The Italian suit: Fellini, Mastroianni and Jep Gambardella

Suits have been considered ‘naturally masculine’ since their birth in the late seventeenth century, as argued by fashion scholar Anne Hollander. Tracing their modern evolution back to the Enlightenment, when a rediscovery of Ancient Greek and Roman ideals took place, Hollander explains that the survival of modern suits is due to their simultaneous suggestion of classical nudity and confident male sexuality. In Italy, the sartorial suit has come to represent the quintessential mise of elegant and fashionable men, reinforced by the outfits of two characters embodying an image of Italian masculinity and style recognised worldwide: Marcello Rubini of La Dolce Vita (Federico Fellini, 1960), and his modern reincarnation, Jep Gambardella, the protagonist of Paolo Sorrentino’s film La Grande Bellezza (2013). Their suits speak of the most refined Italian sartorial tradition, emblematic of a vision of the Italian ‘Latin Lover’ much indebted to Fellini’s masterpiece.

Federico Fellini’s film La Dolce Vita (1960) gave birth to a powerful trope signifying Italian style, fashion and glamour, recognized both in Italy and abroad. Especially in terms of menswear, the movie started a real revolution. Piero Gherardi, costume designer, set designer and art director of La Dolce Vita, chose for Marcello Mastroianni Brioni’s ‘Roman style’ suits, which he wore throughout the film. The brand, founded in Rome in 1945 by tailor Nazareno Fonticoli and businessman Gaetano Savini, received greater exposure thanks to the incredible success of the movie and became known as the epitome of Italian sartorial elegance. As opposed to the Savile Row’s ‘boxy, almost military suits of stiff lines and finite palette of materials, colors and details’, Brioni put forward a form-fitting style of suits for men: ‘elegant, impeccably made, and undeniably formal’, but also relaxed and unpretentious.

Marcello Mastroianni in La Dolce Vita wearing the Brioni “Roman Style” suit. (https://www.artribune.com/attualita/2014/02/percezioni-proiezioni-dellitalia/attachment/2_marcello-mastroianni-ne-la-dolce-vita-federico-fellini-1960/)

This was the starting point of a different image of masculinity, one that moved past Flügel’s idea of ‘Great Masculine Renunciation,’ in which – since the end of the eighteenth century –men had abandoned their beauty in favour of being ‘only useful’. The character of Marcello Rubini, a socialite journalist part of the Roman elite made of Hollywood stars like Sylvia (Anita Ekberg), and incredibly wealthy youth like Maddalena (Anouk Aimée), became the symbol of this revolution, reclaiming menswear’s right to draw attention to itself. Fellini played a crucial role in the establishment of this attire, and it is not a coincidence that in his three movies starring Mastroianni – La Dolce Vita (1960), (1963) and City of Women (1980) – the costumes worn by the Italian actor are variations of the classic male suit. The cynical journalist Marcello Rubini, the indecisive director Guido Anselmi and the middle-aged businessman Snàporaz, all equally tormented by feminine figures who seem to dominate their universe, can be seen sporting the dark suit – completed with a white or striped shirt, and a dark tie – and the almost inevitable pair of dark glasses. These elements transformed Mastroianni into ‘the man everybody wanted to be, or be with,’ a model of consumption for a consumer society, whether European or American, and the embodiment of the Italian ‘Latin Lover.’

Marcello Mastroianni in 8½. Photo by Paul Ronald. Centro Cinema Città di Cesena. (https://iicberlino.esteri.it/iic_berlino/de/gli_eventi/calendario/2017/02/ciao-marcello.html)

Today, the symbol of the suit has become an integral part of Italian culture and style, and the character of Marcello still echoes in modern productions, such as Paolo Sorrentino’s Oscar-winning film La Grande Bellezza (2013). Jep Gambardella, the protagonist of the movie, seems to be shaped as an older version of Marcello Rubini: same profession, same social milieu, and above all the same sense of fashion. There are some almost identical outfits worn at similar occasions, such as the black suit and tie as everyday uniform, and the impeccable white suit they both sport at the beach – or near it, in the case of Jep. The white suit – an equally iconic style that continues to appear in menswear collections – was symptomatic of the introduction of colour that characterized the new style created by Brioni, which also presented red as one of the colours of men’s eveningwear.

Marcello Mastroianni in La Dolce Vita. Cineteca di Bologna/Reporters associati. (https://iicberlino.esteri.it/iic_berlino/de/gli_eventi/calendario/2017/02/ciao-marcello.html)

Jep Gambardella (Tony Servillo) wearing the white suit as he visits the place where the cruise ship Costa Concordia sank. Photo by Janus Film, 2013. (https://www.imdb.com/title/tt2358891/mediaviewer/rm96719360/)

All these elements were translated in the style of Jep, whose outfits included red and yellow sport jackets matched with white cotton trousers and shirts, worn without ties for a more relaxed look. Behind Jep’s impeccable image stands another historical sartoria, Cesare Attolini of Naples, birthplace of Sorrentino, Servillo and the character of Jep, too. One of the oldest and finest sartorie in Naples, Attolini created a series of bespoke suits with the help of Servillo himself and costume designer Daniela Ciancio, who decided to mix them with more formal Armani suits. Jep’s tailor-made outfits seem to caress his body as he slowly and elegantly walks among the ‘great beauty’ of Rome, constituting a ‘soft armour’ and ‘his shield against the ugliness and vulgarity of the world.’ They are as eccentric and dandyish as Gambardella himself, in a way that perfectly matches his tenor of life. In fact, by alternating scenes of ‘high life,’ be it the extravagant parties on Jep’s terrace or his night-time walks around the city’s splendid streets, Sorrentino represented a sense of wealth, both cultural and economical, that often degenerates into pure excess.

