“The day when everyone is very, very elegant,
I will start to go around dressed like a tramp.”
Marcelo Mastroianni, 1964
Some films immortalize a particular look that goes on to impact culture and style in ways that are diffuse and lasting. Film director and screenwriter Federico Fellini made two films in the ‘60s that did just that, creating what would become enduring icons of Italian fashion and masculinity.
The first of these films, La Dolce Vita, was Fellini’s breakthrough onto the world stage, a cinematic masterpiece that crushed all box office records of the time and catapulted Fellini, his collaborators, and his cast to global fame.
After this enormous success, Fellini felt he needed to make a far more personal film, and turned his gaze from his surroundings to himself. A major discovery for Fellini after his Italian neorealism period (1950–1959) was the work of Carl Jung. His focus on psychology proved to be an enormous influence on Fellini's mature style and marked the turning point in his work from neorealism to filmmaking that was about the intersection of reality and dreams.
What emerged was a “fantastic, enchanted ballet, a magical kaleidoscope,” as the filmmaker described it, about a film director who suffers from stifled creativity as he attempts to direct an epic science fiction film.
Shot in black and white by cinematographer Gianni Di Venanzo, the film includes a soundtrack by Nino Rota and a fantastic lead performance from actor Marcelo Mastroianni as famous Italian director Guido Anselmi. Notably, it also features costume and set designs by Piero Gherardi. who would win the Academy Award for Best Costume Design for both La Dolce Vita (1960) and 81/2 (1963).
In many ways, 81/2 continues the sartorial values established in La Dolce Vita, contrasting the detailed formality of Mastroianni’s wardrobe with the uncontrollable, often magical and frequently terrifying events of the world.
No matter how silly, mean, or confused, Mastroianni’s Guido appears gallant and reserved, untouchable in his crisp white collared shirts, slim ties, fitted tuxedos, and of course, his two iconic glasses—the oversized rectangular optical glasses with clear lenses, and the slim, mono-brow, all black glasses with opaque lenses worn by the character as he slips further away from people, deeper into himself, and towards his terrible fate.
In this way Mastroianni’s wardrobe acts as another stylish manifestation of our anti-hero’s alienation, an expression of his participation in, and eventual exile from, a high society fascinated by ambition and decadence, partying its way to the apocalypse.
Beautifully styled, the film still guides sartorial aspirations around the globe. One can see the influence in the tailored tuxedo of master fixer Winston Wolfe (Harvey Keitel) in Pulp Fiction (1994), and recognize Guido’s slim suiting and slicked back hair as the mirror inspiration for the costume of George Falconer (Colin Firth) in A Single Man (2009), directed by fashion designer Tom Ford.
Fellini and Mastroianni together shaped characters living within a society in transition , one in which the conservatism of the post-war era began confronting the sexual and sartorial liberation of the late, very swinging, 60s. Fellini, intimately aware of the public’s desire for spectacle, immortalized a singular style, that of the modern intellectual everyman whose sense of fashion was an essential part of their appeal.
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