The bella figura in 10 essential pieces
Italians dress immaculately, whatever the occasion and they love their labels. Here are 10 classic Italian pieces of clothing – inspired by the everyday uniform of its people
They don’t do elaborate headgear at weddings and “fascinator” is an alien word. La bella figura or the art of self presentation – public performance – is hardwired into Italians, who are accustomed to beauty whether it’s fashion, food or architecture.
“Italians are not into grunge or quirky,” according to Sonnet Stanfill, who curated the recent exhibition on Italian fashion at the V & A in London.
You can see why. Conditioning starts in the cradle. Italians love to dress their children and spend more than anybody else on them “and if they get dirty they change their clothes immediately,” remarks Aisling Farinella, a Dublin-based fashion stylist of Sicilian origin.
“You notice the investment in dress in cities like Milan, Rome and Florence in everything from sunglasses to coats, shoes and handbags. There’s an appreciation of design and quality.
Even the uniforms worn by police, soldiers and street sweepers are more stylish than in other countries.
Italians seem to pay attention to details and place great importance on them, choosing the right colours, the telling accessories, the freshly-pressed, crisp shirts. Peacock males with their sweaters flung casually around their shoulders have suit jackets – if they wear them – that are soft rather than structured. Even octogenarian women never let down the overall look and tend to be shod in fashionable shoes.
And do they love their labels! They are proud of their artisans and their great designers – Prada, Dolce & Gabbana, Marni, Gucci and Valentino. They dress up for special events even if it’s only for Sundays, so standards are high.
Whatever the occasion, la bella figura is about creating a good impression, about pride in appearance and the skill lies in making it look so effortless.
1 BODY WARMER Come October and they’re spotted all over Italian cities. An endlessly copied Italian favourite. Black quilted gilet, €225, MaxMara Weekend at Brown Thomas.
2 SUNGLASSES They never leave home without them. €265, Dolce & Gabbana at Brown Thomas.
3 THE RED DRESS Italians have a deep appreciation of colour and know how to use it well. They also know about cut and fit and though this dress is simple, they will know how to lift its plain colour with standout accessories like bold costume jewellery or very high heels. This one is by Love Moschino, €245 at Arnotts.
4 THE WINTER COAT When they’re not wearing fur – as they do – a neatly updated classic winter coat like this from MaxMara Studio from Brown Thomas, €520, is an affordable alternative.
5 TRENDS, ON THEIR TERMS This is leopard print their way, and the perfect punctuation point to a plain ensemble. Silk scarf by Ferragamo, €308 at farfetch.com.
6 THE WHITE SHIRT always worn freshly pressed and crisp and never worn too tight and only subtly unbuttoned. This one in poplin with little heart buttons is by Love Moschino at Arnotts, €190.
7 CLEVER USE OF PRINT Italians know how to show off print without going over the top; this flattering dress with a demure black bodice has an animal print jacquard skirt, by Studio MaxMara at Brown Thomas, €330.
8 LEATHER BAG Italians know their leather and love quality. This black croc tote by Coccinelle is €415 at Arnotts.
9 WELL CUT JEANS They don’t do distressed, torn or baggy jeans and Armani knows how to cut a clean, sporty pair. €190 from Brown Thomas.
10 CLASSIC LOAFER Italians are masters of nonchalant, studied carelessness – it’s called sprezzatura and the classic Tods shoe (that founded an empire) is all about looking casual but stylish at weekends. Flip flops are a no-no. Tods loafer at Brown Thomas, €330