In Italy, fashion is almost a national passion and to see the latest trends, one need only glance around the various piazze, restaurants and streets. Interestingly, these are trends worn to show off the best of the wearer and limit the flaws: individual Italians for the most part follow trends that suit them. Besides, few fashion conscious Italians would go for something trendy that is not also durable, classic and genuine. An Italian woman striding down the cobbled streets in the latest ultra-high wedges without missing a step and with hair flying in the breeze, epitomizes an attitude almost all Italians have: of dressing with care and confidence. For Italians, fashion is not about the clothes but about an attitude; an attitude of sophistication.
Giorgio Armani (born 11 July 1934) is an Italian fashion designer, particularly noted for his menswear. He is known for his clean, tailored lines. He formed his company, Armani, in 1975 and by 2001 was acclaimed as the most successful designer in Italy.
Armani was born in the northern Italian town of Piacenza, where he was raised with his older brother, Sergio and his younger sister, Rosanna by his mother, Maria Raimondi and father, Ugo Armani. Armani aspired to a career in medicine and enrolled in the Department of Medicine at the University of Milan. However, after three years, he left the university and joined the army. Because of his medical studies, he was transferred to an infirmary in Verona. It was, then, he decided to find a different career.
After his discharge from the military, Armani found a job as a window dresser at La Rinascente, a department store in Milan. He went on to become a salesman for the menswear department, where he gained valuable experience in the marketing area of the fashion industry. In the mid-1960s, Armani moved to the Nino Cerruti company and designed menswear. His skills were in demand and for the next decade while continuing to work for Cerutti, Armani freelanced, contributing designs to as many as ten manufacturers at a time. In the late 1960s, Armani met Sergio Galeotti, an architectural draftsman, which marked the beginning of a personal and professional relationship that lasted for many years.
Galeotti persuaded Armani to open a design office in Milan and this led to a period of collaboration with a number of fashion houses, including Allegri, Bagutta, Hilton, Sicons, Gibò, Montedoro and Tendresse. The international press was quick to acknowledge Armani’s importance following the runway shows at the Sala Bianca in the Pitti Palace in Florence. The experience provided Armani with an opportunity to develop his own style. He devoted his energy to his own label and in 1975 he founded Giorgio Armani S.p.A. in Milan, with his friend Galeotti. In October of that same year, he presented his first collection of men’s ready-to-wear for Spring and Summer 1976 under his own name. He also produced a women’s line for the same season.
In 1979, after founding the Giorgio Armani Corporation, Armani introduced and produced the Mani line for men and women in the United States. The label became one of the leading names in international fashion with the introduction of several new product lines, including G. A. Le Collezioni, Giorgio Armani Underwear and Swimwear and Giorgio Armani Accessories. Giorgio Armani has a keen interest in sports. He is the president of the Olimpia Milano basketball team and an Inter Milan fan. He has twice designed suits for England’s national football team and he designed suits worn by players of the London club, Chelsea. Armani designed the Italian flag bearers’ outfits at the opening ceremony at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin and also designed Italy’s Olympic uniforms for the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.
Armani’s place of birth, Lombardy, is bordered by the region of Piedmont to the west, Emilia-Romagna to the south, Veneto and Trentino-Alto Adige to the east and Switzerland to the north. Lombardy is surrounded on all sides by very distinctive local cultures. Culinary influences are equally diverse owing to Lombardy’s varied terrain, cooking styles and long history of influence from nearby nations. With such a heritage, cooking traditions are ingrained and recipes have not changed for centuries. Rice grows very well here, so it’s no surprise that risotto dishes find their way onto almost every table. The cattle industry is booming, providing beef for a variety of well known dishes. Cattle also provides for an equally thriving dairy industry, so much so, that butter and cream are used much more liberally than the traditional olive oil. Agri d’ Valtorta, Gorgonzola, Parmigiano-Reggiano and Provolone Valpadana are just a few of the many excellent cheeses crafted in Lombardy. Peppers, greens and lettuces, pumpkins, potatoes, onions and tomatoes are all abundant. Stews, soups, heavily-sauced polentas, hearty filled raviolis and slow-braised meat dishes are all favorites.
