a short novel on men's fashion: celebrating 30 years of menswear

With a new exhibition opening in Florence, fashion historian and curator Olivier Saillard traces the past, present and future of men’s fashion.

by Steve Salter
13 June 2019, 8:00am

Photography Astra Marina Cabras

This article originally appeared on i-D UK.

“Many of the men and women who have transformed menswear have passed through Florence,” fashion historian and curator Olivier Saillard explains as his latest project, A Short Novel on Men's Fashion, opens in Florence, for Pitti Imnagine. It traces thirty years of menswear, from 1989 to the present day, as seen through the eyes of the shapeshifting sartorial showcase that is Pitti Immagine.

Throughout a career that has seen him curate more than 140 exhibitions, Olivier Saillard has blurred the boundaries between poetic performance and static display as the innate becomes animated, the lifeless brought to life. From the critically acclaimed Madame Grès exhibition from 2011 to the live art exhibition and collaboration with Tilda Swinton, The Impossible Wardrobe, his work continually proposes fresh ways to consider old clothes. He’s as much a poet, anthropologist and ethnographer as he is a fashion historian and curator. A Short Novel on Men's Fashion showcases all of these attributes and more. Each room in the halls of the Palazzo Pitti Museum of Costume and Fashion features pages of an oversized book. Page after page, the exhibition traces unpretentiously in a pop-up format, the story of menswear. In a whimsical and fictional style, the book examines men’s fashion and its protagonists, sometimes in relation to the historical collections of the Museo della Moda and in others, the men’s portraits present at Galleria d’Arte Moderna at Palazzo Pitti.


“In constantly changing settings, classic or bold, and hand-in-hand with the city of Florence and its prestigious locations, these fashion creators have continually conceived the most over-the-top fashion shows to best serve their collections,” Olivier explains. From Raf Simons unveiling a rainbow of monochromatic tailoring for Jil Sander spring/summer 11 to Gosha Rubchinskiy transporting the disaffected youth of spring/summer 17 to an old tobacco factory, some of the most memorable fashion shows of recent years have taken place at Pitti Immagine. A world away from the accelerating conveyor belt of blink-and-you’ll-miss-it fashion shows that fill an ever expanding schedule at the major fashion cities, the guest designers at Pitti Immagine in Florence are invited to press pause before showing at their own pace and in their own way.

“We set Vivienne Westwood’s show in a wonderful place, we financed it, and then we simply let her go back to her fashion week so it was hard to say no,” Lapo Cianchi, Pitti Immagine’s communication and event director, recounts to fashion critic Angelo Flaccavento in the Marsilio-published exhibition book. After Westwood, Jean Paul Gaultier, Gianfranco Ferré, Giorgio Armani and all the others followed. This freedom, which has long appealed to fashion’s finest, has been mirrored in Olivier’s curatorial approach. “We asked each designer to select the most significant garment, the most important for them and the pieces that best illustrate their point of view,” he tells us.

What are the most important menswear moments that Olivier encountered during his process of creating the exhibition? “Without any doubt, those that Mr. Armani initiated in modifying the male silhouette with a comfortable sense of looseness,” he tells us. “Then, in the early 2000s, Hedi Slimane is a notorious influence and today the movement that is most categorical is certainly the one from sportswear, whose roots are still developing.” The cycle of men’s fashion continues to turn.


For Olivier, though, the fashion system is moving too fast, creating too much and we are all consume too much. “Fashion has to do less and better, and the consumer has to buy less and better too,” Olivier explains. “Like an armchair of Le Corbusier or a chair of Gio Ponti, a suit and well-cut pants are pieces of design that can be kept for a long time, they are the most timeless solution.”

While A Short Novel on Men's Fashion is dedicated to Marco Rivetti, president of Pitti Immagine from 1987 to 1995, and reminds us of the who’s who of menswear and how they have contributed over the years, it’s focus is on probing our relationships with clothes. “I want visitors that have explored the exhibition to return to their closets with a renewed sense of intimacy,” Olivier explains. “Beyond logos and labels, this expression is the one which is the most durable. Ultimately, our clothes tell us about our encounters, our joys, our emotions; they are autobiographies of colors and patterns that should be preserved.”

A Short Novel On Men’s Fashion ’ runs until September 29, 2019 at Palazzo Pitti Museo della Moda e del Costume, Florence

This article originally appeared on i-D UK.

olivier saillard