Above: Couturier Lorenzo Riva gave good glamour at Alta Moda
Dear Shaded Viewers,
I had the pleasure of being in the gorgeous city of Rome last week for Alta Roma Alta Moda, a 4-day fashion event sponsored by Camera di Commercio Roma, L'Oreal, Mercedes Benz and others. Alta Roma was a mixed bag of couture and pret-a-porter shows, parties and an annual fashion competition–Who's On Next. In collaboration with Vogue Italia, Who's On Next, now in its 5th year, is a scouting project that aims to discover the best and brightest new stars of the Italian fashion world and propel them onto the world stage. Winners in the accessories and pret-a-porter categories receive a Vogue Italia photo shoot and an opportunity to show their work in Milan.
Above: Were you expecting a photo of the round Coliseum?
On my way from Fiumicino airport, my cute Neapolitan driver made a pit stop in EUR, the suburb Mussolini built in the '30s, so I could snap some shots of the fabulously fascist architecture. Monica Vitti's character in Antonioni's L'Eclisse lived in this neighborhood, which has been chic with Rome's haute-bourgeoisie since the late '50s.
I love strolling the streets of Rome in summer. Everything is just dripping with jaw-dropping beauty and luscious languor. (And it smells much better there than NYC in summertime…)
Above: I tried to climb up Bernini's Fontana di Tritone so I could swing from the sea god's eraser nipples…but the carabinieri put a stop to it.
I stayed at the lovely 5-star Bernini Bristol Hotel, which is behind the above fountain, where the staff was extremely helpful and the location very central.
I'm going to start with the show I enjoyed the most–an intimate presentation in a suite at the Exedra Hotel by Roman couture maestro Lorenzo Riva. The collection was inspired by Luchino Visconti's 1974 film Conversation Piece which features the actresses Claudia Cardinale, Silvana Mangano and Dominique Sanda. In the style of old-school couture presentations, the willowy designer stood at the front of the room and described each outfit as the models sauntered around the suite, with a few channeling Dovima in her heyday. (Riva also told jokes and schmoozed his clients who were perched on tufted sofas). For a moment, the glory days of 1950s and '60s Roman couture returned.
Riva opened his first atelier when he was only 18 years old. He has worked as a director for Maison Balenciaga and Brooke Shields and Jerry Hall have modeled his designs in Paris.
Caution, Diva Approaching: Italian cinema icon and photographer Gina Lollobrigida arrives at the Fausto Sarli show at Alta Moda.
When I took the above photo of Ms. Lollobrigida I was thinking of something legendary paparazzo Ron Galella told me a few years ago, that celebrities are more interesting when caught off-guard than they are smiling for a red-carpet photo. (Coincidentally, when I arrived home from Rome there was a package from Ron & Betty Galella waiting for me: Ron's new photo book "Viva L'Italia!" which features some great shots of Gina from the '70s as well as many amazing photos of both Italian and Italian-American stars, e.g. Madonna, Al Pacino, Silvana Mangano. Ron's inscription to me in the book reads: "I have been honored by the Italian government which made me a citizen of Italy and a museum exhibit of many of these images. This all came about because my father, Vincenzo, was born in Muro Lucano. I'm proud to be a son of Italy. Viva l'Italia!")
Gina Lollobrigida and friend in the front row at Fausto Sarli. Even though she looked at me like I was a cockroach I still felt honored to be in her presence.
Gina Lollobrigida is not just famous for the many films she made in the '50s and '60s (Trapeze, Hotel Paradiso) but also for the short "tossed salad" hairstyle she sported during the dolce vita era. The 'do caused a sensation when girls worldwide cut their hair to imitate her and a type of curly lettuce was even named "Lollo" in her honor. In the '70s she left acting for a career as a photographer–she has shot Paul Newman and Dali among others–and journalist. In 1975 she scooped the world press by obtaining an exclusive interview with Fidel Castro! Here's the proof in a clip from the documentary Gina produced & directed. (So excited & bowled over that I found this, given that I'm a total Fidelista. Gina and Fidel look fantastic in this clip and the chemistry is palpable–it is rumoured, after all, that they engaged in a steamy affair. By the way, this film probably gave Naomi Campbell the idea to interview Hugo Chavez):
I loved the quirky wording of the run-of-show notes for the Fausto Sarli show: "Et voila, for the day butterfly-shaped shirts soaring from sartorial jackets with squeezed waists"….."tulle carne where the black crystals emphasize the ladies' voluptuosity" (voluptuosity! My word of the week)….."La mariee is a triumph of organza ruffles" (a triumph!). I actually really liked the clothes in this collection, I thought some of the looks were wonderfully imaginative with an airy lightness.
The Vogue Italia dinner was held on the enchanting Terazza Caffarelli (above). Note the view of the controversial Vittoriano in the Piazza Venezia. Some contrarian Italians (like my friend Rinaldo) think the pompously outsized edifice, inaugurated in 1911, is fabulous but most others agree that it is an eyesore. (It's sometimes referred to as "the dentures").
