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Gianni Agnelli: The man and his clothes

The life and style of Italy’s uncrowned prince

When it comes to contemporary icons, Signor Gianni Agnelli is a behemoth. The former head of Fiat, a jet-setter, trend-setter and bonafide Italian socialite, L’Avvocatto (as he was often known), had the power of a modern day Roman emperor and the looks of a Pitti Uomo veteran.

Here we take a look at the life and times of the Italian hero, as well as the clothes that defined him…

The businessman

A Second World War veteran, Agnelli swapped the brutal contours of the tank for the elegant curves of a four-wheel drive in 1966 as became president of Fiat, a role in which he opened factories in several locations across the globe, including Russia (at the time the Soviet Union) and South America, and started international alliances and joint-ventures (like Iveco). Such actions were trailblazing, unconventional and marked a new industrial mentality.

Gianni Agnelli: The man and his clothes

Thanks to his worldly perspective and innovative methods, Agnelli carved a path as perhaps the most successful car magnate in history, blending hard-nosed practicality with Italian sprezzatura and turning Fiat into a global powerhouse. His company’s success was so impressive that it became the symbol of Italy’s postwar economic renaissance and, at one point, had a value equal to a 20th of the country’s entire economy. The charming tycoon brought with him a calm and prosperity to his motherland, and at the height of his powers he was the richest man in the land.

The playboy

An aficionado of art, cars and women, Agnelli was the archetypal west European playboy. He had quick wit, a devilish charm and a prowess inherent in only the most debonair of gentlemen. And only he, and he alone, could pull off certain actions with flawless style. Take, for example, the way in which he would make an entrance. It was a known fact amongst Italian cognoscenti that Agnelli would frequently jump 30 feet from his helicopter into the Mediterranean sea before swimming towards his yacht. He pulled the same diving stunt when visiting friends, jumping into the swimming pools of their villas.

Gianni Agnelli: The man and his clothes

Although leading a hedonistic life within the cash-rich and luxury-heavy circles of Italy, he wasn’t overtly flashy, despite what many may think. For example, he was a boating enthusiast who would often traverse the Italian and French Rivierias, but he wasn’t in the sailing game to show off how big his vessels were; in fact, his most famous yacht, Agneta, was only 80-feet (minute by today’s standards) and boasted possession-free guest rooms.

The style

There were several things Agnelli knew how to do well.

First, he lived bravely; not only was he a tanker during the war, but during a time in postwar Italy when communist paramilitary organisations began to assassinate political leaders and businessmen, Agnelli continued to drive to work everyday in his bijou-sized Fiat.

Second, he definitely knew how to make an entrance, as his nautical escapades will attest to.

Finally, and most famously, he knew how to cut a dash, thanks mainly to his bold yet classic fashion sense which made him stand out, even in a country where dressing well and fashion are adhered to zealously.

His enviable looks were defined by a winning mix of elegant and beautifully-cut suits with personalised minutiae. It was the latter element that garnered most attention; to Agnelli, life was in the details, and wearing skewed ties and wearing his watch on the outside of his cuff were just as important as, say, the dimensions of a Fiat’s side mirror.

Confident, rakish and unequivocally cool, this uncrowned prince of Italy managed to readjust the art of dressing and came to symbolise the very notion of sprezzatura. Below we select the finer details that made Agnelli a modern day fashion maverick.

The perfect suit

Gianni Agnelli: The man and his clothes

Like any debonair gent from the homeland of fashion, Agnelli’s main wardrobe winner was a well-tailored, classically-designed suit.

His go-to tailor was A. Caraceni, and a neutral colour (usually charcoal grey) was his colour of choice. Favouring either a contemporary two-button piece or a more Italian-centric blazer with wide peak lapels, he always preferred timeless formalwear that would stand the test of time. Now, with over 40 years having passed since he was thrown onto the style scene, no one can challenge such a decision.

Gianni Agnelli: The man and his clothes

Double-breasted wool jacket by Alexander McQueen

£1,975

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Gianni Agnelli: The man and his clothes

Wool notch lapel suit by Reiss

£225

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The off-kilter tie

Gianni Agnelli: The man and his clothes

Unlike the bold and brash aesthetics so frequently associated with businessmen of that epoch, Agnelli chose accessories that were more muted, often siding with either a knitted or wool tie – items which, evidently, brought a touch of informality and character to his formal outfits.

One of his more famous style quirks was the way in which he styled his neckwear, often wearing it twisted and slightly off-centre, adding just a touch of calculated nonchalance to whatever he donned.

Gianni Agnelli: The man and his clothes

Grey knitted tie by Drake’s

£125

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Gianni Agnelli: The man and his clothes

Wool slim tie by T.M Lewin

£19.95

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Rugged boots

Gianni Agnelli: The man and his clothes

One of the finest contributions Agnelli made to the world of style was bringing hiking boots from the mountain and into the everyday wardrobe. Whether in the boardroom of the streets of Italy, he focused attention on the footwear, and by doing so helped break the divide between rugged style and mainstream fashion.

Gianni Agnelli: The man and his clothes

Suede derby boots by John Lobb

£1,340

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Gianni Agnelli: The man and his clothes

Apron boot by G.H Bass

£200

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A watch over the cuff

Gianni Agnelli: The man and his clothes

Undoubtedly his most famous style move ever, Agnelli was renowned for wearing a chronometer over his cuff.

As one of Italy’s most successful businessmen, it was reported he never had time to rest or even to peel back his sleeve to check the time. Others report that the cuffs he wore were simply too tight. Either way, this is one look that can only be pulled off by a gent with gravitas; and Agnelli was certainly that.

Gianni Agnelli: The man and his clothes

Classic by Chopard

£7,370

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Gianni Agnelli: The man and his clothes

Slim fit shirt by Turnbull & Asser

£255

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Need more style inspiration? Check out our profile of JFK, the best-dressed president to have ever taken office

Further Reading