The Italian Almanac

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Sex and Religion at Pitti Uomo

A cloud of controversy over the use of sexual and religious images in advertising dusted up Italy's most important men's fashion trade fair in Florence. Pitti Uomo is known for glamorous clothing and VIP-studded parties, but this edition of the bi-annual fair will be remembered more for calling exhibitors to the carpet than for its red carpet events, thanks to provocative sexual and religious imagery.

In a country where scantily clad women and come-hither poses are staples of advertising and prime-time television, advertising photographer Oliviero Toscani managed to whip up outrage over the sexual content of his latest promotional campaign: a calendar featuring 12 female genitals for a consortium of leather tanners called Consorzio Vera Pelle Conciata al Vegetale (Consortium for Genuine Vegetable Tanned Leather).

Meanwhile, religious imagery at Pitti Uomo angered Tuscany's regional president Enrico Rossi, who declared its use "offensive toward Christians and bad taste." He demanded to know, "What utility do companies find in this continuous search for transgression?"

Fashion maker and exhibitor Maison Cantarelli put up a stand that looks like a church interior, complete with altar, confessional, benches, and even a fake priest. Over the altar hangs a painting of a crucified man in a tailored wool suit. The wool textile depicted is the same used for the religious garment of the fake priest.

Also under fire was an advertising hoarding for Bologna textile king Carlo Chionna featuring a man on a cross and reading, "Forgive them for they know not what they wear." "If this is the way to promote Italian style and fashion, it means that 'Made In Italy' creativity is dead," declared the president of Pubblicita' Progresso, a non-profit organization for social advertising, Alberto Contri.

A spokesman for the fair's organizer, Pitti Immagine, responded to criticisms of both the sexual and religious imagery at Pitti Uomo. "Pitti Immagine is not responsible for the communication initiatives that single exhibitors carry out for their own stand or for advertising posters or for events that other organize in the city on the occasion of the Pitti Uomo fair," said Lapo Cianchi, director of communications for Pitti Immagine. He added, "the Florentine city commission's request in recent days for the withdrawal of the calendar presentation was frankly out of proportion."