The Four Seasons of Vintage

The Thrill of the Find

Looking for a vintage bag at Antichità Grossi, Naples

Hunting for a vintage bag at Antichità Grossi, Naples

I spent two weeks in early September in Italy, a country to which I traveled with a small suitcase containing three vintage purses. I feel compelled to reveal that after diligently visiting various vintage and consignment shops in Rome and Naples, I came home to Los Angeles with three more purses, a bracelet, a sweater, and a pin. When I travel to a foreign city, I always make time for vintage shopping. It’s not only a great way to explore different neighborhoods but one of the best ways to make new acquaintances with people who live and work in the area. Though vintage is not as hotly pursued in Italy as it is in the United States, you will find small shops with edited and very affordable collections of Italian designer brands, such as Missoni and Valentino. And for a fashion jewelry lover, the most unexpected and thrilling shop I visited was Fabio Piccioni, a bigiotteria in Rome. In addition to boasting an extensive collection of coral jewelry and sparkly tiaras, Fabio’s store is stacked floor to ceiling with all manner of costume jewelry.

Here below are the shops I visited and the treasures I found.

80s Genny navy leather bag, Blue Goose

1980s Genny navy leather bag from Blue Goose

Blue Goose Consignment, Monti Rome

A small corner of Blue Goose Consignment in Monti, Rome

70s Roberta di Camerino velvet purse; Flamingo Vintage

1970s Roberta di Camerino velvet purse from Flamingo Vintage

The friendly owner at Flamingo Vintage, Monti Rome

The friendly owner at Flamingo Vintage in Monti, Rome

Contemplating a vintage Missoni sweater at 31 Vintage Avenue

Contemplating a vintage Missoni sweater at 31 Vintage Avenue

A selection of vintage bags as 31 Vintage Avenue, Rome

A selection of vintage bags and clothing at 31 Vintage Avenue in Campo de’ Fiori, Rome

60s Trifari by Alfred Philippe 'Garden of Eden' enamel bracelet; Fabbio Piccioni, Rome

1960s Trifari by Alfred Philippe ‘Garden of Eden’ bracelet from Fabio Piccioni

Unsigned vintage brooch with multi-colored cabochons

Unsigned vintage brooch with multi-colored cabochons from Fabio Piccioni

Searching for a treasure at Fabio Piccioni in Monti, Rome

Searching for a find at Fabio Piccioni in Monti, Rome

A great selection of dresses and blouses at Nenton Vintage, Naples

A great selection of dresses and blouses at Nenton Vintage, Naples

Roberta di Camerino french calf bag, 1975; Antichità Grossi, Naples

1975 Roberta di Camerino french calf bag from Alex Grossi at Antichità Grossi, Naples

 

 

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Essays and Musings, Personal Style

On Packing

Ingrid Bergman, "Stromboli" 1950

Ingrid Bergman, “Stromboli” 1950

A few months ago, my husband and I decided it was time to visit Italy again. Since booking the airline tickets and renting an apartment in Rome’s Centro Storico, I have been in a muted state of anxiety over what to pack. Despite the fact that I’ve been traveling to Italy on and off since childhood and am wildly excited to once again walk the streets of Rome, I feel bad about my vacation wardrobe. The truth is, since about my thirties, I always fly into a panic before a trip abroad. If you saw my wardrobe, you would politely say there was no need to panic. After all, it looks as if I have all the necessary basics. But that is just the problem: the basics. When it comes time to pack for a two-week trip, practicality retreats and fantasy takes over. In order to explore the streets of a European city, I suddenly feel guilty about choosing sensible outfits. It seems as if the least I can do is to make the effort to approximate through my clothes the mystique of the cities I will be visiting.

This, I find, is harder to do when you are a woman of a certain age. How to look casually glamorous in comfortable shoes for sightseeing and walking on cobblestones in ninety-degree heat? Today’s trends – the charming floral mini dresses, the sweeping boho skirts, the high-waisted, wide leg pants worn with a midriff t-shirt, the kimonos paired with cut off denim shorts are not tempting options. It seems in the words of Linda Wells, former editor-in-chief of Allure magazine, speaking with Cathy Horyn in 2007, “The choice is to wear something juvenile or be a total killjoy.” Despite the shift in trends and the fact that the options for women’s clothing have expanded exponentially over the years, Wells’ comment rings as true today as it did back in 2007. In refusing youth driven trends and low quality fast fashion chains, I sometimes feel like I am resorting to normcore by stubbornly adhering to my personal style. This, dear reader, is the reason why the last few days have found me craving the kind of clothes Audrey Hepburn wore while living in Rome with her second husband, the Italian psychiatrist Andrea Dotti.

