You could scarcely call it gender-neutral: more elaborations on body coverings that included a stuffed naked body (maybe female) over the shoulders of a male model in colourful clothing by Polimoda student Manuel Calabrese.

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Or, also at Florence’s fashion school show, there was a delicately created outfit made of padded bedclothes, worn by a model carrying a single flower like a male bridesmaid, by designer Mirea Papotto.

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The gender boundary-defying clothes and presentations that dominated the school, now stretching its tentacles into new areas in the city, caught well the feeling of fashion 2020. It also underscored one of the themes of the Pitti Immagine Uomo fair in Florence that has as many layers as the students displayed in fabric choices.

Yet gender fluidity was not the only story that came out of the Florentine event celebrating its 30 years in fashion. Ethically conscious fabrics and the ways they’re processed to make clothes is a subject that has been taken up across Italy and since the country is the world’s most powerful supplier to high-end international designers, Italy is taking a lead that marks a change in current attitudes.

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The thought-provoking ideas now absorbed in fashion have been encouraged and supported by Pitti Immagine, a predominantly menswear-focused trade show, which has areas dedicated to evolutions in both physical materials and current attitudes. Yet it was the exhibition at Palazzo Pitti’s Museum of Fashion and Costume which showed the emerging changes most clearly. “A Short Novel on Men’s Fashion” by celebrated French curator Olivier Saillard is open until 29 September.

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Fascinating as some individual displays were – the quirky elegance of Nino Cerruti followed by the modernist tailoring of the incomparable Giorgio Armani – the show seemed to offer an outsider’s perspective. Although cut was key to men’s fashion over the last half century, Italy has offered so much more depth. I would have liked to see not only the shift to sportswear but also exploration of the materials of men’s wardrobes which have become ever lighter in weight and, more recently, made use of fabric innovations.

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Take Marco de Vincenzo and his first move into menswear that took place in a garden glasshouse on a sloping hill above Florence. He brought his maximalist attitude and affinity for complex fabrics, for which he is known with his womenswear which also played a minor part in the show. The menswear offering was streamlined – say, a knitted summer top or a suit in an ultra-light material with faintly gilded stripes. small pot of greenery in the hand underlined a man’s softer side, as did loose trousers cut to the mid-calf with a top in broken vertical stripes. Giving a gentle touch of masculinity seemed the right way for this designer to go.

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ZZegna emphasised its commitment to a sustainable world and an ethical lifestyle with a focus on upcycled materials – all expressing the vision of designer Alessandro Sartori. He defined it as a “conscious lifestyle”, describing the collection as “materials crafted from upcycled and recyclable fibres, [using] water-friendly treatments as washing processes” and “a mindful approach to cutting edge, urban sophistication”. Raeburn is working harder than ever to make sustainability in fashion part of daily life. A pioneer in the world of recycling and re-using, the designer has made it normal practice to use existing materials for both men’s and women’s clothing.

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Meanwhile, Sease, a new scion of the Loro Piana fabric family, is making progress with sustainability to match the speed on water that the founder’s grandson Franco Loro Piana so loves.

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“What we really stand for is a passion for sailing and for this collection it can be felt in all the categories – activewear with natural fabrics,” he said. “We have linen, hemp, technical four-way stretch, a swimming suit that is also shorts, so it is very versatile. And we keep combining technology with nature.” in depth about technology, while displaying apparently simple clothes like colourful shirts, the designer and force behind the Sease brand talks about hemp as key to a modern, sustainable wardrobe.

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“Hemp – cannabis – is the best natural fibre in the world because it’s sustainable, using half of the water compared to cotton. It doesn’t use any pesticide chemicals to grow. It’s very strong, durable, has anti-UV properties, it’s thermo-regulating so you can use it in the winter or in the summer. It looks like linen but it’s very tough and you can wear it for 20 years and it will never break!”