Decoding Secret Florence – The New York Times

Florence is accustomed to invaders. The French, the Spanish, the Austrians, the British on the Grand Tour and the international tourist hordes in their cargo shorts and Crocs have flowed over this city in waves and yet somehow left its character and soul largely untouched.

So it is perhaps unsurprising that when an influx of nearly 30,000 visitors arrives each June for Pitti Uomo, the world’s largest men’s wear trade fair, locals react with a collective shrug.

Those buyers and sellers from 50 countries are in town to trawl the stalls of the more than 1,200 exhibitors in the historic Fortezza da Basso for the hottest, finest and latest in men’s wear. The savviest among them also know to look for finds outside the exhibition halls. That’s because in Florence, unusual in an age of point-and-click shopping, the pleasures of brick-and-mortar are alive and well.

Ask Cristiano Magni, a public relations executive in New York who represents popular Pitti Uomo labels like Pantaloni Torino and L.B.M. 1911. On arriving in Florence, Mr. Magni said, he drops his bag at a hotel and sprints to a tiny unnamed shop operated by Domenico Di Mascolo and Paola Pruscini, master barbers who practice their craft in a two-chair shop at the heart of the city. Tidied up and refreshed by a traditional hot-towel shave, he makes his way to Giusto Bespoke, a shop where Luca Giusto makes fine custom shirts in a style the tailor characterizes as a fusion of jaunty Neapolitan taste with the more conservative one of the Florentines.

“In Florence, often what is most extraordinary is the ordinary,’’ Mr. Magni said, referring to the proliferation of shops scattered throughout the city offering not just marbled paper and the artisanal wares for which Florence is justly renowned but also the notions, trimmings, fabric and housewares that have all but vanished in many major Italian cities.

Wealth has always concentrated in this birthplace of both modern capitalism and the Italian Renaissance, and Pitti Uomo substantially bolsters the coffers in the city, generating nearly $300 million for the local economy over just four days last year, according to a study by Bocconi University in Milan. Yet despite the seasonal migration of large flocks of moneyed peacocks to the city, Florence holds true to its conservative character, shunning most forms of ostentatious display.

“The city is quite subtle and tends to keep itself hidden,’’ said Simon Crompton, a men’s wear blogger and the author of “The Sartorial Travel Guide.’’ And this may account for the serendipitous pleasures to be found in wandering the winding streets of the ancient city.

As visitors eventually learn to do, Florentines create mental maps for themselves of shops that are scattered throughout the mazelike center city, places that hew to artisanal traditions or stock products seldom found in any other place.

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