In Florence without any pants

Losing my trousers in Amsterdam on the way to the fashion show was a bad start.

It meant the clothes I had on needed to keep me looking and feeling good, for the first two days of this international menswear show. Can I walk the walk in clothes from our small brand based in Yorkshire?

Will I fit in or look like a northern plonker?

And can I do that while representing the core elements of quality, style and ethos whilst retaining the required sense of humour and not looking “up myself”?

Along with Amelia our designer, I went to Pitti Uomo, the highly touted show in the fabulous Italian city of Florence. We had the best intentions of being inspired to develop some great clothes. Turns out that looking at clothes is pretty boring though, especially when they’re either on hangers or on people who are trying very hard to stand out. 

HebTroCo isn’t an urban style brand and we don’t really think of ourselves as fashion. We’re from a semi rural location and our menswear is designed to walk the moors rather than the catwalk, to go into to town but not the fussy sartorial city. Of course we do make a kind of fashion as our garments are chosen by people who “fashion” themselves every day to look and feel the way they want to. Despite the dirty reputation of the big fashion industry we all still want good clothes and we hope to contribute to this more positive part of the industry.

There are a lot of blokes at Pitti parading about looking to be photographed, wearing outfits that seem exaggerated to costume level, with the intention of being noticed more than each other.

It’s entertaining to watch, but really you could stay at home and see the highlights on Instagram. The algorithm was gobbling it up and spewing out elaborate hats, oddly fitting tailoring, clashing colours, sartorial palaver and a lot of serious looks to one side, then the other. It’s easy to be critical but I wanted to be impressed more than entertained.

Feeling good and at ease in HebTroCo Cord Fatigue Pants, Wax n Wool Vest and Bob Job Jacket, walking the aisles in our distinctively hardcore Chukka Boots, I felt like we held our own with dignity.

Much of the mid to high end menswear we saw was really just fast fashion at a higher price point. Feel the fabric, look at the stitching, examine the level of finish inside the garments, note country of manufacture, check the price tag and you soon get the picture. The next season will come around impossibly soon and all of this will be past its sell by date. The clothes are dumped in the sale and you’ll be pushed towards the next thing. This can be the case even if the brand is described as being heritage. Being from Britain or Japan doesn’t automatically mean it’s any good. There was some quality clothing at Pitti and some brands with authenticity, but ultimately we figured out that there were better places to look for inspiration.

Ultimately we figured out that there were better places to look for inspiration…

Like where?

Well on the first day I bought a sandwich. It was prepared in front of me, the eight inch square of focaccia cut and lightly toasted on the grill, then filled with a generous load of high quality ingredients. Finocchiona which is a Tuscan salami flavoured with fennel, pecorino cheese, truffle sauce, mushrooms and rocket leaves. It was breathtaking. I commented to the person serving me that to get something remotely like this in England would require googling hipster sandwich shop. They just shrugged and said ‘fresh ingredients’.

What’s this got to do with clothes? Just apply care and attention, don’t cut quality to make things cheap and love what it is that you do. Simple really.

Walking the streets and looking at interesting people wearing clothes that work for them was inspiring. So was digging around in the vintage shops to see and buy things that have stood the test of time. I bought some old 1950s military wool trousers with a good cut and cool pocket details and also upgraded my collection of new vests (as in underwear!) with some amazing quality Merino/silk mix ones, all made in Italy by a company founded in 1936. Things have to be good quality to last a long time. Poor cloth looks rubbish quickly. When we’re out on the hunt we look for clever details and good shapes, adding these to our own ideas and to suit our appetite for menswear that’s comfortable to wear, good looking and with the power to make you feel good.

Walking all day really helps you think, usually because you don’t think of anything, but just let the sights and your thoughts filter through. Ideas turn themselves over and stuff just works out step by step. Never underestimate the power of wandering round good design in architecture, sculpture and furniture as well as natural landscapes and light to put you in a good creative place. Ice cream and proper coffee works a treat too.
While we were in Florence the BBC2 Inside the Factory documentary on jeans was on TV at home. My phone lit up with messages from family and friends insisting that my hands had been on the show. They are not my hands! I’m in Italy now, where the Candiani mill is and we buy denim there, but I’m not on the telly! People refused to believe me until I recreated the shot from the programme.

So what about the lost trousers? Luckily my golden sample, only one of a kind, new and irreplaceable pair of selvedge jeans turned up on day three. My suitcase hadn’t made the same connection at the airport in Amsterdam as me. Don’t tell me you think I lost my pants on a bender? I got changed into Jack Snipe Jacket, jeans and cord overshirt and hit the streets.

It was nice to feel that the clothes we’ve come up with can hold their own in such a style conscious place as Florence in fashion week.

Instead of going back to the show we explored the small streets, finding tiny artisan workshops. We peeped into a place with one man making violins, saw masks, paper miniature houses, paintings and fine leather work all being crafted. The love and value placed on the making and the single minded determination to produce lovingly designed things of quality was wonderful to see. We went back to our apartment and started to plan.

This is the inspiration that we’ve brought home from Florence. Hope you love what we come up with like we love it.