“Sono satura di salsedine e di faraglioni”: Artsy Clothing and Unshaved Armpits in Totò a colori

Last summer I used some of my spare time to watch movies, lots of them, especially those which I had always liked to watch. It’s true I’m a fan of American and British cinema, but I also watched a couple of classic Italian films. Totò a colori, directed by Steno in 1953, is not just a comedy: it is among the first Italian films to be shot in colour, the first shot using the Ferraniacolor system. The plot is nothing revolutionary – it’s just an excuse to present some of the most popular revue scenes by the Italian comedian – but one of its sections is. The film has different settings but the most glamourous is Capri, where the protagonist, Antonio Scannagatti, meets an eccentric group of slackers. They all hang out in the luxurious mansion of Giulia Sofia (Franca Valeri), a Milanese socialite who spends her time travelling and partying [1].

This part of the film is very funny, because the protagonist pretends to be Pupetto Montmartre dagli Champs-Élysées (a bizarre Paris-based artist) but he’s just a penniless composer who wants to be famous. This double identity gives him the chance to act and dress in a very extravagant way and thus to mingle with the revelers. The outfits worn by the girls there are unusual: they draw inspiration from 1950s fashion, but have some details which make them stand out. We don’t know where they come from: probably some of them are locals but they act as if they were jet-setters like Giulia Sofia.

vlcsnap-2013-08-04-11h06m18s249“C’è la Patrizia che è una ragazza piuttosto bene. Non è nobile, ma ha il cane scozzese [2],” says the hostess. Patrizia (Lili Cerasoli) is a classic Italian beauty but everything in her appearance reinforces the idea of quirkiness. Her short hair contrasts with the pin-up make-up and brows (lips and nails are painted the same orange shade) and her armpits are unshaved. This shouldn’t be a surprise, since women’s attitude towards shaving was very different back then. Society didn’t see shaving as compulsory and bombshells like Sofia Loren proudly showed their unshaved armpits. Not all the girls in the film are unshaved, so I guess showing those who were has a reason. I think showing body hair wanted to highlight a natural detail in the middle of all that snobbery.

vlcsnap-2013-08-04-11h12m28s101Another girl has unshaved armpits and is not afraid of showing them. This is another Italian beauty, with black hair styled in soft waves, hoop earrings and a coral lipstick. She’s wearing a strapless dress with white gathered bodice, lace-up detail on the front and red tube skirt with patch pocket. In the picture above we can see Patrizia again and Giulia Sofia, but more about her later. The style of the two boys is unusual, too: bright colours, prints, shiny fabrics and jewellery were definitely strange at the time.

vlcsnap-2013-08-04-11h29m57s99In the screencap above we can see Patrizia’s outfit in detail: she’s wearing a tube strapless top with ruffled hems and matching peplum trousers, paired to black flats. All her garments are made of peach satin with black polka dots and have black trims. The ensemble reminds me of the spring 2009 collection by Prada, minus the peplum trousers, which are obviously reminiscent of the 80s and the recent 2010s revival. The costume designer of this film, Giulio Coltellacci, did a great job in channelling sartorial elements of the 1950s while intentionally adding some weird details.

vlcsnap-2013-08-04-11h09m28s102The peplum on Patrizia’s trousers has an asymmetrical cut, another element of quirkiness.

vlcsnap-2013-08-04-11h14m48s229Other two girls attend the parties at Giulia Sofia. The third from the left is wearing a gorgeous teal satin outfit with strapless bra and a full skirt with shorts [3]; her black hair, neck and shoulders are covered with a lace scarf. The girl on the right (Nancy Clark) is wearing a one-shoulder teal satin top with high-waisted red trousers and an aubergine long wrap, plus chandelier earrings and a charm bracelet. These outfits are amazing, because they exhude glamour and a certain refinement, something I can’t see in the outfit of the girl on the left.

vlcsnap-2013-08-04-11h05m48s213Giulia Sofia is the heart and soul of the party. Daughter to a wealthy father, she spends her time in fashionable locations, where she lives in her own houses. Her Capri mansion mirrors her own style – artsy and very feminine. This role is one of the trademarks of Franca Valeri, the wordy Milanese Signorina Snob who always aims at being glamourous, popular and – obviously – snobbier than ever. It’s not a case that we first see her at the phone (gossipping on the phone is her favourite hobby), talking to a friend about her guests.

vlcsnap-2013-08-04-11h08m01s3She wears a beautiful “split” bustier made of ivory satin, paired to a teal satin full skirt with a handkerchief-like chiffon embellishment and a black fringed shawl with teal satin lining. Her hairstyle is reminiscent of Audrey Hepburn’s in the early 1950s and I wouldn’t be surprised if she had Hepburn among her style icons. She’s a rich girl who takes her privileges for granted and isn’t afraid to change plans according to her mood; the title of this post refers to her decision to leave Capri and go to the mountains, to Cortina, because she’s fed up with “saltiness and stacks“. The arrival of the protagonist will change her mind.

vlcsnap-2013-08-04-11h06m56s117The last member of this lovely girl clique is Poppy Winnipeg (Fulvia Franco), an American redhead who’s the fiancée of Poldo (Galeazzo Benti; he’s the one wearing a white sweater in the link). She’s very different from the others, even if they all share the same approach to style. Her secretary look (curly hair and cat’s eye tortoise glasses) contrasts with her artsy outfit, which includes an iridescent strapless jumpsuit and cape/headpiece which incorporates gloves!

vlcsnap-2013-08-04-11h18m12s202Her outfit is completed by a gold rope necklace, but the strongest piece is definitely that glove cape. I’ve never seen anything like that before, but it kind of reminds me of the incredible creations by Elsa Schiaparelli; it surely has a role in reinforcing the idea behind this part of the movie, where all the protagonists are living in a microcosm. There’s no place for petty everyday matters, for job problems or for worries in the golden cage of Giulia Sofia, but it’s all about parties, gossip, multiculturalism and travelling. This detachment from reality allows the girls to dress in such an eccentric way: they don’t work, so they can wear unpractical garments.

vlcsnap-2013-08-04-11h31m15s109A pair of gold flat sandals completes Poppy’s outfit.

I’m pretty sure a very few of you watched the film, so here is an excerpt showing Giulia Sofia’s mansion and its inhabitants. I’m sure you’ll love it: its quirkiness is irresistible. You’ve got to love the diversity of feminine models presented here, something which is very rare to see nowadays at the cinema, especially in Italian films.

[1]… and drinking from strass-studded pumps.

[2] “There’s Patrizia, who is quite a respectable girl. She’s not noble, but her dog is Scottish”. The funny description that Giulia Sofia gives focuses on an “exotic” element (the dog’s breed) in Patrizia’s life.

[3] The same skirt/shorts combination was seen in Daks spring/summer 2012 collection.

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