I’m sitting on my hotel bed in Italy, away on another work (alas, a shopping habit demands a day job) trip, and am due to submit another blog on vintage fashion. As most of my source material, my clothes (my precious clothes!) and my books (my precious books!) are back in probably-not-sunny Brixton, I decided when in Rome (Milan, actually), do as the Romans do, and so have decided to write about the influence of Italian style and fashion, and how it translates into contemporary looks, and guides style into the mainstream.
We all know that the big four fashion weeks held across the globe takes place in Paris, London, New York and Milan. Paris, with its focus on haute couture is for aesthetes; London Fashion Week, founded in 1984, has never shaken off its punk ethos and is for the edgy avant garde; New York, with a few exceptions (oh hai, Jeremy Scott and Anna Sui) is for boring people; and Milan is characterised on the one hand by its immaculately crafted, fiercely streamlined classic designs, led by fashion labels such as Fendi, Armani, MaxMara and Prada. It then counters this with fashion that oozes sheer, sensual, OTT opulence, more visible in the designs of Roberto Cavalli, Dolce & Gabbana, and of course, Versace. Straddling both of these aesthetics, is good ol’ Gucci.
The latter category I am particularly a fan of. Sumptuous fabrics, dazzling detail, and prints that equal pure sensory overload that demands that the wearer be noticed!
Another thing that I love about Italian fashion is it’s embrace of womanliness – not femininity per se, but sensuality, beauty and sexuality. A voluptuous bosom, or bountiful bottom should be celebrated, rather than concealed. When we consider Italian beauty icons, we think of Sophia Loren, and her eye-popping hourglass figure in ‘The Millionairess’; or Anita Ekberg, dancing in the Trevi Fountain, wearing a dress that transcended both modesty and gravity in the most famous scene in the Fellini classic, La Dolce Vita. Neither woman looked like the kind of person to spend two hours poking her gnocchi around on a plate before declaring herself full, and Loren herself famously said “Everything you see, I owe to spaghetti.”
Left: Sofia Loren in ‘The Millionairess’
Italian women don’t just age gracefully, they embrace their maturity, and age in power. Take Isabella Rosselini (pictured in one of the darkest comedies ‘Death Becomes Her’, about fighting age, rather than letting experience empower you. If you haven’t watched it, do. )
Left: Isabella Rosselini, 'Death Becomes her'
Yes, I realise she is much younger photographed here, dripping in jewels, but that costume is iconic and I will use whatever excuse I can to post it whenever I can; and anyway Ms Rossellini still looks as beautiful today. The indescribably beautiful Monica Belucci (swoon), who sent a lot of man-babies off into conniptions when cast as Lucia Sciarra in Spectre in 2015, since the idea of Bond sleeping with a woman his own age was anathema to them, outshone and outsexed every starlet that had succumbed to 007’s hackneyed chat up lines that came before her.
Left: Monica Belucci as Lucia Sciarra in ‘Spectre’, busy upstaging the corpse at a funeral.
Italian design and powerful women go hand in hand. Victoria Beckham recently re-wore a blue and green ‘05 Cavalli gown in this deliriously funny video made for British Vogue. Dolce & Gabbana have long collaborated with the Queen of pop herself, Her Madge. Gianni Versace’s primary muse throughout his life was his sister Donatella, who now heads the Versace fashion empire; Princess Diana wore his designs, and although he didn’t literally give birth to the original ‘90s Supermodels he may as well have.
If you want your style, fierce, fiery and formidable, look to Italy, my friends.
My top 5 tips for emulating the Italian look (and SO easy to find in vintage and charity shops!):
‘Scarf’ prints – whether equestrian horse bits, nautical ropes, or baroque gold emblems, go bold. Animal print also fits in here - tiger or zebra are acceptable, but leopard print is The One – it will never go out of fashion, and it is also a neutral so can be worn with everything. I intend to be buried in it.
Leather – head to toe, some people find this a bit ‘much’ (although pragmatists amongst us recognise the value of wipe-clean garments that arouse more than passing interest). A classic handbag with gold accents, or a leather shoulder strap with a buckle instead of fabric can go a long way to show that you are fierce, fearless and that you mean business.
Sumptuous fabrics - Velvet – make it red, wear with black lace. Or brocade, embroidery layered over silks and satins. Decadence is key. MORE. IS. MORE.
Iconography – think Renaissance, The Vatican, Met Gala 2018, and those amazing D&G Virgin Mary print dresses. Perhaps a discreet cross necklace or print to avoid looking too contrived.
Costume jewellery – big stones, lots of gold.
Lil' ol me, practising what I preach, with a leopard print and leather handbag (£6.50 on depop!) and embroidered kimono jacket in the gorgeous surroundings of Teatro alla Scalla, Milan.
Embrace your inner Italian icon, and you won’t need to travel all the way to Venice to go to the (masked) ball.