Influence Marketing: Power Posing at the Pitti Circus

A visitor being photographed at Pitti.
A visitor being photographed at Pitti.

There’s a major power shift taking place within the fashion industry right now. Some might say that things are becoming more democratic. Sure, the major brands have always paid close attention to what’s happening on the street. But this usually feeds back to the general public by means of a top-down process; dictated from on-high via the carefully curated looks designers show on runways, before finally going mass-market. 

Yet by bypassing the key players and disseminating street-level fashion innovation direct to the masses by means of social media, Instagram influencers have destabilized the long-established fashion industry power structure. 

Nowhere is this more evident than at Pitti Uomo. Taking place twice a year in Florence, Italy, Pitti is ostensibly a tradeshow for the buying and selling of high-end menswear. Yet due to the flamboyant outfits of many attendees, Pitti has become synonymous with a male sartorial elegance and extravagance that influences how many men around the world dress.

Indeed, the street style trends out on the Pitti piazza each January and June will likely prove to be significantly more influential over the coming years than any of the catwalk shows taking place as part of the official program.

The Pitti Circus

They come lumbering and lurching; strutting and staggering; parading heads-high, or skulking on the fringes. A ministry of silly walks; decked out in even more ridiculous outfits. Here a prancing fawn in day-glo sportswear; there a befuddled aristocrat, wearing the entire contents of his closet all in one go. 

Cigars are lit on approach to the entrance. And a suspicious number of phones receive incoming calls just as their owners reach the awaiting pack of fashion journalists: permitting biceps to be tensed, and expensively tailored sports coats to hang at a flattering angle. 

Some among the procession hold back: waiting until anyone who might deny the circling photographers a clear view of their sartorial handiwork has moved ahead. Only now do they advance: assured that their elaborately accoutered likenesses will be broadcast far and wide. Fleeting glory in the form of a #menswear hashtag.

It’s easy to poke fun at the outrageous vanity of some Pitti visitors, but there’s no denying that many possess real style. And whether the general consensus on the season’s dominant looks is a thumbs up or down, thousands of fashionistas worldwide are avidly following Pitti hashtags or Googling street style photos for pointers as to where trends will likely shift over the coming months.

Who Holds the Power?

Social media stars often belittle photographers, arguing that the latter would have nothing of value to photograph if it wasn’t for the celebrity-draw of influencers; to which photographers invariably respond that influencers would still be nobodies if it wasn’t for their own power as image makers. A more likely explanation of course is that the relationship between photographers and influencers is entirely symbiotic: one needs the other.

In any case, what’s clear is that the importance of both photographers and influencers has increased massively in recent years.

Within a fashion context, that influence is largely distributed in the form of street style photos.

Check #pittiuomo95 on Instagram and your feed will be filled with image after image of men’s street style –  encompassing everything from the smart and subdued to the more creative, outlandish, and even just downright trashy. Notably absent, however, will be much coverage of either the runway shows or even what is theoretically the main purpose of the Pitti tradeshow: over a thousand booths housed inside Florence’s Fortezza da Basso where the world’s most important menswear brands preview the next season’s collections to buyers.

Visitors to Pitti 95 in January 2019
Visitors Arriving at Pitti Uomo 94

Of course, with the rise of Instagram, street style has gained general importance worldwide. And many of today’s key industry figures have built their careers on little more than rolling up to the right shows in attention-grabbing outfits. Certainly no magazine feature on Paris or New York Fashion Week would be complete without a street style report. 

But do a Google image search for, say, “FW18 shows Paris” and the results will be almost entirely made up of runway photos. Barely a single street style shot in sight. So although street style has markedly grown in influence, the designers exhibiting their creations in the major fashion capitals are currently in no apparent danger of becoming eclipsed by their audience.

Yet at Pitti, it’s the visitors rather than designers who get all the press.

And often in very major, broad-interest publications too.

What Makes Pitti Uomo Special?

Pitti Uomo came into existence primarily as a trade fair, not as a fashion week. So while Pitti’s limited program of runway shows now attracts some very high profile designers (often by invitation), these are a later addition to the Pitti schedule and remain something of a sideshow in relation to the main event. 

