the smarter the clothes, the more dangerous the man, and the more damaged the clothes, the more vulnerable the man
Costume Designer Piero Gherardi, Academy Award for Best Costume Design (BW) 1961 and 1963 for 8½
Piero Gherardi, self-taught in art and architecture, created the overall look of La Dolce Vita. He was costume and set designer, as well as art director. This is a stylish film as a whole, as Gherardi placed equal emphasis on the costumes for both female and male leads. Every scene in La Dolce Vita strikes you as a beautifully styled photograph and the film still guides sartorial aspirations around the globe.
And aspire you do. To be ” the first woman on the first day of creation. [The] mother, sister, lover, friend, angel, devil, earth, home”. Of course much helped by the natural statuesque sensuality of Sylvia, costumes do play a decisive part on the construction this first Woman, the unattainable male fantasy.
Much in the same way as they immortalized the sophisticated, frivolous elegance of the thrill seeking Maddalena. Has ennui ever looked more glamorous on-screen?
We need to live in a state of suspended animation like a work of art, in a state of enchantment. We have to succeed in loving so greatly that we live outside of time, detached.
In La Dolce Vita‘s mid-century Rome, Sylvia, Emma and Maddalena are each either proponents or victims of the media-hyped sweet life, with Sylvia as the celebrity symbol of fantasy, Maddalena as a habitual consumer of the trivial, and Emma as an outsider suffering the undesirability of being so.
But this is unmistakably a movie about a man, a magnificently attractive one. La Dolce Vita confirmed Mastroiani, even if he rejected the title himself, as the ultimate Latin Lover. This Latin Lover appears as a cultural symbol of the Italian as “other”, the “imagined embodiment of the primitive, whose unrestrained and exotic passion directly affronts the more civilized and restrained Northern European or American Society”. This cultural symbol is also a cultural commodity, a “poster boy” for Rome as the hot spot of the rich, the famous and the beautiful, but also for the “European Don Giovanni and the Italian style based on the emergence of Italian fashion and design”.
Fellini and Gherardi present fashion and clothing as a “subtle critique of Italian masculinity”. Jacqueline Reich claims that Marcello, the journalist, is an anti-hero (inetto), ” a man in conflict with an unsettled and at times unsettling political and sexual environment” but always immaculately dressed, the embodiment of the cultural heritage of the bella figura, “reflecting a taste for public display of self-worth though appearance”.
Malossi (quoted by Reich) observes that “the Italian male literally puts on a show for the admiring public. Like the dandy, the bella figura parades his sense of style, his masculinity, and his sensuality, regardless of his social and economic status. Both individual and national identity are written on the body through clothing and grooming and paraded for the community”. I have only been to Italy for work a couple of time, and in Rome stayed only a few hours, enough to walk to the Fontana di Trevi and drive past the Coliseum but, the parading of well dressed men did really make a strong impression on me. Never before I had seen in practice this notion that “dressing well [is] both a privilege and a responsibility” and the conscious use of public space as stage and tailoring and suits as costumes.
In La Dolce Vita, Fellini, presents us with the “discontinuity between surface and substance. Marcello Rubini is dressed in the latest fashions but the costuming fails to mask his moral, spiritual and sexual failings”. Still, at the end, vulnerable and damaged in his white suit, Rubini is still showing us that, as claimed by Bruzzi, “masculinity is directly measured by narcissism”.
Jacqueline Reich, UNDRESSING THE LATIN LOVER Marcello Mastroiani, fashion and La Dolce Vita in Bruzzi and Gibson (2013) Fashion Cultures Revisited: Theories, Explorations and Analysis