Why Are Fashion’s It Girls All Suddenly Dressing Like Italian Men?
Is "sprezzatura" poised to overtake "je ne sais quois"?
These days, turning on the news or scrolling through Twitter comes at a price—it feels as if everything we hold dear is under attack. There’s a war on equality, on feminism, on science, on facts, on sanity. In response to this barrage of daily torments, designers the world over are seeking an escape from reality, choosing instead to embrace fantasy and pure, unabashed joy.
This desire for escapism led to a Spring 2018 fashion season full of optimism and high energy, with labels from Céline to Louis Vuitton to Sacai chiming in with expressions of exuberance. According to Women’s Wear Daily, Phoebe Philo’s key words for her Céline collection included “joyful,” “playful” and “exploration.” And Michael Kors, speaking about his collection, told Vogue UK: “I think the world is a bit mixed up.… We all crave that sense of optimism, and fashion can lift your spirits.” This new-found yen for buoyancy doesn’t seem to be relegated to the runways. Even French chic—that perennially coveted emblem of minimalist cool—seems to be losing its cultural grip, replaced by a new, more carefree aesthetic: the blithe nonchalance of Italian men.
There’s an ebullience, openness and unguarded air to Italian men’s sartorial sensibilities that is completely at odds with French style—a carefully concocted cocktail in which aloofness is the first ingredient. But Italians… No, to be aloof is not in their nature. They aren’t afraid of a touch of flamboyance to go with their dandy classicism. They pair their cropped suits with anything from worn-in tees to wildly printed shirts. They employ old-school details like pocket squares and handkerchiefs. They forgo socks and embrace colour. They might even rock a fanny pack.
“Master of cuffed trousers, the sockless loafer and the three-piece suit, the Italian man was born with immaculate taste,” wrote Alice Bell on Vogue.com last fall. “He is loyal to local heritage brands, favouring the classic silhouettes and leather goods of Gucci, Salvatore Ferragamo and Prada, yet he is also a fashion risk taker. Never one to shy away from colour, he rides the cobblestoned streets of Milan or Rome on his bicycle, clad in pink pants or a paisley-printed button-down.”
Is it any surprise, then, that this aesthetic, bursting with charm and joie de vivre (is there an equivalent Italian phrase?), is resonating with women around the world in search of joy? Rising affection for the pantsuit, too, has a role to play in the adoration this aesthetic has been receiving of late.
“The men of Milan—the ones going about their days, who didn’t necessarily have anything to do with women’s fashion week, who didn’t get shot by street style photographers—dress beautifully,” observed Man Repeller’s Amelia Diamond while in the city last fall. “There was so much attention to detail: the way the arm of a pair of reading glasses hung over a pocket, the fold of a scarf.”
This care for the little things is something that the Italians are known—and celebrated—for. “The Italian aesthetic can be summed up with the word ‘sprezzatura,’ which roughly translates to ‘effortless elegance,’” says photographer Adam Katz Sinding, prolific on Instagram as Le 21ème. “The Milanese man, in his carefully tailored suit, cannot be separated with words from the man next to him. However, there is just a certain…I don’t know…extra element in the attention to detail without looking forced or contrived. To me, this is the Italian style.”
So how does one go about nailing this newly beloved aesthetic? According to Sabrina Firman, founder of Milan-based brand consultancy agency The Firman, the three essentials are “chunky corduroy pants, a pair of sunglasses and a high-tech street-ready overcoat.” I’d throw a few more into the mix: pastels, as seen at Alberta Ferretti; relaxed (but never sloppy) tailoring, which a certain Giorgio Armani does oh so well; and statement accessories (take your cues from Tod’s, where silk neckties and fringed moccasins turned every ensemble into peak Italian cool).
So what are you waiting for? Channel the carefree insouciance of these dapper gentlemen. Set aside those très chic minimalist separates and embrace cheery hues instead, put on a slouchy cropped suit with wingtip brogues and always have a killer pair of sunglasses at the ready.