by Tom Malvino

In the men’s industry my whole life, I finally decided it was time to get to Pitti Uomo. Some of you might remember that the Italian Trade Commission used to offer free trips to Pitti, all expenses paid for retailers who “qualified.” God knows I did everything I could to get selected for those trips but after many failed attempts, and then Covid cancellations, I knew I needed to seize the day and buy my way to Florence and the incomparable Pitti Uomo show.

A lovely Florentine evening.

After booking the flights and arranging a hotel near enough to the Fortezza da Basso, I prepared myself for an experience in Firenze. Being Italian (on both sides), I started looking into where to eat, shop, and how to get around. I had questions about the nightlife, so I checked with friends who’d been there, I learned the parties are abundant, most “by invitation only,” but since I’d been to Vegas 82 times, I knew retailers can often get in with the right connections. As for the restaurant scene: I was told that one can’t make a mistake; even the McDonalds in the train station has a food partner that sells authentic paninis.

Pitti Peacocks making the scene.

After the 13-hour flight with a layover in Zurich, I made it to Florence. A taxi ride (10 euros) to the hotel and I checked in to the Moon hotel, welcomed by the friendliest staff and an inviting atmosphere. I’d been to Florence a couple of other times, first with a backpack at 22 years old and later with my family for a quick visit to the main attractions. This trip would be different: I wanted to immerse myself in the Italian culture (all in one week) and see/touch/feel our industry’s premier show. Italy is different — so different — than the U.S. Italian men prioritize dressing well, stay on top of fashion trends, and devote a large percent of their budget to wardrobe. In Italy, dressing well is sometimes considered more important than buying a house, car, or extravagant travel. When I spoke to Italians from all over Italy they all knew of Pitti Uomo and what the show means to their country. I felt their pride for what Pitti represents in Italian culture.

The very definition of Italian luxury at Cruciani.

The show ran from Tuesday to Friday. My flight got me in Tuesday late afternoon, so I’d miss the first day but I’d planned to meet up with people for dinner and a party hosted by MAC Jeans. Unfortunately, this was not to be. My phone plan excluded emails and text messages; as hard as I tried with my limited tech abilities, (unlike my kids, I was not born with the chip), I was unable to contact my hosts and ended up with that panini and a Peroni while wandering around the massive train station for two hours, hoping to find the restaurant, but to no avail.

Leafy greens from Piquadro.

Up early (damn the jetlag!) and getting ready for my first day at Pitti. Tickets on my Pitti app and easy directions on the tramway directly in front of my hotel. The ride (1.50 euros and three stops) was eight minutes. Dressed as well as I could be in my new custom suit from Jack Victor, shirt and tie with cufflinks to match, and even new shoes, I approached the entrance to the Fortezza da Basso. And yes, there were all those photographers covering the creative fashion worn by the Pitti Peacocks. Needless to say, I did not get even a look or any acknowledgment of my efforts to dress well. Clearly, these photographers are after the unwearable, avant-garde, crazy mixes of color and pattern, based on some form of tradition but not traditional at all!

MC2 St. Barth takes to the slopes…via a beach shack.

I entered through the main staging area where they process you through high-tech turnstiles and hand you a guidebook of 800+ vendors. Although attainable later, instructions on how to log onto the Wi-fi seemed top secret; after several tries and still not connecting (too many people maybe), vendors and retailers alike were clearly frustrated. This would be my only complaint for the entire show.

Shabby chic at 40 Weft.

Wandering through the maze of separate buildings, following clever and inventive signage, I managed to discover many vendors I’d encountered during my years in the industry. The Italians clearly have a knack for enhancing their presentations via lighting, fixturing, and exceptional product positioning. Their displays are rich with directional on-trend fashion. I’d always heard that Pitti is not a writing show but rather a viewing show. Vendors will tell you there’s no price list until they get a feel for what buyers might like. Of course, prices are impacted by quantities and this being the first show of the season, much guessing, and ballparking, goes on.

Rebecca White: “Who Let The Shoes Out?”

After traveling through the multi-levels of the “Fantastic Classic” pavilion and savoring the star of the show, Brunello Cucinelli, with his vicuna and cashmere collection and incredibly soft knits, coats, and spectacular accessories, it was time for lunch at the Pitti Club. I was able to procure a seat using a connection at the ITA, helped by friendly people handling visitors to the show. The food at the Pitti Club is a cut above anything I’ve ever consumed at any of the dozens of shows I’ve attended. Of course, this is to be expected, I was in Florence. The balance of the day was spent exploring more venues: “super styling” was dedicated to experimental brands, “I Go Out” was contemporary clothing for outdoor living, (activewear on steroids). I left the first day with an appetite to discover product that would fit into the mix in my stores.

