Italy has two very different souls, which coincide with its geographical extremes — the north (where I live) and the south.
For example, think about Milanese Giorgio Armani and Sicilian Dolce & Gabbana, Italy’s most influential designers… Could they be any more different?
Giorgio Armani perfectly embodies the soul of Milan, Italy’s financial center, located in the north. He is famous for designing everyday clothing for the career woman, and his signature piece is the white-collar uniform par excellence: the suit.
In 2009, he “invented” the always-appropriate greige color, a mix of grey and beige, which has since gained huge popularity in the beauty world as well (hello, Chanel Particulière nail polish!).
And after the ever-impeccable Cate Blanchett became the face of the Sì fragrance in 2013, “King Giorgio” stated that she perfectly represents the woman he designs for. This, in my opinion, says a lot about his style, which I’d personally describe in two words: elegant, understated.
Stefano Dolce and Domenico Gabbana are from Italy’s southernmost region, Sicily, and their creations strongly exude Sicilian passion and tradition. Their most iconic piece is the bustier dress, and Sicilian black lace is their most used fabric. While Armani invented greige, Dolce & Gabbana made leopard print their signature.
Unsurprisingly, the celebrity who had the biggest role in establishing their worldwide popularity was Madonna. The Sicilian duo and the queen of pop share the same provocative, innovative style, a style both sexy and loud.
I think the differences between these designers really do reflect the actual differences between northern and southern Italy.
The north is more heavily industrialized than the south, and there’s more of a feeling that time is money. For instance, in the south, it’s considered rude, when randomly meeting someone you know, to not stop to talk to them extensively, while in the north, doing that is sometimes seen as impolite, because you might be keeping the other person from things they need to do.
The north is more modern, while the South is deeply attached to traditions and religion (I don’t know if you’ve ever noticed, but Dolce & Gabbana’s jewelry collection features lots of cross-shaped earrings and pendants).
People from the south tend to have a flashier style than northerners, who are usually more low-key.
Southerners are often loud and flamboyant, while northerners are more reticent to show their feelings and emotions. Screaming through the window at your friend who lives in the opposite building is perfectly normal in the south, while in the north it’s seen as terrible manners.
Something that you can’t see by just looking at Armani and Dolce & Gabbana is that many southerners are often very hospitable. If you’re ever invited to have dinner at a southern Italian’s, expect it to last five hours, and expect yourself to eat at least half your own body weight in one meal. And if you ever meet someone from the south, rest assured that they are going to invite you to dinner — and there will be no way you’ll be able to decline.
Also, expect acts of gratuitous kindness in southern Italy. A few years ago I went on vacation to Salento (the southernmost part of Italy’s heel) with two friends, and I remember being completely astonished that a gas station attendant had cleaned our dirty windshield for free, without us even asking. Things like that don’t really happen often (read: never) here in the north because, as I said, time is money!
I have truly amazing memories from that vacation in Salento. The beaches were gorgeous, the people were kind and the food was delicious…
Next time you visit Italy, I really hope you go!