An Italian's British Touch
By Roberto Viscomi
Jul 13, 2022
Calabrese local Roberto Viscomi explores the relationship between British and Italian style.
There is a wonderful anecdote reported by Pupetto Sirignano, bon vivant and Neapolitan nobleman, in his book Memoirs of a Useless Man, that tells of how the Prince of Gerace went to London in the mid-Twentieth Century with his trusty butler and said to him "Pasquale go out for a walk and see how the English are dressed." On Pasquale’s return to the hotel, he replied "Prince, the only people dressed like the English are you and me!"
International classic style, in relation to men's clothing, was born in Scotland towards the end of the 1800s. Italians have always liked this strict but casual style that moves fluidly from the country to life as a man-about-town. Italy’s cultural history, from Sibari to Rome, from Venice to Florence and to Naples, greatly influenced our love of beautiful things and our sense of being a little – but not too - eccentric. We love the style, without it becoming an obsession.
As well as colorful linens or cavalry twills, Italians are particularly fond of tweed - fabrics that reflect our personality without showing off. More than any other fabric, tweed represents its land and heritage in its colours: the green of the grass, the purples of the heather, the blues and greys of the sky and sea, and the reds and rusts of autumn. In a similar way, in Italy eating well and dressing well are inseparable expressions of local culture. We marry up the produce of each area; that's why tweed satisfies our atavistic desire to appear in a simple, but also sophisticated, way.
In Metropolis, one of his most famous films, Fritz Lang dressed wealthy industrialist Joh Fredersen in a tweed jacket with grey trousers and all the employees in boring grey suits, the same for everyone. This is in 1927, a year in which elegance was an absolute priority.
An Italian disciple of British style loves worsted and colored fabrics, tweed and linen above all, but prefers the Italian shape over a more regimented British cut, which doesn’t suit their disposition. A type of uniformity is perhaps normal in Britain because it harks back to the influence of the empire and a need to feel part of a community. For Italy the opposite is true. The Italian loves to be individual; a little out of the box. Unfortunately this is also often reflected in public affairs, but at the same time it enhances things like imagination and creativity, in which Italians do not like to come second place.
My friend Giancarlo Maresca brilliantly highlighted the difference when he said that across the Channel a jacket has the features of a military uniform, whilst in Italy those features take the form of a fresco. Just look at one of the many frescos by unknown artists that abound in every church or palace of even remote Italian villages: growing up around such a cult of beauty naturally manifests not only in art and in our food but also in the way we dress and present ourselves to others.
Dandyism was also born in Britain at the end of 18th century and influenced all of Europe. It’s motto was "live life as a masterpiece" - you can imagine what kind of impact this had in Italy where art is considered a necessity for life. We like British style because, much like the slow food movement, it combines tradition and workmanship, and recalls a time when we were more attuned to nature, the seasons and a slower pace of life.