A more accurate comparison then would be Paris’s own trade fairs, such as MAN, Who’s Next, and Tranoi: hugely important events in the international fashion calendar.

Indeed, at the close of Pitti Uomo, many buyers and exhibitors move on to the menswear shows in Milan at the weekend, and then go straight to Paris for the round of showroom exhibitions there the following week. 

However, don’t expect to see much in the way of innovative street style from the Paris trade shows. Or indeed any media coverage of them at all outside of the dedicated “rag industry” press.

In this respect Pitti is truly unique. 

Why is that?

It’s likely that a number of factors have contributed to Pitti becoming the colorful #menswear carnival it is now. 

Photos from Pitti are invariably billed by the international press as “Italian street style” – ignoring the fact that over a third of visitors to the event actually come from elsewhere.

Indeed, the dandies strutting around the Fortezza may just as easily originate from Nigeria, the United States, Norway, South Korea – or in fact pretty much anywhere. 

Nonetheless, the habit of milling around in piazzas looking “effortlessly” good is arguably a uniquely Italian cultural trait. What’s more, the venue for Pitti is a former fort offering wide open spaces and a backdrop of ancient ramparts mixed with the clean lines of contemporary architecture: all decidedly ‘grammable’. Thus it’s perhaps unsurprising that this casual peacockery took off at Pitti rather than, say, in the rather less glamorous setting of a dreary south Paris conference center.

When Is “the Street” Not the Street?

Undoubtedly a minority of Pitti-goers are just posers, attention-seekers, and even narcissists with no legitimate professional reason to attend the event. Yet the bulk of eccentrically-dressed Pitti visitors are there for business: promoting their own products, or because they are being paid to promote those of others. 

Many of us may sneer at these “brand ambassadors” for unashamedly selling their souls to corporate capital. And we might not even consider their outfits to be in particularly good taste either. Nonetheless, their weight as “influencers” is undeniable.  

Of course, quite how effective this tactic proves in generating sales for the brands sponsoring them is anybody’s guess.

But by being transmitted across the globe to a receptive audience of menswear enthusiasts, the looks sported by Pitti’s peacocks will prove to be massively influential within men’s fashion over the coming months – perhaps even years. 

Visitors Arriving at Pitti Uomo 94
Visitors to Pitti 95 in January 2019

Not every man will want to don a canary yellow suit with fuchsia pocket square purely because they’ve seen it on Instagram. But if it’s a look that was paraded around Pitti, rest assured that somebody somewhere will emulate it eventually.

Thus the Pitti runways that matter today are not those located in exclusive Renaissance villas around Florence, featuring professional models draped in the creations of officially-invited international designers.

Instead, the real trendsetting action takes place on a para-runway out on the piazza at the Fortezza. One that is arguably no less staged and choreographed than the big budget events, but which derives its superior power as a marketing tool from the apparent credibility of the street. 

At Pitti it’s the influencers and posers who hold the greatest sway.

But just as in any context where the concentration of power has rapidly changed hands, you can be sure that somebody will have identified an opportunity to play the game for profit. 

With all eyes on Pitti, the event presents a potentially lucrative marketing opportunity. For sure, most of those visiting Pitti are just regular people who work in the industry and enjoy clothing as a form of creative expression. But without wishing to sound like a paranoid conspiracy theorist, in some cases Pitti “street style” is less a genuine and spontaneous indicator of ground-level trends, and more an orchestrated attempt by certain business interests to pull the fashion industry’s strings back in their own direction.

And you, what’s your take on Influence Marketing and on how it impacts the modeling and photography industries? Share your thoughts in comment :).

J. Bramaan

Extraordinary Models: meet Aimee Mullins

Propelled into the top 50 most beautiful women in the world by People magazine in 2000, Aimee Mullins is both a great athlete and an exceptional model. Aimee deserves her beauty title, because not only she is gorgeous, but also because her brave heart has led her to overcome many difficulties.

A modern fairy tale…?

She was born in 1975 with a leg problem. Amputee below the knee at the age of one year, she grew up accepting her difference and sublimating it.

Although she comes from a working-class environment, her tenacity gave her access to the most prestigious studies.

