Observations from a part-time foreign correspondant (Part 2)

Well, welcome to the second instalment of my Italian themed sermon. In which I discuss the less enticing aspects of Italian style. Really, they amount to the opposite sides of the same coin. Perhaps one that should be thrown into the Trevi fountain – I’ll get to my wish later on.
Regarding the consumer – especially relevant during a world-wide recession – and completely against my usual maxim (‘you get what you pay for’), luxury provides a problem. Which the Italian market doesn’t solve. Italians spend more per person on fashion than any other nationality: add 20% to the French average or double the average resident of the UK. That might seem unlikely to you, fashion experts – but I wouldn’t expect you to be ‘average’.
Basically, with very little in the way of ‘low end’ provision in the market place, it’s no wonder that Italians spend more – there is no supermarket offering a v-neck cashmere option for £20.
Even the previously highly praised, good quality, on-trend, unbranded leather goods are pricier than ours. Improved detail comes at a price, friends – what you have to decide is whether it’s worth it. Since the copies are so up-to-date and fashion changes so often, you may think so. Or you may decide that that fashion changes too often to merit spending more on a copy that looks great but that may look out-of-date sooner rather than later. The same is true of the sunnies – not that I would advocate skimping when it comes to looking after your sight, you understand.
One exception – and you’ll see it on every female (and some male – if my research is correct) face in the country: beauty products. However, there are downsides to this – which I’ll get to later in this post.
Now to fashion – or, more importantly, the prevailing style. I am loathe to generalise but will have to. In my defence, I divided my time between ‘the Adriatic Riviera’ (well, Rimini) and Umbria. It would be hard to find two more contrasting locations in terms of economy, prevailing industries and social demographics.
Briefly summarised, Rimini looks like an episode of Poirot where the erstwhile little Belgian goes to the seaside – on crack. Or a version of Miami – where the immigrant community is economically powerful and Russian. As you would imagine, much of the economy is dependant on the tourist industry and the town’s tourists have a lot of spending power. Designer outlets are everywhere and – considering the profusion of glamorous bars, restaurants, hotels and clubs – provide a necessary service. You can’t be glam in shorts and t-shirts, can you? Umbria, on the other hand, is exactly what you imagine when you say ‘Italy’: deep valleys, mountain top towns with Renaissance churches, vineyards and olive groves – the whole shebang! Agricultural industry is prevalent and shops are of the aforementioned market stall and teeny tiny boutique variety.
However, the Italian style witnessed there varies little. In a word: ‘flashy’. Oh my God, Italian’s love shiny, glossy, flashy, sparkly and glittery. Preferably all at once – they are the children of the fashion community. Where the French are the sartorial equivalent of the older woman; Americans, the glossy twenty-somethings; Brits, the mixed-up, messed up teenagers, they are the toddler to tweeny group. If Hello Kitty (not Miffy, you understand – she’s too high-brow for sparkles) came in a sultrier, Swarovski loyalty card toting, Sophie Loren eyelinered version, she could totally compete with Silvio Berluschoni in any election.
Whilst I myself am so much of a magpie that I have to shop with a friend (the highly elegant Leila) who says ‘really?’ and ‘hmm…’ to every tarty thing I pick up, I am always gobsmacked by the Italy. In short, and whilst we should never use stereotypes, Russian hookers do not look out of place in Italy. In Rimini (a city which does, ironically, seem to accommodate a lot of these young women) you might expect a bit more glitz. However – in the towns and cities, anyway – you see similar stuff worn in Umbria.
Usually, this look is worn by women who are still scarred by the memories of the grey, drizzling misery of the Soviet era. Of course, any person whose national identity was, once, associated with drabness would go candy-store crazy as soon as they were able to. Choice, colour, feel and frivolity were dirty words under communism and the backlash is absolute. Lenin’s probably spinning in his little glass case (yes, I do believe it’s him, conspiracy nuts) whenever he receives visitors.
However, it’s pretty difficult to spot any difference between these recent imports and Italian women. The Italians often sport a look that – without wishing to offend – I would call ‘off duty (well, the summer season has finished) nightclub hostess’. How anyone could wear these clothes to pop out for milk or a paper escapes me…but it’s heels, designer sneakers (stupid as – and, please, trust me on this – Giorgio Armani is not a trainer expert), boots (and I mean knee or higher length) or jewelled gladiators. No wedges – far too sensible – and platforms only seem to come in Perspex. Don’t let me go there.
Clothes tiptoe on the tightrope of tarty. Whilst many women watch fashion in an almost academic manner (we’ve discussed this season, for example), Italian style seems fairly stationary. If you don’t believe me, look at the Versace brand. Elizabeth Hurley’s dresses from 10 years ago could quite easily be worn today: they’re heavy on the ‘wow factor’ and light on subtlety. Which is exactly what you want if what you want is…well, I’ll leave that to your fertile imaginations.
The apparent rule of accessorising is simple: ‘more is more’. No total of items is too high. It’s difficult to actually ‘get’ this. Literally – you cannot imagine it unless you’ve seen it. As I said, magpie. Even my brilliant Birkin bag (expensive but a classic) was unappreciated. Gutting. And don’t even think about just glossy – you need glossy with shiny bits. Or lots of shiny bits. Lots and lots of shiny bits. Buckles, prints, colours, fringing, tassles, bows, ruffles – Alex Curran would love it.
Make-up is de rigeur – full face, of course. As I said, it is affordable – and women are taking advantage. A lot of advantage. No trips to Tesco wearing sunglasses to hide the hangover, young lady. Some days, I can’t be bothered putting on the slap for work (don’t worry – I do, as I don’t want to scare the horses) but that would be unthinkable in Italy – unless I wanted to look terrible so I skive off work the next day with a semblance of guilelessness. Otherwise, no way. This is a country where Dolly Parton’s 9 to 5 look would pass unnoticed.
Well, that’s the other side of the coin. Obviously, I can’t leave you without a conclusion…but I’m leaving that ‘til later as I’m a little bit tired having spent my time thinking of nothing but glitz. So, readers, ‘Ciao’. And I write that whilst winking in a flirtatious manner. When in Rome, or Rimini, or San Terenziano…


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