Risotto with Fresh Figs and Taleggio
- 1/4 pound unsalted butter (1 stick)
- 8 ounces fresh figs, about 10-12 figs
- 1 small onion, finely chopped
- 1 1/2 cups Arborio Rice
- 1/4 cup dry white wine
- 4 cups chicken stock, heated
- 1/4 cup diced Taleggio, about 1/8 pound
- 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
Heat a third of the butter in a small saucepan. Dice the figs and add to the heated butter and sauté for about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside.
Heat another 1/3 of the butter in a saucepan over medium heat until hot. Add the onion and cook until translucent and softened, about 8 minutes. Do not let the onions brown. Add the rice and stir to coat each grain and saute until they are opaque, about 4 minutes.
Add the white wine and cook until all the liquid is absorbed, about 3 minutes. Add 1/2 cup of simmering broth and stir until almost completely absorbed. Continue cooking the rice by adding the broth one ladle at a time, stirring constantly and allowing each addition of broth to be absorbed before adding the next.
Continue this process until the rice is tender and creamy, yet still firm to the bite (al dente), about 22 minutes total.
Remove from the heat. Stir in the grated Parmigiano, diced Taleggio and the remaining butter. This last touch of butter gives extra shine and creaminess to the dish. Gently fold in the figs. Ladle into flat soup bowls. Serve with additional Parmigiano. Serves 4
Born in Florence, Italy on November 15, 1940, Roberto Cavalli was very much destined for an artistic career. As the son of a tailor, he was exposed to the fundamentals of design and sewing; skills he would carry from childhood to that of designer. Cavalli’s grandfather, Giuseppe Rossi, was an impressionist painter whose works can be found in the halls of the Uffizi Gallery in Florence. Acquiring a significant creative sense from his family and fueled by an already existent artistic ability, Cavalli realized he had ability as a painter. Eventually uniting his painting talent with his ability for working in fabric, Cavalli became a talented fashion designer. He was captivated with the connection between fabrics, painting and art that he experimented with unusual fabrics and designs while continuing his studies at the Academy of Arts.
Through detailed and thorough research, coupled with modern technology, Cavalli invented the process of printing onto lightweight leather; a process he went on to patent later. As he said in one of his interviews, “I had this idea to print on leather. I used glove skin from a French tannery and when I started to print, I saw it was possible to make evening gowns in leather in pink—unbelievable.” Cavalli is most widely known throughout the art and fashion worlds as a gifted leather designer. Through the combination of lightweight leather and paints, Cavalli created a new frontier of fashion, known at patchworks, and he created pieces that would later become revered as pure classics. Cavalli’s work realized more international fame and success when Brigitte Bardot made the world aware of his talent by wearing several of his designs on her vacations in St. Tropez on the Cote d’Azur.
In 1972 Roberto Cavalli unveiled his first fashion line in his hometown of Florence at the Palazzo Pitti. Unfortunately for Cavalli, his first public presentation was not received with appreciation and praise. Florentines considered his use of denim less than fashionable, since the fabric had not been previously part of the high fashion world. However, Cavalli continued his perseverance of using unusual fabrics and went on to became one of fashion’s elite designers.
In 1980, he incorporated the support and assistance of his wife, Eva Duringer, a former Miss Universe, to catapult his work onto the world stage. She is today an able partner in his business empire. Through her encouragement, he maintained his unconventional style to create some of fashion’s most coveted designs, using the same fabrics, animal prints and designs that he used in his earlier days. The first Cavalli show that opened the way for real success was held in Milan in 1994. Staying true to his artisan roots and tying it to new technology, Cavalli’s career took off. His expansive fashion house includes menswear and womenswear, childrenswear, underwear and casual lines, as well as eyewear and timepieces.
