, expect next spring/summer to be wearing: variations on naval uniforms (updated blazers, braiding and trims) and military pieces, from field jackets to cargo trousers; ultra-light materials made into deconstructed jackets, jerseys and relaxed trousers; West Coast US vintage style; some variant on the sneaker, from the bright to the rainproof, the luxe to the high-tech; and more of the Bohemian and crafted, be that a hand-embroidered shirt or a hand-knitted tie. In other words, clothes that work and that, refreshingly, any man can carry off.
* Josh Sims