Models in looks by Marco de Vincenzo, the pret-a-porter winner of Who's On Next?, at the Vogue Italia dinner.
"…and when I tried to give Anna Wintour a hug at the Prada show, I discovered that she was surrounded by an invisible force field." (Franca Sozzani, editor-in-chief of Italian Vogue, at the dinner. Another shot where I was accidently inspired by Galella).
Libby Banks from WGSN and I had to eat at the kid's table during the Vogue dinner!
The winners of the Who's On Next? competition: Daniele Michetti (accessories) and Marco de Vincenzo (ready-to-wear).
Shoe design by Daniele Michetti
Marco De Vincenzo's look for Red Dress Italia, a campaign sponsored by Elizabeth Arden to fight against the risks of female cardiovascular disease.
I almost forgot to mention the press lunch! One of the many dishes served was vitello tonnato, one of my favorites. It's thin slices of veal with tuna sauce, served cold, and it originates in the north, in Piemonte. Perfect for summer and with a glass of prosecco.
Above: Two views of Carlo Contrada's Capsule Collection No. Zero
Carlo Contrada showed his collection in a leafy courtyard on the via Margutta. His handmade dresses and jackets are made on a loom and boast ancient, almost forgotten, Italian embroidery techniques. Contrada collaborates with Annie, a company based in Vincenza and Paris which specializes in embroidery design and creation. They have built an archive of more than 1,000 pieces: www.annie.it
Paola Musto of Corriere di Roma and Libby Banks of WGSN at Carlo Contrada
The show locations at Alta Moda were quite spectacular. (Top) Inside the entrance of the ancient complex of Santo Spirito, near Vatican City, where many of the shows were held. Valentino also had his famed farewell show here in 2007. (Bottom) Abed Mahfouz staged his couture show at the foot of Constantine's Arch and the Coliseum.
A plucky, plucked look at Gianni Calignano
Amusement park lights illuminated the Gattinoni couture show. The house is famous for having dressed Audrey Hepburn and Anna Magnani in the '50s. For this collection the brand's creative director, Guillermo Mariotto, was inspired by "blinding, dazzling light, that clamps one in a vice or an embrace." Sounds like any one of my former relationships!
I met Italian journalist Nunzia Garoffolo after the Gattinoni show. I had overheard her talking about being from Reggio di Calabria, where my grandfather was from, and when we started talking I realized she was enamored of many of my quasi-underground homo celebrity friends: Justin Bond, Vaginal Davis, Bruce LaBruce, et al. (She interviewed Bruce for DROME magazine.) We had dinner outside at the venerated da Francesco, near the Piazza Navona, where tables are sprawled across the cobble-stone street and thin-crusted Roman pizza is the specialty. We had a loud, aggressive, and sexy waiter who almost kicked us out of our table (apparently we jumped the queue) until Nunzia worked her southern Italian charm on him.
My prosciutto and mushroom pizza was perfection on a plate.
During dinner, Nunzia told me a hilarious story which I probably should not repeat here but since my life philosophy is, "I'm motivated by whatever amuses me," here goes. There is a Lebanese designer who shows at Alta Moda named Tony Ward. As most of you out in the Shaded Audience know, Tony Ward is also the name of an extremely hot male model who never seems to age and who once played a gay hooker in Bruce LaBruce's "Hustler White." (Oh yeah, and he was also Madonna's lover.) Like all of us, Nunzia is in lust with Ward so her heart started palpitating when she saw "Tony Ward" on the Roman fashion calendar last January. Instead of double-checking on Google (like I did this season) to make sure it was the same Tony Ward, she called the Lebanese designer's publicist and impulsively set up an interview with the designer backstage before his show.
So, Nunzia shows up, her heart all aflutter and visions of the hunky, tattooed supermodel racing through her head. But he was nowhere in sight. "Where is Tony Ward?" she asked the publicist.
"He's right over there," the PR said, pointing to a short, balding man. Before Nunzia could make a run for it, the designer came over to her and said excitedly, "My press office told me you wanted to interview me for your magazine!" Nunzia reacted with a frozen smile on her face and while shaking his hand said, "I can see that you're quite frantic now before your show starts. So, break legs and I'll talk to you afterwards." She then left and never came back. Yes, I'm probably going to go to Hell for repeating this story but then again, that's probably where the best parties and open bar will be.
After dinner, Nunzia took me on a tour of nearby sites (because it's so hot during the day in July, nighttime is the best time to sight-see. And the horrid tourists are all in bed). Nunzia lived in Rome for 10 years (she now lives in Turin), so she is quite knowledgeable about the Eternal City. Above, the Turtle Fountain in the Jewish Ghetto's Piazza Mattei. Nunzia pointed to a window in the piazza of an apartment where a woman had committed suicide. Because she was an avid turtle lover, the hard-shelled critters were added as statuary to the fountain after her tragic death.
We also visited the ruins of the palace that Nero built for his wife. It was quite eerie at night.
Stay tuned for Part 2.