Conclusions (sort of) from a part-time foreign correspondant

Well, I promised a conclusion to my thorough exploration – and here I am (finally) delivering. However, it isn’t a cut & dried affair. That’ll probably come as a shock (after all, I’m never one to use too many words) but I have felt conflicted ever since I started concentrating on this subject matter. Possibly as a result of writing about the national style of a country which seems to be a mass of contradictions. Anyway, you’ll have to wait, read on and indulge me for a few more paragraphs – after all, I’ve got to clear up a remaining point so that I can officially call my analysis ‘incisive’.

The issue: fur. I can’t avoid it – much as I’ve tried. Italians like luxury and some pretty standard, and affordable, clothing items (coats, for instance) are often trimmed with real fur. In Italy fur is less of an issue. At all – I’ll generalise here (again – but, hey, I’m not paid by the BBC) and say that many people aren’t even that keen on the idea of pets. Animals have purposes – they are eaten (every part, please), worked (horses, hunting and herding dogs), paraded (yes, the trend for little dogs has reached their shores) or skinned. I mentioned the leather boutiques (that sounds so wrong somehow) and there are similar outlets selling fur. 
Fur is a the most contentious issue in fashion. I won’t be drawn into declaring my opinion (although I do love the way the girls from Abba wore it) and often prevaricate over the issue. All I can say is that, if you want fake fur, don’t bother looking. On a technical note (I am a garment industry geek, after all), I would say that extremely high calibre versions of fake fur available globally. They are cheaper, longer lasting and easier to work with. I really can’t understand why any manufacturer wouldn’t make more effort to use them. I wish that some of the real fur items I saw came in fake options. The cut, colour and range of styles is fabulous.
I did mention my qualms – basically, they amount to the fact that many breeders treat animals like battery chickens. The profit derived from them means that, increasingly, they have very short lives. On the other hand, many animals that are bred to produce the pelts used for the fur trade are not badly treated or in danger of extinction – and the ones that are in danger have pelts that could be emulated using dyeing or re-texturing processes. Really, though, how can you tell which type you’re getting? And is it just a little bit too shallow to wear fur unthinkingly?
Perhaps we should also consider the other side of the issue…while I’ve often heard the ‘leather’s just a by-product of the meat industry’ argument, it should be noted that the leather used for good quality shoes, belts and bags is not a result of humans’ carnivorous diets. Make no mistake: any buttery soft, colourful leather handbag will be made from the skins of specially bred livestock. Even a chamois leather is made from – God, this made me feel guilty when I first found out – the skin of the mountain antelopes. Another reason not to clean, me thinks.
Fashion wise, as real fur is rarely featured on a catwalk (designers don’t want to alienate potential buyers) – and because it is preposterously expensive – if you do buy the real thing it will usually stand the test of time: after all, luxury combined with quality always looks good. In a ‘just starting out on a career as a serial killer’-ish sort of way. For confirmation, Google Images Anna Wintour.  

So…in conclusion, what has Italy taught me? What can I say? Well, in short, Italy isn’t like a Fellini film. Italian women aren’t like Sophia Loren and Italian men are amazing: they render gaydar completely useless. Italy seems to be as conflicted as I am over its style identity: most garment industry goods manufactured and sold are expensive – but many look cheap when worn by its citizens. This might be as a result of some other identity crises: Italy happily sells itself on the ‘eternal city’ and ‘home of romance and culture’ schtick – then pollutes it with corruption, laughable leadership and motorini. Everyone you talk to seems to be increasingly angry about the bureaucracy and legal machinations – but no-one votes for a self-professed ‘clean’ political candidate as they’re perceived as un-worldly and incapable of coping with office.
Then, whilst Italy is home to the Vatican and almost 88% of the population declared themselves Roman Catholic in the last census, of this number, only a third called themselves ‘active’ worshippers. I wonder if that’s because – with all the amazingly titillating entertainment people, apparently, respond positively to daily – they’d be too ashamed to turn up for mass. Having said that, the last time I watched Italian news, I learnt all about an exhibition of satanic art being shown in Sardinia. The article was presented by a nun resident in the convent (yes, convent) which houses the ‘artefacts’. She went into the most amazing detail about the place of nuns in the rape narrative contained within many of the paintings and sketches. Nice. Actually, it was eye-wateringly horrific – and broadcast pre-watershed to raise awareness so that teachers and pupils would consider it as a school trip destination. If this TV news titbit had been available to the viewing public in the 1930s, I doubt we’d ever have seen The Sound Of Music.
On the other hand, I could be reading far too much into this and it could just be that many potential female worshippers feel that covering a great New Jersey style blow-dry in church goes against their innate spirituality. Who knows?  

I think, for someone like me who studied Art History, the thing that I find hard to grasp is the contrast between the quiet (but, often, deeply moving) Renaissance art that is so common in Italy and the megawatt, strobe lighting type of fashion worn by almost everyone who’s still young enough to get away with it. I’m no religious nut but I think we can all learn a bit from those serene Madonnas – I, for one, will be wearing blue for any photos that get taken of me with my (future) babies.
Ultimately, when it comes to Italian style, I couldn’t do it. By that I mean I wouldn’t do it. It’s just not for me. Whatever else I’ve conveyed, I hope you now know that the single expression that can be used to describe our Italian counterparts is ‘high maintenance’. No bad thing – as I will explain in a later post – but hard work all the same.
Perhaps I identify too much with the French – after all, my formative fashion year was spent there. However (and I blame this on the fact that I lived in Marseille – which is the French equivalent of glamorous Liverpool), a little part of me is drawn to embellishment and tassles. And, occasionally, to excessive eye make-up. In small does it works. However, as an everyday trend, it scares the hell out of me. In conclusion, these reflections have reinforced one of my beliefs – that quality (and class) matters. Plus, that you can have too, too much of anything. Or everything, in the case of the Italians I observed.
So, that’s it. Sorry if this last post on our Eurotrash neighbours disappoints – I think I found the vast assault on my eyes difficult to process. A little bit like the profusion of religious art. You’ve seen one church, you’ve seen them all. The exception must be the convent in Sardinia – and, despite my distaste for their display of art, it does give me a little hope that there are people in Italy who buck the trend. I just haven’t seen them.

Thank God my next post is a celebration of Liverpool! At least that should cheer me (and, hopefully, you) up.
Goodbye and (as always) buona fortuna in your efforts in style.
Sophie

As a post script: I’d like to clear up a loose end – to some extent for the benefit of my future health and/or life expectancy. I should have said that the Russian men we saw were very understated in comparison with their Italian counterparts. They are masters of the ‘smasual’ look.
In researching this point, I also discovered something very exciting: the present Russian premiers (and their first ladies) are easily the most stylish in the world. Google Images shows Dmitry Medvedev and his wife, Svetlana, in a very flattering light. Quite a hot one too – but then he does swim and weight train for an hour and a half every day and she looks like Lara from Doctor Zhivago. Even the totally scary Vladimir Putin looks amazing – and his wife, Lyudmila, was an air hostess back in the days when they had to wear their hair à la Farrah Fawcett.
While I would say that both men are at an age when ‘smasual’ can be difficult (take note, David Cameron), they do smart brilliantly. Fans of the bespoke suit, both men manage to look tailored and immaculate all the time. Never a hair out of place, nor a stray piece of thread, no wrinkles: all hot – and all very masculine in that quiet, understated way that only real power brings. I love it!

 

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