August 24, 2012 7:28 pm

Spirit of the Italian dandy

Designers draw inspiration from timeless and playful summer elegance of the Riviera
The seaside pool at Hotel Il Pellicano©Getty

The seaside pool at Hotel Il Pellicano photographed by Slim Aarons in 1986

When luminaries of the film world prepare to hit the Italian coast for the Venice Film Festival this week, they will be spoiled for choice for wardrobe options.

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IN Style

The summer collections by Italian designers from Dolce & Gabbana to Ermenegildo Zegna, Giorgio Armani, Ferragamo, Missoni and Umit Benan have been specifically inspired by the Italian Riviera. Think pale tailoring, crisp shirts, easy knits, polo shirts, stripe tees and slip-on loafers (socks optional); think The Talented Mr Ripley meets the coffee-table book Hotel Il Pellicano. Fashion isn’t really a stickler for geography, so whether it’s the Ligurian coast or the Neapolitan Riviera, it’s all about the classic style of Italy’s most famous holiday resorts, particularly in their mid-20th-century heyday.

Forget the louche unbuttoned Euro-flash you might find hanging out by the pool in Portofino today. The look to channel is a timeless, playful and refined elegance from the days of La Dolce Vita in the early 1960s, which reflects the very Latin refusal to let it all hang out, even on holiday.

Italian fashion©Catwalking

Ferragamo s/s 2012; Trussardi s/s 2012; Giorgio Armani s/s 2012

Toby Bateman, buying director at Mr Porter, says, “Italian men are very aware of the finer details of dressing. Whether it is wearing a blazer, or using a pocket square, their approach to the hot weather seems to be to dress up. Dressing up defines Italian style, with the blazer being a key item. Italian men have no fear of wearing tailoring even in the hottest weather. They can often take a fairly standard outfit – say chinos and a polo shirt – and turn it into something that looks incredibly stylish.

“We stock great Italian labels such as Boglioli for its relaxed tailoring, Loro Piana for its cashmere, silk and casual styling, and Dolce & Gabbana, of course, whose vision is steeped in Italian heritage. It is ultimately about style rather than fashion and this is something Italians do rather well.”

Stacey Smith, a menswear buyer at Matches, agrees. “We tend to think of Italian style in the tradition of Marcello Mastroianni in La Dolce Vita – considered tailoring worn with a sense of care. But the recent Pitti Uomo men’s collections in Florence showed how modern Italians are reworking that style. I love the way that a very groomed, elegant look is offset by a vibrant pocket square or an unexpected choice of footwear.

“It’s actually quite rare to find an Italian wearing shorts beyond the beach in summer,” Smith continues. “They stick to carefully chosen tailoring. It’s all in the choice of fabric – for suiting, seersucker is a great option in sweltering weather because it’s breathable and lightweight but will hold its shape and doesn’t crease as easily as linen.”

Guests at Hotel Il Pellicano©Getty

Guests at Hotel Il Pellicano photographed by Slim Aarons in 1973

Not surprisingly, many Italian brands have capitalised on that Latin approach to summer style. Matches has a range of cool seersucker jackets by Mr Rick Tailor from £295. While the “philosophy of Pal Zileri is inspired by the spirit of the Italian dandy”, says Yvan Benbanaste, the Vicenza-based label’s creative director. “The inspiration this season comes from an old movie from the 1960s, Plein Soleil, set in the south of Italy. We’ve picked up on the retro, powdery colours, the crêpe double-breasted jackets, the seersucker trousers and the waffle-knit cotton polo shirts.”

But not all Italian style necessarily comes with “Made in Italy” on the swing tag: some clever Brits have also made the Dolce Vita look their own.

“In the 1970s, when Britain was embracing flares and tie-dye, two entrepreneurial friends, Jack Sofier and Alex Pyser, visited the small coastal town of Gabicce Mare, near Rimini,” says Richard Evans, creative director of the Italian-accented British casual-wear brand Gabicci. “After seeing the refined way that the men there dressed, they were inspired to bring the Italian air of sophistication back home and set up Gabicci.”

“Our signature style takes inspiration from the Italian Rivera, a look that feels as fresh and current as ever,” says Evans. “Our key pieces have remained lightweight knit cardigans and polo shirts with accentuated collars and heavy suede trim.”

Frances Walker, design director of the newly re-launched men’s line for high street label Jigsaw, says: “I love the cool Mediterranean style of the Italian Riviera and certainly looked to that relaxed-formal look with pastel and slightly faded primary colours for tailored blazers, trousers and shorts, piqué blue-and-white stripe suits, white linen-mix shirts, fine knits and some gorgeous scarves.”

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Colognes from the coast

The Riviera trend isn’t restricted to clothes: perfumers have been taking olfactory inspiration from Italy’s seductive scents, writes Carola Long. New men’s and women’s fragrances go beyond the wafts of yacht fuel, suncream, cigarette smoke and Campari that might first greet the nostrils in Portofino, say, and play on more native notes. Gina Ritchie, beauty buyer at Liberty, describes the latest perfumes as “beautifully nostalgic, romantic and always sensual, with luscious ingredients true to their roots”.

Tom Ford’s new Neroli Portofino Eau Fraiche Body Splash (£85, 236ml, www.selfridges.com) is a lighter version of his unisex Neroli Portofino Private Blend. Intended to be splashed on liberally, it’s a blend of citrus, floral and amber notes including Tunisian neroli, Sicilian lemon and Italian bergamot. Dolce & Gabbana has updated its classic Light Blue fragrance with two new versions that are redolent of a Mediterranean summer: Dreaming in Portofino for women (£35, 25ml, www.johnlewis.com) smells warm and sweet, with top notes of litchi and musky ambrette seed, and floral tones of iris and osmanthus; while Living Stromboli for men (£35, 40ml, www.johnlewis.com) is classified as “woody water”.

For the relaunch this summer of its Blu Mediterraneo range of five fragrances based on ingredients from holiday spots in Italy, Acqua di Parma has created a section of its website that blurs travel and perfume writing. New brand The Scent of Departure bases its whole ethos on “capturing the scents of a trip and bringing them back home”. For lovers of citybreaks there’s Milano (£35, 50ml, www.harveynichols.com).

New fragrances from niche Italian-based brands include three colognes from Profumi del Forte. Each fragrance is named after the birth date of a famous Tuscan – the citric aromatic 1475 is inspired by Michelangelo (from £98, 120ml, www.liberty.co.uk).

Other scents are more steeped in tradition. Acqua di Genova (£97, 185ml www.roullierwhite.com), created in 1853, is considered by many the benchmark Italian citrus scent, while all Carthusia’s scents are still made on Capri in a tiny perfumery: its fresh Mediterraneo (£60, 100ml, www.roullierwhite.com) is 640 years old.

Anna Katz, buyer for perfume boutique Roullier White, says: “While the French Riviera is all about flowers, the scents of the Italian coasts are very different, devoted as they are to citrus groves and often the peerless Calabrian bergamot.

“Teamed with local herbs, these scents are classics of southern Italy, where every town once had its own cologne, designed to cut through heat and humidity – refreshing and energising.”

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www.dolceandgabbanna.com

www.gabicci.com

www.jigsaw-online.com

www.matchesfashion.com

www.mrporter.com

www.palzileri.com

For stockists visit www.ft.com/stylestockists

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