It was time to explore the streets of Firenze and attend a party for Philocalie. This celebration was held at the Palazzo Antinori and unfortunately, I caught only the tail end of it. Still, I appreciated the incredible use of art in printing high-quality tee shirts. After the gathering, I struck out for the Arno River and found the Ponte Vecchio right where I’d left it many years ago. After some inspired photo taking, I wove myself back to the Piazza Signoria where the outside David resides and Ristorante Cavallino. There’s nothing that describes the pleasure of relaxing in this Palazzo, savoring Osso Bucco and a glass of Pinot from Piemonte, followed by Biscotti dipped in church wine. Fantastic!

The next day I arrived at the Fortezza entrance to admire the many Peacocks sporting tremendously coordinated outfits of patterned cashmere overcoats, multi-patterned three-piece suits, Borsalino hats, shoes from tri-colored spectators to highly polished boots, all enhancing the sartorial mode. (Again, I got not even a glance from a single photographer…)

My day would hold a chance to meet a myriad of vendors from all over Italy. Makers of gloves, belts, shoes, knits, hats, outerwear, leather accessories, suits, and sportcoats. Some of these manufacturers are set up in the U.S., many are not. Most have a desire to do business in the States but find it difficult to start. I spoke to many who understand the commitment and expense involved in breaking into the U.S. market but the prize of our luxury market is worth the investment. I was surprised to find so many local Italian vendors who produce in towns like Bergamo, Casoria, and Empoli. These artisans come mostly from small family businesses and offer truly authentic Italian fashion with passion. I’m hoping to reconnect with many of them at U.S. shows. As Pitti invites many countries to participate, I also made inroads with other EU members, in particular, a company from Spain called LEYVA belts and accessories with their great take on braces, belts, and shoes. Reasonable prices and some of the friendliest people I met. Massimiliano Nicoloro is a fine gentleman and very knowledgeable.

At the Piazza San Firenze, I would find the five-star Hotel Bernini and inside, the party for Doria 1905. I was kindly invited by Gallo Alessandro after viewing his stand earlier in the day. The party featured a band, superb wine, elegant appetizers, and friendly company. Their hats are exquisite and at a price one would expect to pay for handmade hats from true artisans. Bellisimo!

The interior at 40 Weft’s comfy booth.

My last day at Pitti was spent scrambling around to revisit vendors I might buy from and to learn where fashion is headed. The Scandinavian pavilion showcased emerging designers from Denmark, Sweden, Norway, and Iceland. Beautiful cold weather clothing using many renewable natural resources. In freestanding venues I found Juicy Couture, Rodd and Gunn, and Saint Barth (showing innovative sweaters in what looked like a beach house). An area called Dynamic Attitude was all about sustainable ways to manufacture clothes without harming the environment. Save the Duck, Filson and Holubar were featured as leaders in saving the planet while producing for the masses. 40 Weft had a wonderful shabby chic booth with beautifully displayed product on cool hangers and whitewashed tables. As I left the Fortezza, I knew the future of our industry is in good hands.

In closing, I must describe my last meal in Firenze because it epitomized the whole trip. Dinner was at the suggestion of a friend who manages Il Fornaio in the mall my store has been in for 65 years. Nazario grew up in Florence and knows most restaurants in the city; he selected Trattoria 13 Gobbi on Via del Parcellana. Wow, did he make the right choice! Pure Italian, full of locals. Went in with no reservation and luckily the hostess found me a small table in the middle of it all. Terrific menu, beer, and wine list. I had to try the Florentine steak with pasta on the side, add bread, some parmigiana, a glass of red and you may never leave.

I highly recommend a trip to Pitti for all retailers, large and small. Why not expose yourself to the best of the best, allowing yourself to learn and appreciate the wonderful business we are in. My only regret: that I didn’t go sooner! Ciao for now…Ci sentiamo dopo.

The interior at Santa Maria Novella.

Tom Malvino is the owner of Louis Thomas in Petaluma, Calif. All images in this piece are his own. 



  1. Good on you , Tom. Don’t stop now…plan your next visit. The rub off of the atmosphere and vibe you experienced will have recurring benefit.

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