Lee Oliveira on what really goes on at Pitti Uomo

Our chat with the street style photographer.

If you know a thing or two about fashion, you’re probably familiar with Florence’s Pitti Uomo.

Leading street style photographer, Lee Oliveira, is a fixture at the biannual event, scouting the best looks for New York Times Fashion & Style.

Before heading off to this year’s Pitti Uomo, Lee gave us some insight into the Italian trade show and what it’s like on the other side of the lens.

I recently saw you at MBFWA taking street style photos. You had this really calculated look on your face as you scanned the area for your next shot. What do you look for when taking a picture?

There’s a number of things that catch my eye, [usually] something that I haven’t seen before. It’s all about the way one puts their total look together. The smallest details can make a big difference.

I almost want the subject to think I’m actually not there, as this captures someone in their most natural state.

To most people, Pitti Uomo just seems like an event that sees people dress up in fancy suits and peacock around. What actually goes on there?

I often get asked this question from friends that don’t work in the same industry as I do. To sum it up, it’s a biannual menswear trade show. What makes it different to others is the sheer size of the event.

It draws many people from different walks of life within the fashion industry – editors, fashion enthusiasts, retailers and buyers. Brands get to show their next collections to a large group of people all at the one time. It’s also a great way to connect and network with like-minded people. 

Yes, a little peacocking goes on. However, on the whole, most people are there for other reasons.

Who’s the most interesting character you have seen at Pitti Uomo?

I can’t pinpoint a certain character or person, however, I’ve definitely seen some interesting looks. A few may try too hard, thinking they need to somehow fit in.

I’d imagine you’ve had some awkward encounters when shooting street style. What do you do when someone asks you for a picture?

Oh wow, yes, this has happened. I generally just change the subject.

I always wonder why someone would think I would be their personal photographer. An [Instagram] link is not a drawcard and doesn’t pay the bills, unfortunately.

What’s one piece of clothing you’ll never throw out?

My adidas track pants are always a staple in my wardrobe.

You recently walked for Dolce & Gabbana, what was that experience like?

That was something very different to what I do. I don’t regularly put my face on social media. I didn’t think it would be such a big deal for me, however, there was much more media coverage out of it than I was expecting. It was a very smart idea for the brand to align itself with social media influencers and use not just models on the runway.

What do you consider to be your greatest achievement?

People may not call this an achievement, but probably my greatest personal achievement was being able to spot the saturation of street style photographers [before it happened]. 

There was far more money to be made from street style images in the past. I’ve been doing this for a number of years, from when there were only a few photographers who shot street style. Now it’s totally saturated. 

Having said that, street imagery is still extremely popular and a lot of website traffic [comes from] street style. I spotted this saturation early and transitioned into styling and brand consultancy. Along with photography, I also work on styling for individuals and brands.

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