She couldn’t have been more than 18 or 19 years old. She pulled up on her Vespa alongside my cab on a warm night in Rome. She turned to her right, held her cigarette to her mouth, leaned over and without uttering a single word, the cabdriver reached out and lit her cigarette. She threw out an unenthusiastic “grazie” and drove away. I was stunned and astonished. How did this ragazza, at such a young age, manage to display such bravata? The confidence and sheer audacity of it! She expected this man to perform on cue and he didn’t disappoint. It was a one-act play and each person had their role and they played it to perfection. More to the point, they played it with style. Romans can make even smoking look sexy!
The dictionary defines “Style” as: 1. a quality of imagination and individuality expressed in one’s actions and tastes; 2. a comfortable and elegant mode of existence; 3. a particular, distinctive, or characteristic mode of action or manner of acting.
When we hear the phrase “Italian styling” what does this conger up in our minds? Elegant lines of a Maserati, a certain cut of a man’s suit, sleek and contemporary furnishings, police and carabinieri uniforms designed by Armani, ditch-diggers who look like Gucci models, and Sophia Lorens pushing baby carriages in stiletto heals on ancient cobblestones. It seems incomprehensible that these beautiful women could be as insecure and self-conscious as the rest of us, but it doesn’t matter – Italian women project a belief they are fabulous and deserving of adoration. I buy it, and more importantly, men buy it. As far as I am concerned, that kind of confidence is the epitome of style.
A Beautiful Obsession
For Italians the term “la bella figura” is not just a saying, it’s a way of life. My friend claims that an Italian would spend his very last dime for a pair of Dolce & Gabbana jeans before he’d pay his rent. I think that’s a bit of an exaggeration, however it certainly appears that being attractive is obligatory in Italy. Bebbe Severgnini, the famous columnist and chronicler of the Italian psyche explains it this way, “ ‘Never judge a book by its cover’ sounds like an oversimplification in Italian. We judge books by their covers, politicians by their smiles, professionals by their offices, secretaries by their posture, table lamps by their design, cars by their styling, and people by their title.”
My mother, Nancy, came for a visit and we took the train to Rome for the afternoon. We were strolling near the Piazza Barberini and walking towards us was a classically handsome Roman: tall, dark, curly-haired, chiseled features – you know, your basic Raoul Bova type. After he’d passed, my cute, lively, 78 year old mother turned to me and said, “that was a pretty one”! Yes, they are “pretty” but being good-looking doesn’t, in itself, translate into “elegant”, “cool” or “stylish”. A piece of art, for instance, doesn’t move you only by its beauty. It also must tell a story, evoke an emotion and display depth and dimension. Italian style: behind those beautiful covers is a lot of life and feeling. When admiring an Italian’s aesthetic superiority, it’s hard to look away. And it’s okay to look, in fact, it’s the national pastime of Italy.
by Toni DeBella