Jep Gambardella (Tony Servillo) wearing a red sport jacket by sartoria Attolini. (https://www.thomasmason.co.uk/it/articles/colour-depth-and-darkness-tailoring-in-the-great-beauty/)

Jep Gambardella (Tony Servillo) wearing a yellow sport jacket by sartoria Attolini. (https://www.thomasmason.co.uk/it/articles/colour-depth-and-darkness-tailoring-in-the-great-beauty/)

Jep Gambardella (Tony Servillo) in a black suit and tie in La Grande Bellezza. (https://www.thomasmason.co.uk/it/articles/colour-depth-and-darkness-tailoring-in-the-great-beauty/)

The emphasis on the artisanal, made-by-hand and luxury aspect of the ‘Made in Italy,’ represented by Attolini’s suits for La Grande Bellezza, as well as Brioni’s in La Dolce Vita, reflects a globally defining mark of Italian style that especially characterises men’s sartorial elegance. These suits present a specific economic and cultural value which identifies the men who wear them with a certain type of masculinity not predetermined but rather culturally and publicly sustained. Worn and afforded only by certain individuals, socialites and trendsetters, they become emblems of a lascivious lifestyle that characterised, and still characterises, the model of the ‘Latin Lover,’ presented on screen through the figures of Marcello Rubini and Jep Gambardella.

By Simona Mezzina

 

Sources

Flügel, J. C. The Psychology of Clothes. London: Hogarth Press & the Institute of Psychoanalysis, 1940.

Hochkofler, Matilde. Marcello Mastroianni: the fun of cinema. Translated by Jocelyn Earle. Rome: Gremese International, 1992.

Levy, Shawn. Dolce Vita Confidential: Fellini, Loren, Pucci, Paparazzi and the Swinging High Life of 1950s Rome. London: Hachette UK, 2016.

Paulicelli, Eugenia. Italian Style: Fashion & Film from Early Cinema to the Digital Age. London: Bloomsbury, 2016.

Reich, Jacqueline. Beyond the Latin lover: Marcello Mastroianni, masculinity, and Italian cinema. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2004.

 

Films

(Federico Fellini, Italy, 1963).

City of Women (Federico Fellini, Italy, 1980).

La Dolce Vita (Federico Fellini, Italy, 1960).

La Grande Bellezza (Paolo Sorrentino, Italy, 2013).

The Glamour of the Sala Bianca

The Sala Bianca in the Palazzo Pitti, Florence, was originally used as a guest hall by the Medici family, but its current appearance as a ballroom is due to stucco works added in 1774-6, by Grato and Giocondo Albertini, following a neoclassical style. The colour white communicates both the decadence and the simplicity of the room. The decadent element stems from the classical motifs, with arches, pilasters and the stucco scenes on the ceiling. The chandeliers and mirrors further this luxurious display, adding reflective surfaces, which shimmer and catch the light. The neutral palette sterilises the room, as the monochrome appearance is minimalist, contrasting with the detailed decoration.

The Sala Bianca today

On the 22nd July 1952, Giovanni Battista Giorgini, a Florentine fashion buyer, organised the fourth ‘Italian High Fashion Show’ in the Sala Bianca. He invited European and American press, buyers and designers, in order to showcase the best of Italian fashion, with the intention of rivalling Parisian haute couture. In the aftermath of World War II, Giorgini wanted to promote the advantages of Italian fashion production; with artisanal expertise, creativity and low prices of production. Nine high fashion and sixteen boutique houses were represented. Giorgini chose designers that would present pieces that matched the American lifestyle – for example, informal knitwear and beachwear. This show featured such designers as Emilio Pucci and Simonetta.

The 1952 Sala Bianca fashion show

The language of fashion at this time had to rely on other cultural frameworks, such as art and architecture, as it sought to find its own identity in culture. The Sala Bianca fashion show showcased the best of Italian design, showing modern looks in a traditional setting. This allied the glamour of the past with the elegant designs of the present. This was a very clever strategy for advertising Italian fashion to an international audience, by mixing the modern and antique.

We are now accustomed to contemporary fashion houses showcasing their latest collections in impressive historical locations. A prominent example of this is the 2016 Fendi 90th anniversary fashion show which actually took place on an Italian landmark, the Trevi Fountain, in Rome. Again, there is the significance of an Italian brand showcasing a collection at one of the most iconic Italian landmarks. The use of the Trevi Fountain can also be linked to Italian cinema. This is through the 1960 Frederico Fellini film, La Dolce Vita, where the actress Anita Ekberg splashes around in the fountain.

Fendi 90th anniversary show at the Trevi Fountain, 2016

Both shows drew on the cultural significance of the landmarks, adding another layer of meaning to the shows. In this way, I feel they communicate the spectacle of the fashion show, with the dramatic surroundings acting as a stage and the models parading on their catwalk, or stage. The Sala Bianca was used as a location for fashion shows for the next thirty years in Florence. This was hailed as the ‘birth of Italian fashion’, but I also feel that it was influential in terms of linking architecture and fashion.

Ellen Bhamra

References

Stanfill, Sonnet. The Glamour of Italian Fashion Since 1945 (V&A Publishing, 2014)

Vergani, Guido. The Sala Bianca: The Birth of Italian Fashion (Electa, 1992)