Ingrid Bergman and Roberto Rossellini, Santa Marinella, Italy 1950s

Ingrid Bergman and Roberto Rossellini, Santa Marinella, Italy 1950s

That I turn to vintage photos in order to inspire my packing doesn’t greatly surprise me; just before sitting down to write this, I began going through photographs of Ingrid Bergman in the 1950s Rossellini films, Stromboli and Journey to Italy. In flicking through the film stills, I realize it is not just the glamour projected by these images of Bergman or the stylishness of the paparazzi shots of Hepburn that I am after. Rather, the images impress me with the ease and confidence of these women of a certain age. Instead of the typical girlish movie star photographs, these pictures document grown-up faces and experiences. When Bergman starred in Stromboli she was in her thirties and had just begun an affair with Rossellini that would cause a scandal in the United States for producing a child out of wedlock. The Roman photos of Hepburn reveal a woman in her forties, in her second marriage, raising her son from her first marriage; these are not the better-known Roman Holiday pictures of the ingenue in her twenties, floating about the ancient city in ballet flats. In a time when blogs and fashion magazines regularly preach to women about age appropriateness, the images of these two fashionable and graceful women make the claim for considering proper fit and quality before age. Maybe the focus should shift to what’s suitable for one’s body and lifestyle – ageless dressing – over what is age appropriate.

As I begin to pack, I comfort myself with fantasies of a new definition of basic: tailored, well-made clothes in durable fabrics that can be worn many times and personalized with accessories. (I’m thinking vintage and sustainable fashion here). Could it be what’s old is truly what’s new again?

Ingrid Bergman, "Journey to Italy" 1950

Ingrid Bergman, “Journey to Italy” 1950

Audrey Hepburn and Andrea Dotti, Rome 1971

Audrey Hepburn and Andrea Dotti, Rome 1971

Audrey Hepburn, Rome 1972; image by Lino Nanni

Audrey Hepburn, Rome 1972; image by Lino Nanni

Audrey Hepburn with her son, Sean, Rome 1972; image Girani Reporters Associati

Audrey Hepburn with her son, Sean, Rome 1972; image Girani Reporters Associati

 

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Personal Style

Eva Fontanelli

A stylist and fashion editor for Elle Italy, Eva Fontanelli is not afraid of color or print. I love her playful but very grown-up style that incorporates feathers and sequins into daytime wear. Though thoughtful, her look is never studied which makes it all the more charming. Whether wearing neutral tones or vibrant colors, she projects an unselfconscious air that never fails to inspire.

image Tommy Ton

image Tommy Ton

via The Sartorialist

via The Sartorialist

via All the Pretty Birds

via All the Pretty Birds

via A Love is Blind

via A Love is Blind

via The Sartorialist

via The Sartorialist

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Personal Style

Aurora Sansone

A fashion editor at Vogue Nippon, Aurora Sansone is one of my favorite Italian stylists. She has a knack for blending color, texture and print, and as an admirer of menswear styling, Sansone adds the right feminine touches to her borrowed from the boys pieces, resulting in a sophisticated but uncomplicated look. I find her manner of dressing particularly inspiring, however, because of her instinct for wearing vintage pieces in a modern way. In expertly mixing contemporary fashion with vintage clothing and accessories, Sansone’s style is wonderfully charming and unassuming.

Milan Fashion Week Fall 2015 Ready-to-Wear; image Tommy Ton

Milan Fashion Week Fall 2015 Ready-to-Wear; image Tommy Ton

image Phil Oh

image Phil Oh

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Aurora_Sansone_by_STYLEDUMONDE_Street_Style_Fash

Here, in this short video she shares her ideas about style with New York Magazine.

 

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Essays and Musings

An Afternoon in the Eternal City

photo[2]

On an afternoon in the fall last year, while staying in an apartment for five days in Rome’s centro storico, I walked with my husband to via Due Macelli, visited Catello d’Auria glove shop at number 55, and came away with two pairs of leather gloves. Both cashmere lined, one pair in dark purple, the other in bordeaux. The experience easily ranks as the most memorable retail excursion I have had. The reason for this is simple: Italians take shopping seriously. Elevating window-shopping to an art, they thoughtfully entertain all the many splendors the store windows have on offer. They observe and appreciate and weigh and calculate and reason. Love of display is abundant, and purchases are decidedly made.