To pay for her studies, she took small jobs like delivering newspapers and door-to-door sales. A father was Irish, a mason, and her mother was a saleswoman who almost became a nun.

This is actually not a fairy tale. Others would have quickly given up the idea of a prestigious life, but her parents taught her how to be resilient in the gloomy setting of Pennsylvania, against a backdrop of factories in ruins.

She first attended Parkland High School in Allentown but often had to be absent in order to attend the hospital. She then studied at Georgetown University in Washington. Then, she got chosen for a scholarship for an internship from the Pentagon as part of a program for the Department of Defense. In exchange for her scholarship, she was obliged to work seven years for the state. After 2 years she gave this up because she got tired of hearing people complaining about their lives.


She then discovered athletics which she practiced at a high level. At first, she thought it was impossible.

« Running with one leg less requires 40% more oxygen and twice the energy. So, with two legs less … One kilometer for you, it’s four for me. » she says.

An athlete at the Paralympics of Atlanta…

She became the first amputee athlete to compete in the National Collegiate Athletic Association. She was at the 1996 Paralympic Games in Atlanta, and at just 19, she broke the world records in the 100-meter, 200-meter and long jump.
To her, her success is part of the American dream :

« This is America, she says. If a little girl with an amputated leg has a dream, she finds people who help her fullfil it ».

This is no less than an American success story. People can’t get enough of her and she begins to appear on the covers of magazines. She is invited to conferences of movers and shakers. She promoted the Women’s Sports Foundation, of which she became president in 2007.  

Love-wise, she fell in love at the age of 15. And here again, Aimée Mullins’s makes light of her problems.

“When he realized … it was too late, he was already addicted. One of his friends had just told him: “It’s nice to go out with her,” he did not understand. I thought he knew.”

Aimee Mullins
Aimee Mullins

A fashion model and actress

The fashion designer Alexander McQueen noticed her and asked her to take part in his London show, wearing hand-carved ash prostheses. Immediately, the criticism began. The stylist was criticized for taking advantage of Aimée’s disability to promote his work.

He defended himself: “I just want to expand the idea of beauty”.

As for Aimee Mullins, she ironically quips: ” Pamela Anderson has more prosthetic in her body than I do.  »

Expanding the criteria of beauty…

Breaking the canons of classical beauty takes courage, not only for models but also for stylists and photographers. Aimee had the chance to meet generous and inventive creators. And for her, luck was not going to stop there.

In 2004, photographer Nick Knight chose her for the Pirelli calendar. A career in acting then opened up to her and she appeared in an episode of the series Hercule Poirot adapted from the novels of Agatha Christie. Subsequently, Oliver Stone insists on getting her on the cast of his film World Trade Center as a journalist.

On the cinema side, she was also a member of some festival juries, such as the Kars Festival in 2008 and the Taormina Film Festival in 2009.

At the end of 2010, Aimee Mullins sealed a partnership with the L’Oréal Foundation to “defend another vision of beauty and rethink canons of beauty in an era of robotics and bionics”.

And she takes this relationship with L’Oréal seriously:

«The ‘Because I’m worth it’ tag line means a lot to me,” Mullins says. “Beauty is not skin deep; it can be a means of self-affirmation, a true indicator of personality and confidence »

Aimee Mullins for L'Oréal
Aimee Mullins for L’Oréal

Now, the public has come to know this new muse who has 12 pairs of prosthetic legs and can go from 1m72 to 1m85 according to her whims or the requirements of a fashion show.

When we talk about her we often mention her leg bag that she never leaves. She does not take offense and has learned to speak without embarrassment of the hybridization of her body with technologies.

Matthew Barney in his film Cremaster has created a hybrid character that she marvelously embodies with glass legs. She can also be seen in the Netflix production and hit series Stranger Things.

She now participates in scientific symposiums on hybridization and sees herself as a kind of prototype:
«People who were earlier seen as disabled can become architects of their own identity».

However, Aimee Mullins concludes her interview about the future of hybridization by this prophetic formula:

« Everything can be replaced, except for the soul».

But as always with Aimee Mullins, the humor comes after the depth. Never dramatize. Her dream?

«Rocket prostheses to fly or levitate. That would be great. I often dream of riding legs that run on their own».

