Text and photographs by Alan Flusser
This month my better half and I take ourselves to Pitti Uomo, the international menswear show in Florence, Italy. Due to some strange weather karma, every June, like clockwork, the city decides to test its denizens' mettle and spike temperatures into the mid-nineties. And, upon the fair’s conclusion, as if on its own timer, temperatures mystically revert back to normal. Thus does Florence, already perfectly situated for heat inversions (surrounded by mountains, heat descends with no way to escape), present certain challenges for this Manhattanite comfort freak.
Although Pitti Uomo is technically air-conditioned, the Italian hosts tend to keep the doors open so they can smoke, with the result that the cool air accumulated over the previous night is quickly lost to the great outdoors. By noon, everyone is perspiring heavily while remaining dressed to the nines, pretending that all is well while they dutifully go about their rounds considering suede or whatever.
It’s been many years since I gave up my suit and tie for shorts and a sport jacket, and boy did I get flak from the sartorial gatekeepers at the time, who alleged that my offending ensemble was yet another nail in the proverbial coffin of menswear decorum. I remember back in the early 90s when Pitti decided to honor the Texas retailer Neiman Marcus. The then-President and his entourage were to meet the first day at noon to spend the afternoon touring the fair, spreading good cheer, kissing babies, etc. The honoree arrived at the appointed hour, dressed in the obligatory suit and necktie, and proceeded to walked around for maybe forty-five minutes before abandoning both ship and crew and hightailing it for cooler climes. He is reported to have likened the hall to a pizza oven -- a metaphor which never fails to bring a smile whenever I find myself in the impossibly uncomfortable still air of the fair. Last year, I threatened to protest and pair my sport jacket with a Bermuda-cut bathing suit, but my better half prevailed.
Fortunately, such unpleasantness is always assuaged by my eager anticipation of what's to follow -- a post-Pitti week of vacation in my favorite corner of the world: the Mediterranean coast. This year, to celebrate my finishing a book nine years in the making, we are splurging and making tracks for two of my favorite watering holes, Capri and Saint Tropez. As a lifelong student and ever-hopeful witness to authentic European high-bred taste, the chances of encountering a practitioner thereof increases precipitously when sojourning in one of their summer outposts.
The Friday morning of the Florence show, with no more business obligations before me, we hop aboard the fast train from Florence to Naples, which nowadays deposits you there in half the traditional time: less than three hours. By midday we’ve boarded a hydrofoil ferry and are speeding along the breathtakingly beautiful Amalfi coast for a bit more than an hour before we sight one of the Mediterranean’s most gem-like ports of call: the isle of Capri.
Upon docking, our hotel’s representative escorts us off the boat as he arranges for our luggage to rendezvous with us later at the hotel. Exiting the pier, we forego a tram up the side of the mountain for more glamorous transport: a funky American fifties-style pink and turquoise four-wheeled contraption with open roof and miniature garden set behind the back seats. After twenty minutes of navigating the island’s single thoroughfare -- a road so narrow that fractions of calculated inches enable the opposing vehicles to pass as they appear out of a dizzying number of blind turns -- we arrive at the island’s summit, beyond which no cars are allowed.
Traveling now by foot down past the famous shopping piazzas and through the main shopping thoroughfare (all of thirty feet wide), we wind our way to our little homestead. La Luna is a small family hotel perched atop a sheer 400-foot drop into a gigantic inlet commanded by the island’s most iconic sight: the dramatic Faraglioni -- three towering rock formations which jut out from the Mediterranean, just off the island’s coast. Walking through our room to our terrace, it’s a snapshot of paradise.
This also happens to be the calm side of the island, where ocean-going luxury yachts drop anchor for the weekend before sailing off to other Mediterranean high spots like Sardinia or the French Riviera. As a result, at almost anytime of the day or evening, there is a nautical mis-en-scene of mind-boggling scale to enjoy. Waking up on a Saturday morning in June, it looks like a boating convention has some how materialized overnight and is now in full swing, with more 200-ft-plus vessels assembled than the eye can take in. No need to fantasize how the “wealthy”, as opposed to the “rich” (a Chris Rock distinction) might actually live and play: here you can pull up a chair and watch for free.
A typical Capri day for us starts with breakfast on our terrace, keeping a watchful eye for the local seagulls whose opportunism knows no bounds. Then it’s on to the serious work of the day: shopping. Capri has some of the most elegant stores in the world, boasting a long tradition of island-bred fashion ranging from capri pants to handmade sandals, artisanal jewelry, etc. Post WWII, Capri was a regular stop for the world’s most stylish aristocrats and celebrities because of the island’s renowned local brand of beach chic and glamour. Although its heyday is long past, the island still retains a kind of old world myth and charm where you could easily imagine the likes of Jackie Kennedy, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, or Sophia Loren coming around the corner. The most enduring and authentic purveyor of the Capri look is the world famous boutique, La Parissienne. We also love visiting the shop Blu -- for our money one of the most interesting fashion boites for the femme fatale. The owner is a seasoned survivor of the high-drama fashion world who possesses a unique retail vision and knowing taste. He curates his own collection from among his favorite designers: a selection of colorfully eclectic and enduring fashion bearing beach-themed motifs.
The first day usually finds us scurrying over to La Farella at 4 Via Fuorlovado -- a little family knitting business that makes individual sweaters, scarves, and other garments to order in special wool and cashmere yarns. As it takes three days to turn around most orders, you need to get your garments into work pronto. After such exhausting, high-wire decision-making, we usually retire to the island’s most famous Pizza maker, Aurora, where we enjoy the thinnest and most delectable pizza known to man as we watch the world walk by. Afterwards, unless roped into more shopping, I usually return to the hotel where I sit at the pool to read, swim, and eventually take a nap (one of my favorite pastimes). After reviewing the day’s acquisitions back at the room, we then get dressed for dinner and hike up to one of Capri’s many ristorantes for a Caprese salad, an entree of local fish, and gelato for dessert. After indulging in yet more window shopping, we eventually land at Capri’s social nexus, the famous Hotel Quisisana, for a late digestif and more people-watching.
We usually reserve a day for a round-trip boat ride to the neighboring island of Positano for lunch. Aside from the sheer joy of taking in the spectacular Amalfi coast astride the Mediterranean’s beautiful blue and green water, Positano is a small, picturesque fishing village situated at the foot of a semicircular mountain bowl whose steep slopes are encrusted with Moorish-style houses that gaze out upon the Sirenuse Islands. The choice of lunch is between two spectacular 5-star hotel restaurants with stunning veranda vistas and cuisines to match. At one end of Positano is Hotel Il San Pietro di Positano, which from the beach is accessed by an elevator built into the rocks that whisks you straight up to the hotel’s mountaintop main floor. Alternatively, the elegant hotel Le Sirenuse is located smack in the middle of the village. We usually alternate between the two. Returning to Positano’s Grand Beach, we typically walk through town, taking in the small bazaar-like boutiques and artisanal potters at work until it’s time to catch the return launch to Capri. From morning to evening, the excursion is nothing less than a reaffirmation of Italy’s renowned charm and beauty -- a visual feast of the highest order.