Florence, Italy is one of the most beautiful cities on the planet. The way the sun rolls down the Tuscan hills in the evening, catching the colorful paintwork of the 500-or-more-year-old buildings of its medieval center, is simply stunning. The history to be learned; the masterful artworks to be experienced; the centuries of culture to be absorbed, all make it a popular stop on the tourist trail. The Duomo in the center attracts an estimated 4.5 million visitors a year on its own.
There is more to Florence than just the postcard locations. Behind the gathering crowds, waiting patiently for their turn to pose on the Ponte Vecchio or marvel at Botticelli’s Birth of Venus, is a city with a long tradition of elegance and style. Twice a year, in January and June, a new crowd of visitors descends in search of these traditions, as the city plays host to Pitti Uomo.
Pitti Uomo is a menswear show during which some of the biggest brands in the world gather to display their new selections to buyers, writers, and lovers of menswear from across the globe. Since the first fair was held in September 1972, Pitti has become a destination not just to see new collections, but to be seen: the street style of the “Pitti Peacocks” has become the stuff of legend, and fashion photographers travel from afar in search of the best shots.
The most recent edition was held from the 11th to 13th of January this year and, while scaled back in size due to ongoing travel restrictions, saw the bars, cafes, restaurants and streets of the city fizz back to life.
The show itself takes place in Fortezza da Basso, a 14th-century fort in the center of the city, and this year hosted 8,000 guests across the first two days alone. Satellite events were dotted across the city through the week, and a multitude of drinks, receptions, meals, and cocktail parties kept attendees busy round the clock. This year’s festival may have been quieter than those before it, but still had enough new styles on show to keep attendees talking into the early hours.
Highlights from the Fortezza floor included new collections from Italian menswear brands Caruso and Stile Latino; relaxed-but-elegant takes on tailoring that have been honed by Italian tailors for generations. Sustainable brands were also on show, including the innovative Waste Yarn Project, which takes the last little leftovers of fabric from luxury brands, pairs them up using a ‘wheel of fortune’ to create unique colors and patterns, and creates one-off pieces in sizes determined by the supply of fabric.
However, the real star of Pitti is not the brands, but the city that hosts them. Three full days of tramping around the conference floor, jumping into taxis to rush to evening events, and making the same small talk with a thousand new people is exhilarating but exhausting. Luckily, the crisp winter sunshine is the perfect tonic to recover with.
For all the tourist hotspots, the best parts of Florence—like so many other cities—are in the everyday reality that exists alongside the grandeur and ceremony.
WHAT TO SEE
ABBAZIA DI SAN MINIATO AL MONTE
Take a taxi up the mountain to the Abbazia di San Miniato al Monte—it’s been there for 1000 years—and then stroll gently back down into town, exploring the public gardens on the hillside and winding cobbled streets that surround them. Watch the river flow gently under the ancient bridges as teams of rowers train up and down all through the afternoon. Even in January, the sun feels warm on your back, and the city will offer something beautiful with every corner you turn.
Via delle Porte Sante, 34 / 50125 Firenze FI, Italy / 39.055.234.2731
GALLERIA DELL’ ACCADEMIA
If indoors is more your thing, the number of galleries holding world-class art is astonishing. If time constraints mean you have to choose one, make it the Galleria dell’Accademia. The collection here may be relatively small, but the main attraction is worth it. Michelangelo’s David stands proudly in a building built specifically to house it, and seeing it up close is something that just should not be missed.
Via Ricasoli, 58/60 / 50129 Firenze FI, Italy / 39.055.098.7100
PIAZZA DELLA REPUBBLICA
Shopping around the Piazza della Repubblica will keep retail lovers happy.
Piazza della Repubblica / 50123 Firenze FI, Italy
Of course the magnificent Duomo itself, breath-taking in its enormity and the beauty of the green-and-white marble cladding, is always worth a visit. If you’re feeling fit, climb the stairs: there are almost 500 of them, but the views are spectacular.
Piazza del Duomo / 50122 Firenze FI, Italy /39.055.230.2885
WHERE TO SHOP
The people here are stylish year-round, not just during the bi-annual Pitti madness, and the passion for individual expression has led to a fantastic vintage shopping scene developing. Try Melrose on Via de’ Ginori, or Desii on Via dei Conti, for some treasures.
MELROSE VINTAGE GINORI
Full of retro Americana and quirky pieces.
Via de’ Ginori, 18r / 50123 Firenze FI, Italy / 39.055.267.0030
Carries an extraordinary range of high-end luxury brands in remarkable condition.
Via dei Conti, 17 / 50123 Firenze FI, Italy / 39.055.230.2817
WHERE TO EAT
A huge part of the culture in Florence, like in the rest of Italy, is the food. The number of trattorias, osterias, and ristorantes can be overwhelming and confusing, but the truth is that most will serve decent fare.
The local specialty is bistecca, a T-bone steak that will typically weigh in around 2.9 lbs. Italians like at least four courses, plus wine, and this will form just one of them. Head to Trattoria Cammillo on Borgo San Jacopo, just to the south of the river, to find one of the best.
Borgo San Jacopo, 57/r / 50125 Firenze FI, Italy / 39.055.212427
Stave off the food coma by crossing the river afterward and strolling towards Caffè Gilli on Via Roma for a digestif, espresso, and cigar on their terrace. This is probably the most popular spot for the Pitti crowd—one local described it to me as the “Pitti Office”—and is a fantastic place to end or begin your night.
Via Roma, 1r / 50123 Firenze FI, Italy / 39.055.213896
It’s worth spending a day, if you can, avoiding the queues and crowds and just seeing how Florentine life plays out: eat the street food on the first floor of the Mercato Centrale.
Piazza del Mercato Centrale / Via dell’Ariento / 50123 Firenze FI, Italy / 39.055.239.9798
Grab a porchetta sandwich from an old, traditional family business like Granieri 1916.
Via Porta Rossa, 27/29 rosso / 50123 Firenze FI, Italy / 39.333.854.8366
Editor’s Note: Some of the activities, hotels, and restaurants listed on our website may be currently closed due to Covid health restrictions. We urge you to check before visiting and to exercise caution and follow CDC guidelines if traveling or visiting any of our recommendations.