Florence, Italy — Pitti Uomo, the most prominent menswear event in the world, is an arena where peacocks fly, as they say. Men in striking fashions, who strut their stuff, fan about, waiting to get their picture taken.
Emil Levin. Photo: Courtesy of PR.
On the penultimate day, emerging from the crowd on a motorized wheelchair, dressed in dandy made-to-measure, was perhaps the most striking bird of all.
His name is Emil Levin, a 24-year-old Swede with a spinal muscular atrophy called SMA2, and his presence bore a prophetic message that gave us a sign that the influencer world might, finally, be headed in the right direction. It certainly made many of us reflect on our own purpose as followers of the fashion world.
“I do this work because it gives hope to a lot of people, and I love fashion,” Levin told NOWFASHION. “They all write to me and say I help them. I don’t know how I do it, but I do. And if I help just one person, that’s really enough for me,” he added, noting he decided to become an influencer after being ignored at a restaurant whilst wearing a t-shirt. “The manager turned to my friend so my friend could speak on my behalf. I went back later wearing a suit and tie, and the same restaurant manager said ‘hello sir’ and treated me entirely different. That is when I realised the power of style,” Levin said.
In the middle of the hot Pitti fashion frenzy, Levin still managed to look distinguished in a three-piece Lanificio F.lli Cerruti 1881 suit made with the firm’s iTRAVEL fabric, a pure wool textile that is made with anti-crease and water-resistant fabrics. Visibly taxed, he commented that SMA2, in addition to relegating him to a sitting position, affects his muscles and his lungs.
The former International Relations major started his Instagram page in 2016 and even though he has under 5,000 followers, @mrLevino has garnered a global reach. Cerruti’s global communications manager Simone Ubertino Rosso stumbled upon his page that reads “Being born with SMA2 won’t stop me. Follow me on my journey filled with style.” Moved by his message, Ubertino Rosso reached out to Levin and asked him to participate in the family-run mill’s “Six for Six” campaign that was unveiled at Pitti Uomo on Wednesday. The project united inspiring travellers from different sectors to highlight how fine tailoring has adapted to a jetset lifestyle.
“I am sure that Emil does this work for passion,” Ubertino Rosso said.
Fuelled by advertising money and a penchant for fresh fashion, and, in many cases, vanity, the influencer business is thriving. But the fashion industry at large has slowly embraced “diversity” with top fashion houses unfurling ad campaigns that break racial and gender barriers and promote difference.
According to Launchmetrics, a fashion marketing and data analytics firm, about 10 percent of social media influencers earned $100,000 or more a year in 2018 versus just 3.7 percent in 2017.
Levin, who is also the co-founder of a watch company called Helvin, says he is driven by the messages he receives from people like himself, who are inspired by his work and encouraged not to let their physical limitations stop them from achieving their dreams.
“I really think he found his way to express himself. To be more confident, to love himself. It goes beyond the work of any influencer,” Ubertino Rosso added.
“If there is one thing that is important in life, it is to do your best,” Levin said, commenting that when he was a child, he first wanted to be a shark and then an astronaut. “My main message is not let circumstances or anyone stop you. If I help one person, that’s enough for me.”