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The Secrets of Italian Women – revealed in Alessandra Repini’s book ‘The Italian Lady’

The Secrets of Italian Women – revealed in Alessandra Repini’s book ‘The Italian Lady’

As Alessandra Repini’s great hero, Desmond Morris, once observed, “Biologically speaking, if something bites you, it is more likely to be female.” Having spoken to Alessandra and read her book The Italian Lady I can confidently report that once you have been bitten by this infectiously charming and ironic observer of her fellow females, you too will find yourself unable to avoid classifying the signore around you into the Understated, Splendid, Noblewomen / Radical Chic and the other species that she identifies in her book.

Businesswoman (organising conferences and corporate events), wife, mother, patron of the arts, socialite and now author, Alessandra is unquestionably an “Italian Lady”: well-groomed, outgoing, opinionated and with a heightened sense of what is appropriate (or not) in any social situation. In her book she has distilled the essential knowledge and captured the spirit of the well-dressed, confident Italian Lady who loves what she terms “the three Fs”: Fashion, Food and Family.

The Italian Lady is part style guide, part manual on how to enjoy la dolce vita like an Italian. It also contains a wealth of condensed information on food, fashion, holiday destinations, Italian society and the arts in what Alessandra refers to as “Cliff’s Notes”- style summaries of the resources a typical Italian Lady has at her fingertips. Just to take an example at random: in a restaurant, the waiter should shave the truffle directly onto the customer’s dish at the table rather than bring it plated with the meal. “No Italian Lady would stand for such a thing.”

Her inspiration for The Italian Lady was Desmond Morris’s The Naked Ape (1969). This offbeat study of humans by the British zoologist, anthropologist and surrealist painter treats Homo Sapiens like any other species, observing their behaviour, rivalries and mating rituals.

In a completely non-scientific and fun way, she classifies the Italian Lady into a number of distinct species. These are:

The Businesswoman – recognisable by her smart, perfectly-tailored suits, moderately elevated heels, and the passion she brings equally to her work and family. According to Alessandra, the Businesswoman embodies the largest number of personality traits of the Italian Lady.

The Italian Understated – (aka the Madamine) a woman of “genuine great taste and great class” this reserved but dependable Italian Lady wears rather plain but impeccably tasteful outfits, low heels and avoids choosing random pieces or bright colours, although she may on occasion allow herself to sport red nail polish.

The Splendid – the antithesis of the Understated, the fun-loving Splendid is a true fashion addict (Versace, Gucci, Chanel, Prada, etc), often found prowling the streets of Milan’s fashion quadrilaterale in her perennially high heels or at a private sample sale “where her instincts as a hunter truly shine”.

The Italian Noblewoman and the Radical Chic – superficially similar to the Understated, these two species of Italian Lady are motivated by opposing ideological and social values, although they both display their superiority to others through their careful choice of clothes and jewellery. The Noblewoman prefers Pucci or clothes designed by noble friends who just happen to have three last names like her.

The Italian Creative – artists, writers or designers, etc who do their own thing and don’t want to be mistaken for anyone else. The Creatives don’t follow a pattern: they create their identity from scratch and typically dress in a unique, random way.

Of course, I couldn’t resist asking Alessandra which species she belongs to. She replies that essentially she identifies most closely with the Italian Businesswoman (her favourite group) but that she is “chameleon-like” (camaleontica in Italian), sometimes taking on more of an Understated look and even that of a Splendid on the right occasion. The only category she never inhabits, however, is that of the Italian Creative (although as an author she would now be perfectly entitled to if she wanted, in my opinion).

While parts of the book dwell on the outward aspect of the Italian Lady, Alessandra is keen to underline that what really sets Italians apart from their Anglo-Saxon and Asian counterparts is their approach to life. For Italians, living is an all-consuming activity that is embraced fully. The Italian Lady has a sunny disposition. She has a passion for life, love, beauty, food and, above all, her family. She is instinctively elegant and always knows the right thing to wear or eat. But she is also curious about other cultures. Indeed, “exophilia” is a strong Italian trait, one that can even lead to Italians undervaluing their own culture and identity.

What comes across most when you speak to Alessandra is her energy, enthusiasm and the genuine passion she feels for Italian culture and lifestyle. She is a born communicator who wishes to celebrate all that’s good in the Italian character – especially that of the Italian Lady with her spontaneous delight in everything that is beautiful and genuine: from the clothes she wears to the food she prepares, from her approach to work and leisure to the unconditional love she has for her family, especially her children. (The final chapter of The Italian Lady is entitled “MAMMA, MAMMA, MAMMA”.)

For those who would like to benefit from the instinctive knowledge and know-how of a true insider, The Italian Lady is well worth a read. Alessandra herself is also keen to develop her role as a personalised coach or companion to those who would like to understand what it takes to live like an Italian Lady.

“The Italian Lady” is available on this link

Article by Robert Dennis for Easy Milano

About the author

Robert Dennis is a writer and Business English teacher based in Milan. He has been teaching for other 30 years both in the UK and in Italy. A long-time collaborator with John Peter Sloan, Robert published Business English (Gribaudo) in 2020. The book was launched with “Il Sole 24 Ore” and sold in newsstands throughout Italy. Robert has a website for people who want to learn Business English: Pay As You Learn.com. The site features keywords and phrases, audio and exercises to help professionals improve their language skills. A graduate in English from Oxford University, Robert is a regular contributor to Easy Milano who often writes about plays staged in English in Milan and other cultural events in the city. He is also a translator and “buongustaio” who loves Italian food! robertdennis.it

Easy Milano

Easy Milano is the online publication for the international community of Milan. We offer practical tips, key information and essential insights about living and working in Italy. Easy Milano has been assisting English speaking expats in Milan since 1999.
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