There are few languages as lyrical or inventive as Italian. One of the oldest in the world, it’s a vernacular with verve and serious style — all sing-song phrases and rich, rolling intonation. And the words! Whether it’s the endless coffee classifications or the expressions we’ve adopted into English (think ‘fiasco’, ‘diva’ or ‘extravaganza’), it’s a vocabulary like no other.
But our favourite words are those with no English equivalents. Terms like ‘culaccino’; the mark left on a wooden table by an ice-filled, sweating glass, or ‘abbiocco’; a term for the heady drowsiness that takes hold after a long lunch. But the best? ‘Sprezzatura’; four stylish syllables that The Oxford English Dictionary defines as “studied carelessness”. But what do we Brits know?
Instead, to truly define ‘sprezzatura’, we’ve asked ten Italians to have a go. And not just any Italians — ten of the most trimly-tailored, sharpest-suited style influencers on Instagram. From designer Luca Rubinacci to entrepreneur Alessandro Squarzi, here’s what the Mediterranean nation’s nattiest dressers make of the word…
I would define the term ‘sprezzatura’ as an innate gift that very few people have — and it is a wonderful gift. It is so hard to have the talent for real. The majority of people try to act like they have it, but it is evident when looks are thought-through and built; it’s easy to recognise when it is not natural.
I don’t know if I have this talent, but what I can say is that I don’t spend too much time on thinking what I should wear. I see in my wardrobe a garment that I like and I wear it. I think that not thinking about the outfit, but rather just putting together pieces that you see in your wardrobe in the morning and that you like, may be something connected to this term — and that is exactly how I dress myself everyday.
‘Sprezzatura’ is the ability to combine a seemingly ‘not right’ outfit that — once worn with the personality of the wearer — becomes ‘imperfectly perfect’. That is sprezzatura! You can’t suggest a ‘typical’ outfit because it’s not standard and you don’t decide, you simply wear it and make it come alive!
In my opinion, sprezzatura is the ability to add a mistake to your look whilst still looking effortlessly good. You add the mistake not because you don’t know the rules, but rather because you like not to play things by the book all the time. It’s a kind of freedom statement, like l’Avvocato Agnelli used to do.
‘Sprezzatura’ is a very fashionable word in recent times. And today, more than ever, it takes on a symbolic meaning. For me, it is the simple and casual attitude to show others your own elegance and style. I consider it something that cannot be learned — but rather is innate.
Vincenzo Di Luca
The term is perhaps better known throughout the rest of the world than in Italy itself, but it indicates the art of doing things with ease; without too much effort. It is the carelessness, the lightness of making a small defect a value. A hat placed sideways, a scarf worn without too much rigour, but — above all — the ability to wear a tailored suit with the same naturalness with which one wears a pair of jeans.
Personally, I love contrast. I will wear a biker leather jacket over my clothes, or a large floral shawl with jacket and tie. A handkerchief in the pocket also never fails, nor do old and worn sneakers, worn comfortably with important pants and jackets — even if they have holes in them. This is my definition; a few lines, written ‘without obligation’ and therefore with ‘sprezzatura’, like a good Italian.
I would relate ‘sprezzatura’ to the important illuminists whose personalities influence their way to be, to live and, of course, to dress. There are people who force themselves in order to get dressed and to appear in a certain way or they search for a style that doesn’t belong them. I never try to do it, it comes to me as a completely natural thing, where I allow my instinct to choose for me. A rule that works for me is, rather than matching a midnight blue or a black tie with a suit, play a bit more with a coloured ties, relaxed suits or sport jackets.
It’s quite difficult to describe in just a few words something that would require an entire book. But, in my opinion, ‘sprezzatura’ is the power of relaxation. It’s the total absence of the fear of judgement, and is demonstrated when you — not intentionally — but casually break certain rules of dressing. But, to achieve this, you must know the rules of dressing perfectly. This Loro Piana advertisement, from many, many years ago, sums up the essence of ‘sprezzatura’ without the needs for words.
I often find myself recommending fabrics to my clients that they would never have chosen independently. Trying to define ‘sprezzatura’ reminds me of the wardrobe of an elegant bank manager from the 80s — one which mixed in a clean-cut pair of trousers and Sperry boat shoes. To me, immediately, that is sprezzatura.
‘Sprezzatura’ is a way of being naturally casual that hides great attention to the details and outfit, giving a message of spontaneity and self-confidence. A mismatched suit with navy trousers and a beige jacket with a striped shirt and a knitted solid colour tie, a particular scarf accidentally put round the neck, a bespoke loafer — and everything completed with a nice watch.
Style must be nonchalant and confident, and la sprezzatura is the ability to carefully combine different items of clothing, colours and accessories without letting others perceive the attention and effort hidden behind it.