Today, Cavalli’s unique creations adorn the likes of Anthony Hopkins, the Spice Girls, Shakira, Sting, David Beckham, Jennifer Lopez, Halle Berry, Alicia Keys and many other style-conscious celebrities and couture aficionados. Cavalli has explained how significant the celebrity endorsements are to him: “The celebrity connection is very important. It’s more important to me personally than to anyone else because it makes me feel important.”
Cavalli’s place of birth, Tuscany, provides the ideal soil for the grapes grown to create the region’s world-renowned Chianti wine. Cattle are also featured heavily in the region’s food production. Chianina cattle is one of the oldest breeds of cattle in the world, as well as one of the largest, producing prized Fiorentina beef for bistecca alla fiorentina (a T-bone steak brushed with olive oil and grilled).
Game meats and fowl, fish, pork, beans, figs, pomegranates, rice, chestnuts and cheese are all staples on the Tuscan table. The coveted white truffle abounds in the region. Osso bucco is a well-known favorite, as are finocchiona (a rustic salami with fennel seeds), cacciucco (a delicate fish stew), pollo al mattone (chicken roasted under heated bricks), and biscotti di prato (hard almond cookies made for dipping in the local dessert wine, vin santo). Borlotti beans, kidney-shaped and pink-speckled, provide a savory flavor to meatless dishes and cannellini beans form the basis for many a pot of slowly simmered soup. Breads are many and varied in Tuscan baking, with varieties including donzelle (a bread fried in olive oil), filone (an unsalted traditional Tuscan bread) and the sweet schiacciata con l’uva (a rolled dough with grapes and sugar on top). Pastas are not heavily relied upon in Tuscan cooking but pappardelle (a wide egg noodle) is one of the region’s few traditional cuts. Pecorino Toscano cheese is native to Tuscany.
Bistecca alla Fiorentina
As is true for all steak, to ensure a juicy, flavorful steak that cooks quickly, have the meat at room temperature before starting. Use a grill or thick cast iron pan and make sure that they are very hot. Always let the meat rest, at least 5 minutes, before carving and a sharp knife will glide right through.
- 2 (2-pound) Porterhouse steaks, about 2 inches thick
- Sea salt
- Coarse grind black pepper
- Extra Virgin olive oil
- Balsamic vinegar
Let the steak rest outside the refrigerator for 30 minutes before cooking. Use a hot, clean, oiled grill. If pan roasting, preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.
Liberally season the steak with the salt and pepper, coat with olive oil and press the seasoning into the meat. Grill the steaks for about 5 to 6 minutes on each side for medium rare. The fillet will cook a little faster than the strip loin. Move the steaks every 2 minutes or so for even cooking and a crispy exterior.
For pan roasting, heat a cast iron skillet with a little olive oil until smoking hot. Turn on the fan, open the window and stand back to avoid getting splattered! Using tongs, place the steaks in the center of the pan. Cook until the first side is seared brown, about 4 minutes. Turn the steaks and place the pan in the oven until the steaks are done, about 6 minutes for medium rare. Remove the steaks to a carving board and let rest for at least 5 minutes before carving.
Cut the meat away from the bone and carve into 1/2-inch slices. Arrange the meat on warmed plates and drizzle a little bit of balsamic vinegar over the slices. Serve with some extra sea salt on the side.
Born in Rome in 1943, Laura Biagiotti got her start in the fashion industry by helping out at her mother, Delia Soldaini, in her dressmaking business. Laura enjoyed her job for a while but soon grew restless doing work for other designers and wanted to create fashions in her own name. Her big break came in 1965 when a deal was made between herself and experienced designer, Angelo Tarlazzi, to produce a line of ready-to-wear clothes for women.
First shown in 1972, Biagiotti’s fashion line was successful immediately. Soon after she took over a cashmere company and created new garments from the yarn. This earned her the name “Queen of Cashmere” in the fashion world.
