On the catwalks of Milan, and across glossy fashion store rails from Florence to Naples, a fresh summer scent is breezing through. Crisp day dresses, elegant flat shoes and wasp-waisted charm are dominating the Italian fashion arena and giving a dash of cool, fresh Riviera elegance to even the most traffic-logged and dusty of Italian city streets.
The look has its origins in the 1950s and 1960s, when the jet set descended on the Mediterranean for their long, balmy summer getaways. Their patronage transformed some of Europe’s destinations – especially the pretty villages and harbours of the Italian Riviera – into legendary escapes; those resorts, from Liguria’s Portofino to Porto Ercole on the Maremma coast in Tuscany and down to Capri, would forever be associated with the glamour of movie icons, rock stars and royalty.
Hollywood comes calling
But those destinations became associated with a certain look, too: the feminine, relaxed but thoroughly chic style of the Riviera. And it’s a look that, even more than half a century later, still gives a subtle nod to those jet set years. Then, the stars of Rome’s film industry would descend upon Capri to film and to relax, and then on Porto Ercole and Michael Graham’s cultish hotel Il Pellicano, which opened in 1965 and instantly became the destination for actors from Douglas Fairbanks Jr to Britt Ekland. Movie stars such as Elizabeth Taylor and Cary Grant would descend upon the Ligurian coast, staying at the Splendido or mooring their yachts in the harbour of Portofino below.
If Rome’s Cinecittà studios put the style of la dolce vita on the silver screen with films such as It Started in Naples, then Anthony Minghella later gave us a honeyed, nostalgic version of the look in his slickly stylish The Talented Mr Ripley, an adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s 1955 novel. In it, the rich young American couple played by Gwyneth Paltrow and Jude Law make the Italian Riviera their playground and at the same time infuse their classic preppy wardrobes with the easy elegance of Italian style. Costume designer Ann Roth – who won an Oscar for her work on The Talented Mr Ripley – put together a wardrobe for Paltrow that perfectly encapsulated the feminine styles of the Italian Riviera in the 50s and early 60s, all crisp blouses knotted at the waist and cigarette pants or full feminine skirts in breezy summer prints.
The simple things
It’s a look that was worn by countless movie stars and jet setters from Audrey Hepburn to Jackie O, who holidayed in Capri with her second husband Aristotle Onassis and championed the local artisans that she found there, including the shoemaker Canfora whose simple leather sandals became an international success as a result.
It’s easy to understand why so many designers – Italian designers especially – have drawn on Riviera style time and time again. It’s hard-wired into their design psyches through constant exposure, whether that’s Giorgio Armani or Roberto Cavalli cruising along the Riviera in their yachts to the Ferragamo or Missoni familes retreating to their villas on the Italian coast each summer.
Source of inspiration
Then there’s Dolce & Gabbana's design duo, whose extravagant property portfolio includes a castle-like palazzo on the headland just outside Portofino’s exquisitely quaint harbour. They return regularly to Italian summers as a source of inspiration; they even showed their debut haute couture collection in a Sicilian monastery late last year with a two-day event that included fireworks, opera and sumptuous dinners.
Sicilian summers also provided the backdrop to the duo’s ready-to-wear collection this spring, in which they have reproduced picture postcard prints on to breezy full skirts, emblazoned sundresses and short suits with bold Riviera stripes, and channelled the local raffia craftsmanship into shoes, bags and bell-shaped dresses.
At Bottega Veneta, Tomas Maier went for a similarly retro mood with his pretty floral silk dresses, which were paired on the catwalk with platform pumps. Anna Molinari took inspiration from the crystal-blue Italian coastline for her fluid dresses, while over at Moschino there were echoes of Jackie O on Capri in the luscious resort collection: the coral two-piece suits with jewelled collars or the boxy crisp white dresses would have been perfect for a day on the Onassis yacht.
In Jackie’s day she would have ditched the heels and ordered some bespoke Canfora sandals to wear instead, and for once that bit of fashion nostalgia is something we can all buy into now. You can even lay your hands on her favourite style, a thong sandal with a simple triangle of gold-chain mesh: just ask for the K.