Nino Cerruti gave elegance a good reputation
Elegance, said Nino Cerruti, got on his nerves. It was the kind of remark you can afford to make when you’re easily the most elegant man in the room. And Mr. Cerruti, who died last month at the age of 91, embodied that attribute, a quality rarely encountered but undeniable when you are in his presence.
“It can be learned, but you have to have a natural disposition for it,” he said in a interview at L’Officiel USA last year.
Although sartorial elegance is an instinct, as Mr. Cerruti suggested, it can be anatomized. It stems from knowing yourself and staying true to yourself; to ruthlessly assess physical flaws and strengths in order to understand the effect of your body moving through space. It depends, to some extent, on learning the basics of dress-up before throwing it.
As we enter the third year of a still, mostly pandemic, sitting at home in our relaxed duds, it might seem that having an aptitude for elegance is as useful as knowing how to prune a bonsai tree.
Yet, as recent menswear and couture shows across Europe suggest, a stylish mirage looms on the horizon. Designers, experts and consumers are looking for reasons to dress up again – regularly and in public. By this one, we don’t mean for Instagram selfies or red-letter events like, say, the Met Gala, which has come to look like the fashion version of Comic Con.
On the catwalks and showrooms of Milan and Paris, brands like Prada, Louis Vuitton and Tod’s represented individual visions of clothing that nodded obliquely at Mr. Cerruti, who insiders know he laid the foundations of a post-war Italian ready-to-wear industry that produced Italian clothing. elegance a global identity.
“I’m very drawn to this idea of chic,” Tod’s creative director Walter Chiapponi said last month in Milan after previewing a beautiful capsule collection of reworked classics that could have been hacked into wardrobes. of a certain type of Italian. of a particular pedigree – someone like Nino Cerruti. “These northern Italians traditionally had that quality,” Mr. Chiapponi said. ” It is a question of culture.
The poster of this form of chic was by reflex Gianni Agnelli, the industrialist and heir to Fiat. Mr. Agnelli, however, was a showboat, partly a creation of a post-war tabloid culture fascinated by the doings of a newly minted cosmopolitan jet set.
The contrast between the two men is also instructive. Where Mr. Agnelli’s signatures (knotted-shoulder sweaters, denim skiwear, soft-soled driving shoes, ties tucked into waistbands, wristwatches worn on a shirt cuff) came together as expressions of sprezzatura, an overused term for elegance thrown wide, Mr. Cerruti’s was more authentic and relaxed. He dressed so as not to be noticed. Yet when you were with him, you wondered why he looked so much better than anyone else in sight.
“He was the most stylish man I’ve ever met,” said Emanuele Farneti, fashion and style editor at Italian daily La Repubblica. “He was the symbol of a certain elegance specific to regions and generations, such as Milan and Turin. It’s a kind of chic that’s the opposite of showing off.
In a sense, Mr Farneti said, it’s no surprise that Cerruti “discovered Armani”, whom the older man spotted as a relative stranger employed at the La Rinascente department store and hired to design menswear. for his Hitman label. In his 50-year career, Giorgio Armani has rarely strayed from a calm basic aesthetic. When critics criticize the apparent monotony of his work, they also tend to overlook his early innovations.
More than any other designer, Mr. Armani can be credited with popularizing the deconstructed suit. And, intentionally or not, contemporary designers like Jerry Lorenzo at Fear of God or Mike Amiri at Amiri nod to his legacy with each new collection of their high-end streetwear. Mr. Armani did not “invent” deconstruction, however. If anyone, Nino Cerruti did it. “He was the trailblazer,” said Nick Sullivan, Esquire’s creative director.
Coming from a family of industrialists whose Lanificio Cerruti woolen mills were founded in 1881 in the northern town of Biella, Mr. Cerruti was the first to notice the potential to diversify from fabric manufacturing to tailoring. “With Walter Albini, he was the forerunner of what became Italian ready-to-wear,” Sullivan said. “He was a rock star in the late 60s.”
Among the innovations Mr. Cerruti pioneered were wetsuits stripped of their rigid interior structures. “He was among the first to deconstruct the jacket,” said Angelo Flaccavento, an Italian style writer.
Unlike the soft Neapolitan shirt tailoring popular since the 1920s, when upper-class Englishmen sent their tailors to Naples to copy local techniques, Mr. Cerruti retained the structure of his suits while relaxing them. The simple decision to remove linen, flannel, horsehair and other basic elements from traditional suits ultimately affected the course of modern menswear.
Mr. Cerruti was a pioneer in many other ways. In the early days of the asexual fashion concept, which he called “couples’ clothing,” he also regularly dressed celebrities, including Anita Ekberg, Jean-Paul Belmondo, and Harrison Ford, and not because his publicists stalked them for lucrative endorsements. Many of his star customers, he says, “came as customers of my Paris boutique.”
Curiously, given that he has provided clothing for countless films, his cinematic contribution has generally gone unrecognized. “So many things that people think Armani was in the movies were Cerruti,” designer Umit Benan noted last week by phone from Milan.
Although it was costume designer Marilyn Vance who chose the ‘Pretty Woman’ wardrobe, it was her choice of the Cerruti costume that dignified the millionaire played by Richard Gere and gave an enduring elegance to an essentially generic character. .
Cerruti designs have appeared in films as disparate as “Wall Street” and “The Silence of the Lambs” and have been worn by generations of fashionable men. Yet no one has ever managed to look as stylish as the designer himself. There were her sorbet-colored sweaters draped (but not tied) over the shoulders. There were her quirky polka dot green socks worn with gray flannel pants. There were his pinstriped shirts invariably worn over a dark T-shirt and under a tweed jacket, with no tie. There were his Yohji Yamamoto sneakers and the sewing tricks that few experts could detect.
“He was very aware of his body and his figure and how to work with it,” Flaccavento said.
Tall and lanky, Mr. Cerruti was long in the chest and dressed in a way that minimized the flaws in his figure. “In my mind, I see him in a soft suit, usually gray, with an open-necked shirt with a contrasting dark T-shirt underneath,” said Peter Speliopoulos, former creative director of DKNY and who was one of the many talents. (Véronique Nichanian of Hermès and Narciso Rodriguez were others) spotted or hired early on by Mr. Cerruti.
“He belted his high pants, wore a well-worn leather belt, to accentuate his waist – or give the illusion of really long legs,” Mr Speliopoulos said.
Until the end, he smoked like a fiend and lit his cigarettes with matches, somehow lending an element of chic even to this habit. “He was devilishly elegant,” said Mr. Flaccavento, who in 2015 organized an exhibition at Florence’s Museo Marino Marini of clothes from Mr. Cerruti’s personal wardrobe – he rarely threw anything away – which included suits, jackets, pants, evening wear. and capes tracing the evolution of Italian menswear through six decades.
Among the most fascinating items on display in this exhibit was a moth-ventilated frayed woolen jacket. Humble as he was, there was elegance in the designer’s shameless decision to not just keep an old garment, but to display it as representative of himself.
“I kept it for a simple reason,” Mr. Cerruti told that reporter at the time. “I’ve always loved this fabric.”