This supermodel never ceases to amaze us …

The Women’s Museum recognizes Aimee Mullins as one of the greatest female figures of the 20th century, and in 2017 she became one of the youngest women in the National Women’s Hall of Fame.

Thierry AZZOPARDI

Patrick Demarchelier, a timeless imagery…


“Get me Demarchelier!” …

It is Miranda Priestly, aka Meryl Streep, who asks for Demarchelier in the movie The Devil Wears Prada. No mistake, Patrick Demarchelier is in fashion what Romanée Conti is in Burgundy. Un Grand Cru. The best of the best, a master. He was Princess Diana’s personal photographer for years, thus becoming the first Non-British photographer who snaps the Royal family. Today he is considered as one of the most influential and best paid photographers of the fashion world.

Pirelli Calendar by Demarchelier
Pirelli Calendar by Demarchelier

Demarchelier photographed the All-Paris, the Hollywood planet, the crowned heads … in short, the dream of every photographer was incarnated in him. Major brands such as Calvin Klein, Chanel, Versace appealed to him … But who is Patrick Demarchelier? What are the secrets of his shots?

Demarchelier… Anna Wintour and Grace Coddington…

Demarchelier has worked with Vogue since 1974, when he moved to New York. At the time, working for American Vogue was a baptism. He has credited Grace Coddington, one of the most influential women in the fashion world, for launching his career as his journey at Vogue began under her guidance. His cover of the first Vogue China revived his career in the Middle Kingdom. In 2013, he authored an important photograph of the Dior Couture album covering the MOCA museum in Shanghai for the “Esprit Dior” exhibition.

Between the Pirelli calendar, the Elton John and Madonna album covers, exhibitions, his friendship with Anna Wintour style icon, James Bond posters and the Lucie Award, Demarchelier is omnipresent in the world of fashion.

Pirelli Calendar

Fashion photographer at only 20 years old

The photographer was born in Le Havre, Normandy, in 1943. He was offered his first camera at age 17 and began photographing weddings. It is after having assisted the photographer Hand Feurer that he became a fashion photographer. His first photos appeared in magazines Elle and Marie Claire in the early 1970s.

He had an untrammeled career and his success knows no bounds.

Demarchelier displays the “French touch”, he owes his success to a perfect classicism: the clean lines of his models give his shots the ideal of rational perfection.

There is very little madness in Demarchelier’s photography.

The picture is studied: the perspectives are erased, even non-existent. What really matters is the model. Almost without staging. In fact, the only staging resides in the look of the model. His models say a lot just by expression.

Demarchelier is not a photographer who breaks the codes, hence his timeless success. Apart from some “Newtonian” shots, his photographs do not convey any message. They are deprived of any social or political considerations.

The ideology of Demarchelier is to emphasize personality.

And Princess Diana had understood very well that Demarchelier knew how to capture spontaneity, that he was going to understand her. Nothing is fixed in Demarchelier’s photographs, and yet the model is not in motion. The chosen moment simply reveals a state of mind. As a psychologist, the photographer is the heir of the French masters of painting and sculpture. Rodin to start. And the French portraitists. Cezanne, Bonnard, Degas … like these painters, he loves the female nude and gives his models an authenticity that is both simple and remarkable.

Fashion Museum

If the images of Demarchelier are works of art, they surely deserve their place in a museum. An exhibition was dedicated to him from September 27, 2008, to January 4, 2009, at the Petit Palais, where more than 400 of his photographs were exhibited.

It goes without saying that the artist has entered the history of fashion. His work, which has not given way to glitz and glamour, is part of the history of photography, above all because of the sobriety of its scenography.

His major works remain his book of photos, Dior Couture, published by Rizzoli. To compose this book, the artist has taken 150 outfits from the history of the fashion house throughout the world. Seventy-two models and one hundred and fifty models selected from the archives of the house embarked on a blockbuster: from Beijing film studios to the Rodin Museum, Times Square – with models in Plexiglas boxes, like giant dolls – to Opera Garnier.

Portrait of Patrick Demarchelier

And you, tell us about your favorite master piece from Demarchelier in comment!

Thierry Azzopardi