Except for the deterrent of living in Los Angeles, where the temperature seldom drops below fifty degrees, I like wearing gloves. I like accessorizing with gloves. I like the elegance a pair of leather gloves lends to a coat or to a dress. I knew in Rome I wanted to buy gloves from a family run shop with a history of catering not only to royalty and stars, but a shop that serves Romans and travelers to the city with equal consideration.

The most remarkable thing you notice as you enter Catello d’Auria is that it hasn’t changed since opening its doors in 1894. Founded by a Neapolitan glove master, the shop remains unaltered, except for the addition of new stock – canvas accessory bags and socks are also for sale. The main attraction, without a doubt, however, are the antique cupboards built into the wall: one hundred twenty-five drawers painted in white, turquoise green and gold, each one housing leather gloves in various colors and sizes. From the ceiling hang five original crystal chandeliers. There is only one large selling counter where you will find the elderly owner, who still runs the shop with her son.

Wall of original 19th century drawers

Wall of original 19th century drawers

There is this about approaching the counter: a prospective customer gets the distinct feeling of being sized up. On that afternoon, after confirming that I was indeed there looking for gloves, the owner asked me my hand size. Because during the years spent living in cold climates, I had accumulated several pairs of gloves, all in size seven and a half, I confidently offered up this number. She parried with size seven. Then she took a small satin pillow from behind the counter, presented it to me, and demonstrated how she wanted me to lean forward from the waist and place my elbow squarely on it. Feeling a bit like I was preparing to arm wrestle with an opponent, I did as she asked. It seemed to me the owner’s movements as she served me were ceremonial; she pulled a pair of gloves from one of the antique drawers and tugged it on over my hand – an action she must have repeated many times over the years. The effect was immediate: the size seven glove fit snuggly with no creases. And so, it turns out for all of my adult life, I had been wearing gloves a half size too large.

Of all the memories of those five days in Rome, the most exceptional to me is the satisfaction of the owner in having completed the perfect sale. She expertly helped her customer to find the correct size and colors. This strikes me as the height of a luxurious shopping experience, one that is personalized to the customer’s particular needs. Times have changed. Even in an ancient city like Rome there are many large contemporary chain stores. Yet, the small historic shops still exist, as if in a dream.

Years ago, I was once summed up as a fantasist, an estimate I wasn’t sure I agreed with. Now, after visiting Catello d’Auria and returning to Los Angeles with two pairs of size seven leather gloves, I am not just a fantasist, I am an optimist.

One of the 19th century cabinets

A 19th century cabinet behind the counter

Vintage wool Giorgio of Beverly Hills dress with purple Catello d'Auria gloves

Vintage Giorgio Beverly Hills wool dress with purple Catello d’Auria gloves

Stella McCartney cashmere coat with bordeaux Catello d'Auria gloves

Stella McCartney cashmere coat with bordeaux Catello d’Auria gloves

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Essays and Musings, Personal Style

Chasing After Nonchalance

A sample of my Rodo collection sourced on ebay. All bags are vintage dating from the 60s and the 80s.

Vintage Rodo bags circa 1960s-1980s

When I was in my early twenties, I lived for a summer with my mother’s cousin in Tivoli, a medieval hill town on the outskirts of Rome. Newly graduated from college in the spring, and craving independence, I left behind my books and my husband – who at the time was the boyfriend I had just rented an apartment with – in New York City. My mother’s Italian cousin was married with two daughters, ten and fifteen years older than me. As sometimes happens in families, the sisters were opposite in every way. The older of the two, Milvia, a black haired tomboy, had her own apartment and a car. Luciana, a glamorous red head, lived at home and never showed the slightest inclination towards something as practical as driving. While Milvia was chatty and immersed in one community activity or another, Luciana was introspective with a girlish shyness. I admired both sisters for their Italian flair and wild long hair. But it was Luciana, though technically the younger in the family, who stood out in my eyes as the chic older sister. She had the style of a 70s movie star, the likes of Claudia Cardinale.

