Saturday, December 13, 2014

Sprezzatura - style your way

A new word has entered my vocabulary and it ripples with Italian flair. 

Rightly so, for it comes from the Italian.

The word is sprezzatura. It rolls off the tongue with a skip and a knowing wink. 

It has pizzazz. It’s fun to say (or hear it said). Mellifluously it suggests dashing, sparkling, carefree. Even before you know what sprezzatura means your instinct is to pocket the word to make it your own. 

Then you find out the word in Italian pretty much means what you intuitively figure out it suggests. It’s the happy knack of making yourself look good. It’s the artful presentation of you to the world.

Sprezzatura in the fashion sense is the total effect of the clothing we wear through the seemingly unthinking touches we give it. It’s dressing with a statement of nonchalant confidence to it.

I learned the word while visiting “Italian Style,” the Italian fashion retrospective currently showing at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts (MIA). 

The style show, organized by the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, depicts the evolution of the Italian fashion industry from 1945 to the present.

“Italian Style” runs through January 4, 2015. Time is running out to catch it while it's in town. It makes a great holiday outing. Extended hours now in effect throw you a break so that you can still fit it in.

We went to see the show earlier in the Minnesota visit. Making it a forenoon event won us some time before things got busier. We appreciated our decision to get a move on it and be there prompt at forenoon opening.

There was plenty of elbow room as we began. It allowed us to proceed leisurely to not miss anything. We could circle back to rooms already visited when another peek at the stylish displays was warranted.

Beautiful embellished gowns, impeccable suits, sportswear, leather goods (luggage, handbags, gloves, shoes) and textiles that make up the display are the creations of Italy’s gallery of world-famous designers.

Prada, Dolce & Gabbana, Gucci, Fendi and Armani are names in contemporary Italian fashion but the review is thorough in giving the Italian fashion industry its due all the way back to its postwar beginnings.

Informative panels, pictures, films, along with the clothing exhibits which are the star of the show, tell the story of the fashion dynasties of Milan, Florence and Rome.

These are the fabled designers with their influence on men and women’s wear, the association with luxury by which their labels are known, and the integrity of the fabrics and workmanship that go into their products.

The rich tints, sumptuous fabrics and meticulous detailing make you feel you’re on the movie set of your own “Roman Holiday” as you mosey along.

I learned more than a handy new word with our visit to "Italian Style." The fashion exhibit is a history and cultural lesson that adds perspective to the program as a whole.  

For instance, it was new to us that the Marshall Plan, our American aid program set up after WWII, was instrumental in mobilizing the Italian clothing industry after the ruinous years of war.

Then Hollywood came along and was swept off its feet by all things Italian. 

Big-screen entertainment, with its huge impact on mid 20th century America, gathered up its movie audiences and most of the rest of us to include us in its love affair with Italy.

The Hollywood connection with Italy stayed strong into the 1960s. Movies were filmed on location in Italy and suddenly Italy was the new international playground for stars and celebrities.

Italian actresses like Sophia Loren and Gina Lollobrigida were household names. Italian scenes became familiar through movies like “Roman Holiday,” in which Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant play out their fleeting chance at love against the stately background of 1950's Rome.

Jacqueline Kennedy marked her vote for Italian design when she ordered from Valentino. We were taking our cues from the well dressed and the well dressed were looking to Paris and the fashion houses of Italy.

American consumers with growing disposable income wanted more than to simply emulate the smart dressers of the day. 

Increasing contact with European culture, intensified by the US military presence there during WWII, created a desire to add Continental suavity to hometown ingenuity. 

All of this contributed to the interest in Italian fashion, which remains a notable player in fashion today despite many changes as fashion becomes a global industry.

With information gained in the walk-throughs of the different exhibit rooms I found myself, at the end of “Italian Style,” circling back to the word sprezzatura.

I like the word not only for how it sounds. It's useful for describing my clothing style (as I wish it to be). In truth, sprezzatura is more an idea. It's what I could pull off if I put commitment to the result to the test. 

Clearly I’ve got the hang of casual, which is part of what sprezzatura suggests to me. 

This aspect of my personal style is well broken in. My closet holds simple, functional pieces. It gets me dressed fast. It can be thought of as sturdy pieces and mindlessly simple assemblage.

To demonstrate that something tangible has come from grasping the nuances of sprezzatura means I have a job to do. 

It'll take concentrated effort to get to the place where it looks like it takes no time at all to get dressed, and to make it seem all nicely fitting (in the Italian way), and absolutely uncontrived.

“Italian Style” made me take note of the inner workings of style. It helped me see that many of us, not clothes-conscious in one sense, manage to create a personal style that suits us and, more importantly, let’s who we are shine through

“Italian Style” is gentle encouragement to value what we wear as the conscious choices of who we are, with some of the best in apparel as standards to hold up to our light.

The exhibit put a little fire under me. Afterwards, I set down some pointers for getting closer to sprezzatura my way.

The thoughts jotted down (which follow) are a mix of ideas picked up from everywhere. 

A few borrowed from somewhere else, a few my own interpretation. Like the real sprezzatura the secret is to take it all and make it your own.

Sprezzatura – style your way                       

When you put on what you wear each day keep in mind that looking at the top of your game is often about simple presentation.

A confident style (as if your outfit was effortlessly pulled together) is not always as breezily constructed as it appears. It usually takes time and work. Judge if that extra time and consideration is a priority for you.

Mix up what you wear. Play with your pieces. Create new matches. Introduce unexpected pieces to signature staples to keep your personal style fresh.

The key to dressing well and happily is to have items in your closet that you love and that flatter you. You know the ones they are!

Invest in versions of your favorite pieces. Wearing what you like the most gets you closer to your authentic look. The ease this gives you in turn boosts your clothes authority.

Dress more to feel good and dress less to try to compare yourself to others. Being you is always the best first step in getting yourself together.

Reducing your closet inventory can be a good thing. It lets you focus on the clothes that really speak to you and which project you. 

When it fits don't you just know it! 

When the mirror says you nailed the look the energy you receive from this affirmation is amazing.

Accessories (everything from handbag to wristwatch to Grandma’s old brooch) can draw attention away from what you have on, which is sometimes exactly what you want. They can put focus on your outfit as well. Know how to utilize accessories to retool your basic look.

Think of a scarf as an investment piece. Get smart in the ways to tie a scarf. Keep a few quality scarves (wool, silk, cotton) in your fashion arsenal. You have an ally in your scarf. It’s like a buddy who plays sidekick for you.

What you put on your feet is eminently important. Fashion is fashion, but with style there’s a spot for being comfortable. 

Style, after all, is the look you own. If your feet feel good it’s likely you do too. 

That transmits to everything. It shapes how you’re perceived. Feel free to skip the cramped toes, stiletto height, or any other fashion trend if it doesn’t make you smile an hour after you put it on. 

Get up and get dressed for the miracle that meets you today. This is my own bit of fashion advice. It popped into my head a couple years ago and I liked it and wrote it down.

Ro Giencke – December 13, 2014

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