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For readers of this column, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that I am completely besotted by Italy and the Italians: the landscape, the culture, the style, the food. It seems that the Italians just get it right in so many ways. Hemingway coined the term “the good Italian,” which Umberto Angeloni, owner of Caruso menswear, uses as a way to describe what it means to behave and dress like a gentleman. It’s also the title for Angeloni’s series of short films, the most current starring actor Giancarlo Giannini and singer Vittorio Grigolo, possibly the most in-demand young tenor of the moment.
In January, I was in Italy for men’s fashion week. First stop: Florence for Pitti Uomo, where smaller, more boutique-like brands—from umbrella and cuff link makers to bespoke tailors and groovy cobblers, without big budgets and advertising dollars—preview their upcoming season. It was also the site of a most spectacular celebration for Stefano Ricci, the man and the company he started 45 years ago. Ricci is a sartorial menswear brand of a very high—and very expensive—order. More Visconti (as in Luchino Visconti, the legendary Italian director of baroque classics like Il Gattopardo) than Vice (the edgy digital TV outsider for edgy outsider millennials). No scruff, no street, no rough-around-the-edges here, just jaw-dropping, sumptuous, over-the-top everything. The remarkable padre Stefano, who looks like a cross between Francis Ford Coppola and Karl Marx, with his two sons, Niccolo and Filippo, put together the show of shows inside Brunelleschi’s 15th-century palace-cummuseum. The evening began in the courtyard with golden eagles and white peregrine falcons as one entered. From there, it was up the grandest of stairs into the Sala Bianca, or White Room, opened for the first time since 1982 and where, in 1952, the first Italian fashion show was staged. As befits Ricci’s clientele, many of whom were in attendance, the models were not your familiar underagelooking runway boys, but ranged from Ricci’s six-year-old grandson, who wore a suit from the new “junior” collection, to Ricci’s close friend singer Andrea Bocelli and his two twenty-something-looking sons.
Does anyone still wear a…tie? Absolutely. Even in Milan, which remains the men’s sartorial capital of the world. (My own personal favorites were the slim, smart, nubby ones at Brunello Cucinelli, but then this scholar-philosopher-master of understated chic can do no wrong in my book.) But the better question is: Was there anyone in Milan—or Rome a few days later—who wasn’t wearing a turtleneck? The runway is great, but the street is even better for spotting trends, for finding inspiration, and for deciding, as you look around, what works on you.
Over the last dozen or so years, I’ve come to really admire this city, which is often dismissed as gray, corporate, industrial. But it works, and it has an energy, perhaps more akin to New York, and no doubt was energized further by the sprucing up it underwent for its expo two years back. Hotels are super—the Park Hyatt and the two-year-old Mandarin Oriental run by Luca Finardi, whom I’ve watched from the time he was practically a kid and the front desk manager at The Savoy in Florence—with new ones on the way. The restaurants seem at the top of their game, whether it’s Milanese classics like Giacomo and Al Girarrosto (or Boccondivino, which has the most incredible Italian cheese cart in the world but is still best known to the city’s cognoscenti) to contemporary favorites like Assunta Madre, the seafood restaurant with locations in Rome and London as well.
Rome for a Day
Whereas Milan really works, the virtues of Rome are—shall we say?—different: It’s a big, gorgeous mess of a city that can bring you to tears, hysteria, or complete and utter silence. I could be perfectly happy sitting in a Roman trattoria, say, Al Moro or Roscioli, which has become the toughest reservation in town—every day. Rome, like Milan, is also on the verge of a semiboom in new hotels and refurbishments with the once down-on-its-luck Hotel Eden, now part of the Dorchester Collection, set to debut this spring. This time around, I stayed at The Hassler, which, for its location at the top of the Spanish Steps, or for its terrific outdoor breakfast dining, won me over the first time I stayed 15 years ago. Its charms are its old-world, old-fashioned white-glove service and style. As we sometimes seem to be saying goodbye to most everything familiar as we travel, the family-owned Hassler remains determined to stay as it always has been. And that too can be quite wonderful.