And so, on the hot Saturday afternoons of that summer, Luciana and I strolled through Tivoli window-shopping together. I had seen Fellini’s “La Dolce Vita” enough times to know that Italians care about being well dressed and groomed; all the same, the afternoon walk – the passeggiata – was a revelation to me. I was amazed by the broad display of style. Up to that summer, my identity and self worth had been linked to school and to campus life, where aside from the occasional formal event, dressing well and looking put-together wasn’t a top priority. In sartorial matters, I was different from other young women my age. I appreciated and respected great style but it intimidated me. I didn’t feel I possessed the knack for dressing that society admires in a fashionable woman. Instead, I stuck with what felt safe: the all-American classics of sweatshirts, t-shirts, jeans and sneakers. Here walking along beside Luciana, seeing all the elegant women nearly brushing against us as we weaved in and out of shops, I was aloft in a setting far more sophisticated than any I had known before. Who would I become in the post college world I had newly entered? And more importantly, what would I wear?

It became plain that rather than being indebted to a particular designer label, Luciana owed her movie star appearance to the old fashioned virtues of mindfulness and self-control. She resisted fads and gravitated instinctively to brands that were in tune with her unique vision, personalizing each ensemble with jewelry or through the way she belted something or purposely chose to forgo a belt altogether. Most importantly, she looked confident and relaxed in her clothes.

And this perhaps was the greatest lesson of that summer: the difference between ease and comfort. For the first time in my life, I discovered that looking effortless is not the same as wearing shapeless or ill-fitting garments. Seeing the care Luciana took each day in composing an outfit, I realized style involves making a decided choice: discovering the right silhouette for your body and sticking with it regardless of trends. This in turn requires the difficult task of editing – sorting the unflattering cuts and colors from those that complement your body type. But being aware of your body and knowing the difference between the flattering clothes and the less than forgiving ones takes real skill. A skill Italians have in spades.

Italian actress Claudia Cardinale (Claude Joséphine Rose Cardinale) posing smiling. Rome, 1961

Italian actress Claudia Cardinale Rome, 1961

In his Renaissance advice manual, The Book of the Courtier, Baldessare Castiglione, a diplomat and writer, takes pains to outline the necessary physical and emotional attributes constituting the perfect courtier. He exhorts his readers, “to practice in all things a certain sprezzatura (nonchalance), so as to conceal all art and make whatever is done or said appear to be without effort and almost without any thought about it.” This then is the Italian creed Luciana had so generously let me in on: a faultless attention to detail in order to present to the world an unstudied elegance.

By August, as the end of the summer neared and the eve of my departure arrived, I had amassed a generous assortment of hand-me-downs from Luciana’s closet. Into my suitcase went an orange cotton fisherman’s sweater, a light summer jacket, a floral mini skirt, various long sleeve tops, a hairclip. But one item stood out among all the rest: a honey-colored laminated wicker bag with a gold chain strap. Stenciled on the lining in gold lettering was the word RODO, a Florentine company that began producing bags in the 50s and remains in production today. I had never before seen a purse so refined but completely practical and chic. It articulated all that I admired and all that I had learned about Italian style: that mixture of whimsy and deadly serious put togetherness. More than any other object I owned it was the embodiment of sprezzatura.

Back in New York City I stayed faithful to the Italian creed, dressing with care and carrying my RODO bag everywhere – to weekend brunches, to lunches, to cocktails and then on to dinner. I had the bag for years until one day the chain strap broke. I was entrenched in the mayhem of moving from Manhattan to Brooklyn and didn’t know anyone who could repair the strap. And so, in a fit of desperation, I packed up the RODO bag in a box of Salvation Army donations. I never saw another one again until a decade and a half later at a flea market in Los Angeles. It was only there, as I gazed upon a table full of RODO bags, that the loss of Luciana’s bag washed over me. And the joy: I had been reunited with an old friend after a lifetime of separation. Though it was without a gold chain strap, I purchased a honey-colored clutch from the vendor. With bag in hand I stood instantly reconnected not only to Luciana but to the lessons of that summer. I was united again with that long forgotten part of me: the adventurous young woman who left her boyfriend (if only for a short while) to live carefree and uncover her style in a medieval Italian town.

Of course by now, with the help of Ebay, I have collected many RODO bags in various shapes and colors. But each time the feeling is the same: when I swing the gold chain strap over my shoulder and head out the door, I’m swept up once more in the glamour of those Italian summer afternoons.

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