The Pitti Imaggine Uomo, which takes place before the main menswear catwalk shows in Milan, is where to spot the up-and-coming labels as well as the self-reinventing brands.
Brand-new: the men's labels to watch in Milan
Before the extravagance of the Milan menswear catwalks came Pitti Imaggine Uomo - Florence's twice-yearly menswear trade show, where less fashion-frenzied brands write their international orders and new brands are showcased. This season saw the attempted reinvention of older, once specialist companies as lifestyle brands with full menswear collections, from Dunlop to Burlington. There was the continuing reinvention of workwear as upmarket casualwear - from the relaunch of Smith's, an American company first established in 1906, through to Levis new Made By Hand range, a collection of "ultimate" basic pieces, such as chambray shirts, khakis and peacoats.
There was even outright rebirth, with the dusting off of Arrow shirts, the Tommy Hilfiger-owned brand that invented the permanently attached shirt collar but which has lain dormant since the 1960s, when it dressed the real Mad Men. And then there is the occasional example of marketing departments getting carried away with the idea of brand extension: AC Spalding, the American maker of baseball bats and balls, now offers - what else? - watches and luggage.
But amid the autumn/winter 2011/12 show's endless booths were a number of gems worth watching. The Japanese led the way. A Workroom is an expanding brand from designer Ryoji Okada, a collection of meticulously made tailoring with quirky details, from exaggeratedly wide lapels to covert coats with leopard-print collars. Another tailoring line, Royal Hem, sees Japanese design and Italian manufacture combine to produce such ideas as its Jabito, a jacket and trousers made of wool in the same fibre but playing with different but complementary patterns - a not-quite-a-suit. The impossibly named Man' Ry' Ya by Icho Nobutsugu is a range of outsized slouchy knitwear and knitted jackets of the kind that could become lifelong friends. And Chasseur, a Japanese shoe brand little known outside Japan, makes substantial rubber-soled footwear with a quality that gives it the feeling of having been lovingly worn and looked after since perhaps the 1930s.
The Japanese, however, do not steal all the thunder, especially when it comes to accessories. Rae Jones, the UK-based trends consultant to the footwear industry turned footwear designer herself, has launched her first men's collection, handmade in England but without the usual traditional looks that might imply - her styles play on unexpected mixes of suede and nubuck, in subtle but interesting colours. From Belgium comes the hat brand My Bob, which has its various styles made by artisans in countries with which they are associated, with berets from the Basque region of Spain and brightly coloured Panamas made in Ecuador.
From Hong Kong comes the bag company 78 Percent, maker of leather and canvas courier and satchel styles with simple twists, such as a bold colour contrast or asymmetrical flap. And new names in sunglasses pushing distinctive looks include Ralph Vaessen from the Netherlands, Lotho from France, and, from South Korea, Resurrection, whose styles include heavy, round acetate frames - think David Hockney's iconic style and then some.
But at Pitti Imaggine Uomo the young guns sit cheek by jowl with the old guard - and some of them are doing new things too, in ways that are a celebration of craft given a contemporary spin. English shirt-maker Rayner & Sturges has stepped out of the shadows with its complete and easy Alexander Boyd menswear - a line that could set the brand on the way to becoming a British Ralph Lauren. And the cashmere company Alan Paine has dug into its archives and resurfaced with its limited-edition Explorer collection of chunky knitwear, based on styles from the 1920s and perfect for climates where just that extra layer might be needed after sundown.