Tuesday, November 18, 2008
I had a request the other day to write about the Italian menswear tradition, which is difficult for me to do. For there are a number of important threads of Italian influence in the well dressed man of the world's clothing but I don't think of them as forming a tradition in the sense that the passeggiata on the piazza is a tradition. But I do have a few observations about the difference between British and Italian style.
First and foremost, Italian style is about dressing to look good. Turning the ladies' heads is part of the game. This is radically different from British style, which has historically been about dressing to fit in. At its best, Italian style borrows tradition from the British and makes it look more attractive.
Often that look is softer and lighter as well, for the Italians are the masters at making lightweight suits that remain relatively unrumpled in the warmest weather. They may have been driven to learn by their warmer climate, and it may have been the British who taught the tailors of Naples how to cut cloth in the 19th century, but in this area the pupils have surpassed the masters. And Carlo Barbera in particular has built upon this advantage by pioneering the weaving of lightweight worsteds for Brioni and others, though I've never been convinced of the usefulness of that stuff.
In my experience, most of the best respected Italian tailors sew Italian-influenced British designs using British cloth. The differences are at the margin and in the combinations. Italian style is a bit more shaped, a little more casual and easy going, and often slightly more colorful.
If British style is a pinstriped suit worn with black oxfords, a shirt with turnback cuffs and a polka dot silk necktie, then Italian style is a two piece double breasted, worn with dark brown shoes, a shirt with button cuffs and a cashmere necktie. Both styles use the white linen pocket square for business dress, but the Britisher's is neatly folded while the Italian's is arranged in his pocket.
Then again, consider Italian style icon Luca di Montezemolo in the photograph. Maybe there's not that much difference after all. Aside from the leather bracelets.