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Austin/San Francisco, TX/CA, United States
I'm a young Stylish Fashionista, basic Bad Ass with a really killer wardrobe. Working in Austin TX and San Francisco CA constantly surrounded by Chic people and Fab places. I hope you enjoy musing on the Fashion,Design,Photography and Events and everything else people would find Fab and Chic

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Wall Street Journal/For Italians, Every Sidewalk Is a Catwalk

Armani, Ferragamo, Versace and dozens of other leading designers will reveal their latest creations at men's fashion week starting tomorrow in Milan. But far from the catwalks and glamorous parties, the closest I'll get to the world of haute couture this weekend will be an outlet mall outside of Rome, where hordes will be gathered for the annual winter sales. The main beneficiaries of my family's expedition will be my wife and 9-year-old son, though I might be persuaded to pick up a pair or two of trousers to accommodate my own post-Christmas girth.

Owing to steep discounts, the first few weeks of every year typically account for about a fifth of Italy's total annual sales of clothes and shoes. Which is saying a lot, since according to the national business association Confcommercio, Italians spend more per capita on clothing, both in absolute terms and as a percentage of household income, than consumers in any other major European economy.

Jean-Manuel Duvivier
.The results are most obvious on the shopping streets of the more stylish northern cities, such as Milan and Turin; yet throughout the country, even ordinary folk tend to make their appearance at least as high a priority as practicality or comfort.

As an immigrant from the far scruffier U.S., I've adjusted only gradually to Italian spiffiness. I remember scandalizing a friend in Florence years ago by showing up at her apartment in a faded college sweatshirt. (It seems the only acceptable exercise apparel for nonathletic wear is a designer track suit, but that would make me feel like a Russian gangster.) Even today, I regularly horrify my Italian wife with such transgressions as sending our son to school in trousers and socks of clashing colors.

Italians have terribly strict rules about all such things. There is, for instance, only one proper way to tie a scarf. The distinctive loop that the Manchester City coach Roberto Mancini uses to display his team colors, a style he has made fashionable among Britons even beyond the ranks of football fans, is merely the way that every Italian mother teaches her children to bundle up against the cold.

Another rule is that every garment must be perfectly pressed, and since Italians scorn synthetic fabrics, that means lots of ironing, even of underwear and socks, often using powerful steam-generator irons with external water tanks, which are as common an appliance here as microwave ovens.

Mysteriously, given the chaos that governs so much of Italian life, fashion here reflects a striking degree of conformism. As if by decree from an authority more powerful than any president or pope, a certain style will suddenly appear, and henceforth that is all you can find in the streets and shop windows. Then, just as suddenly, it will vanish, as everyone dutifully switches to the next designated look.

Last summer, for instance, every woman seemed to be wearing gladiator sandals, in slavish obedience to the international fad. This winter, both genders have evidently been instructed to dress exclusively in black. In past seasons, you occasionally saw navy blue and even lighter hues, especially in the relatively sunny climate of Rome. The new regime would seem an inauspiciously funereal way to kick off the 150th anniversary of Italy's national unification (though the regionalist supporters of the increasingly powerful Northern League must find it nicely fitting).

Not even Mussolini was able to impose such uniformity on this unruly people. Well, of course he did get many of them to wear black, but that may say more about Italians' vanity then their docility. Fascist uniforms had the undeniable advantage of preserving their appearance even when soiled. Post-war prosperity thus eliminated at least one potential threat to democracy by putting a washing machine in every Italian home.

Necessary roughness?
For the automotive turnaround artist Sergio Marchionne, flouting the business executive's sartorial code, with pullover sweaters and khaki trousers instead of tailored suits, signals both informality and innovation. The Italian-Canadian, who runs both Italy's Fiat and America's Chrysler, is challenging entrenched Italian labor practices by asking his workers here to accept longer hours and reduced benefits in return for more investment in Fiat's Italian plants. Employees in Turin were scheduled to vote today on his proposals, which depending on your politics, are either a necessary adjustment to the realities of globalization or the latest blow to the post-war European social compact (or both).

Investing in the past
One feature of the Italian scene that no one proposes eliminating is the country's vast archeological wealth. Following recent collapses at the ancient Roman city of Pompeii, preservationists have drawn attention to other cultural monuments at risk, one of which may have found its savior in the world of fashion. Diego Della Valle, CEO of the high-end brand Tod's, has offered the cash-strapped government €25 million to renovate Rome's Colosseum. Talks are reportedly underway. The Italian culture ministry has rarely accepted such assistance from private philanthropists, but in this age of public-sector budget cuts, arrangements of this kind could become something of a trend.

—Next week, Lennox Morrison in Paris

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