Purple Magazine
— S/S 2015 issue 23





Not since the days of “pasta,” “pizza,” and, dare I sadly say, “mafia,” has an Italian word so successfully and pervasively invaded the international vocabulary. And it is, honestly, quite a complicated word, both as a concept and as an agglomeration of consonants and vowels: sprezzatura. I can only imagine an English-speaking gent sharpening that s-p-r group in the beginning or fighting with the double z in the middle.

Spre-zza-tu-ra. It means, more or less, effortlessness, but more on that later. You might have heard it whispered with cult-like secrecy and a raised eyebrow as an in-the-know bonding byword among the sartorial happy few and the peacocky purveyors of Italian elegance worldwide. They are everywhere, blatantly showing off their bespoke finesse in gentlemen’s clubs, down the street, in a bar near you, and, last but not least, at Pitti Uomo in Florence, the international fashion fair that, unintentionally, attracts among its spectators many of these cocky characters, acting as an unwilling catalysis for such peculiar specimens of evidently sophisticated men with swagger. Oh, I almost forgot: it’s actually on the Web that you can find them aplenty, as the self-sufficient and perfectly poised protagonists of endless streetstyle snaps offered as an immaculate example of how a man worth being considered a man of leisure should dress. In case you found this all a zing too local — I am Italian, after all, so forgive me for being a tad provincial — think again. Italian elegance, nowadays, is not an Italian affair anymore. It is, more or less, a global state of mind expressed through devilishly careful compositions of made-to-measure clothing, pompous gestures, and a natural proclivity for bold style statements. Italians take pride in a little, not even so little, sartorial exhibitionism: this is the assumption. In this sense, a certain Italian flair has become internationally pervasive. You can find it interpreted with zealous fervor all the way down to Japan as well as in the US or whichever part of the world you like. You can spot it immediately in the peculiar charm certain men ooze as they boast about how much they know about elegance while pretending they don’t give a damn. This is, in fact, where sprezzatura steps in.

Sprezzatura is the point of pride of any peacock worth his salt. The word is pillaged from a 16th century manual — more a philosophical essay than a handbook — about life as a courtesan, aptly titled Il Cortegiano and written in 1527 by Baldassarre Castiglione, a courtesan himself. I am sure not many of the aforementioned gentlemen ever ventured as far as reading a line out of it, the ancient Italian vocabulary and syntax being a huge obstacle, albeit a funny one. In a memorable passage, the writer introduces the neologism as a defining quality for the perfect man working his magic with uttermost légèreté amidst the perilous intricacies of court life. Sprezzatura is in fact the art of doing even the most difficult things with ease, the ability to accomplish the most oppressing duties without making an apparent effort. It is, fundamentally, the complete opposite of trying too hard. Castiglione compares the idea to grace and openly condemns showing off as a disdainful mistake, a permanent stain, so to speak, on the immaculate shirt of the impeccably pressed man. Of course his range of thought was far wider than fashion and clothing. He was talking about a view of life while using as a frame rituals and hierarchies that commanded attention for even the tiniest detail. It was, after all, the pre-industrial world.

Fast-forward to 2015. What is sprezzatura all about? Mismatched checks and arched neckties, slicked-back hair and studied scruffiness to throw the balance off-kilter. For men who have spent hours in front of the mirror deciding how wide the portion of forearm exposing their tattoo below the carefully rolled-up sleeves of their deliberately un-ironed shirts should be, or how studiously crinkled their jacket should be in order to get a nonchalant air, it is the shield behind which they hide their fatal mistake: trying too hard. Because, forgive me if I sound harsh and moralistic, there is very little sprezzatura in the many outfits that keep being heralded as its perfect specimens. What’s lacking is effortlessness — everything being too studied and too obvious, from the unbuttoned button-down of the shirt collar to the unmade strap of the sturdy double monkstraps. Yet, it’s exactly these men, as vain as they can possibly be and unnatural as only the man-made can seem, who pride themselves on being the saviors of sprezzatura. Funnily, and rather effortlessly, their non-adherence to the very essence of the concept backfires in their overwrought outfits, turning what is offered as poetry into farce.

Sprezzatura is a difficult quality to attain. It is not an outfit, but a stance, and probably should be left in the books as a token of another world. It is soft and somehow requires shyness. It is not about understatement, the oppressive prescription favored by the rich who are afraid, in these uncertain times, of making their wealth apparent to the world. Sprezzatura means harmony, both spiritual and material, and has nothing to do with income. It is vaguely anachronistic, too, as only truly progressive concepts can be, because it is the complete opposite of our culture of utter, blatant visibility. In clothing as well as in manners, making too much of an effort is not elegant because it leaves no room for mystery, and mystery is oh so attractive. Peacocks, instead, take it all out and end up spending most of their time alone in their own garrulous contemplation. This is to say that sprezzatura, or shall I call it effortlessness, requires one singular, un-self-sufficient effort. If you’re not willing to make it, you’d better leave this strange word to rest, and I am saying it loud with no sprezzatura at all.

[Table of contents]

S/S 2015 issue 23

Table of contents

purple EDITO

purple NEWS






purple BEAUTY

purple LOVE

purple TRAVEL

purple SEX


purple TRAVEL

purple NIGHT

purple STORY


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