Biagiotti’s designs were well received because she was very conscientious about producing clothes that not only flattered women’s individual figures but were comfortable and fun to wear. Her trademark soon became soft tailoring and loose fitting dresses complete with topstitching and tiny pleats. She was one of the first to introduce the idea of coordinates and of wearing the same garment from morning to evening. Her first collection had such limited garments that she had to use the same white jacket for three ensembles and this gave birth to the concept of wearable co-ordinates in a Biagiotti wardrobe.
The Laura Biagiotti woman’s look is all about youthfulness of spirit combined with distinction and luxury. She has learned from the Italian tradition and said, “Elegance, taste and creativity have belonged to the Italian tradition and character for centuries and I share this privilege with all other Italian designers.” The Laura Biagiotti look is tasteful and conservative, yet creative in its details. Biagiotti is known for trying on her own creations and not being satisfied until she knows every single piece of clothing is practical and comfortable for the women who will be buying her clothes. She often instructs the people who work on her team to try them on as well. This also goes for her men’s line- Laura Biagiotti Uomo which was launched in 1987. However, her clothing lines don’t stop there. Biagiotti has a line for women’s sizes larger than 14 called Laura-Piu and a children’s line as well, Laura Biagiotti Junior. It is interesting to note that every Biagiotti woman’s collection features a series of comfortable, relaxed “baby doll” dresses and pants that have elastic waistbands.
Laura has won recognition and a number of awards from Italy and abroad: the New York Woman of the Year award in 1992, the Marco Polo award from Beijing in 1993, the Knight of Labour award from the Italian President in 1995 and several more. Laura Biagiotti was married to Gianni Cigna, President of the Biagiotti Export S.p.A., who passed away in 1996.
Biagiotti’s place of birth, the region of Lazio, is bordered on one side by the Tyrrhenian Sea and sits in almost the very center of Italy. This region has long been important for its food, wine, politics, architecture and art. With the provinces of Viterbo and Rieti to the north of Rome and Latina and Frosinone to its south, the mountain-to-sea terrain offers a rich variety of landscapes. Oxtail, veal, pork, lamb, spaghetti, gnocchi, bucatini, garlic, tomatoes, truffles, potatoes, artichokes, olives, grapes, buffalo mozzarella and pizza are all abundant here. Add to this a heavy influence of Jewish culture and unique flavor combinations emerge: pork with potato dumplings; artichokes stuffed with mint. The process has been evolutionary, fusing the basic with the indulgent, the readily available with the rare, the common with the Kosher. Very little is wasted in Lazian cooking and the results are nothing less than extraordinary.
Bucatini with Amatriciana Sauce
The Amatriciana sauce takes its name from Amatrice, a small town of the Lazio region in the municipality of Rieti. The use of tomato for the preparation distinguishes it from gricia, another sauce based on pork cheek (guanciale) and pepper. The addition of tomato, linked to the use of long pasta such as bucatini (long, hollow tubular pasta) or spaghetti, is traditionally Italian. Amatriciana sauce is normally served in Rome with bucatini pasta and sprinkled with Pecorino Romano sheep’s milk cheese, while in Amatrice it traditionally accompanies spaghetti.
- 1 lb bucatini
- 5 oz guanciale (or pancetta), or bacon
- 3 ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
- 1 chili pepper, red
- 1 ½ oz Pecorino cheese, grated
- salt and pepper
Slice the bacon and cut it into small rectangles, put into a skillet with a little water and cook until crisp. Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon and set aside. Add the tomatoes to the fat in the skillet along with the crumbled chili and salt and pepper to taste.
Cook for 10 minutes. Then put the bacon back into the sauce, to warm it slightly.
Cook the bucatini pasta in salted water until “al dente”, drain and dress with the Pecorino and the tomato sauce. Mix well and serve hot.
- Italian Designers and Their Geographical Muses (selectitaly.com)