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.
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), 8½ (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.’
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.
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.
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
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.
8½ (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).