Toni Servillo as Jep Gambardella, cultured art critic and one-time novelist
Rome, Summer 2012
Film: The Great Beauty
(Italian title: La grande bellezza)
Release Date: May 21, 2013
Director: Paolo Sorrentino
Costume Designer: Daniela Ciancio
Tailor: Cesare Attolini
I first learned of The Great Beauty when it added an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film to its many deserved accolades during the 86th Academy Awards. Impressed by its vibrant clothing and cinematography, and encouraged by friends and followers who were hoping to learn more about the film’s signature style, I recently had the privilege to watch Paolo Sorrentino’s masterpiece, winner of nine David di Donatello Awards.
It wouldn’t be inaccurate to consider The Great Beauty a spiritual successor the Fellini’s surrealist homages to Rome and creatively blocked auteurs from a half-century earlier—and one can easily envision the elevator pitch as “La Dolce Vita or 8½ for the post-Berlusconi era”—though that would overgeneralize the shimmering journey that Paolo Sorrentino presents.
The beautiful film is anchored by the central performance of Toni Servillo as the dapper but disillusioned Jep Gambardella, a popular columnist-cum-socialite whose 65th birthday awakens him to the superficiality of his achieved ambition as “king of the high life”. Jep’s elegant life, headquartered from an opulent apartment on Piazza del Colosseo with a terrace overlooking the Colosseum, is filled with friends who rule the Roman social scene but range in authenticity from the sincere but weak-willed playwright Romano (Carlo Verdone) and wealthy Viola (Pamela Villoresi) to the haughty and ultimately phony radical writer Stefania (Galatea Renzi).
Jep’s coterie begins to dissolve, with Stefania insulted by Jep calling out her hypocrisy and Romano fed up with the city itself, our depressed Italian Walter Winchell begins to make more genuine connections with people outside the material world of his socialite friends. The most significant relationship that blossoms is with Ramona (Sabrina Ferilli), a 42-year-old stripper who works in her father’s club who harbors dark secrets but opens her heart to Jep.
One brief but memorable scene finds Jep seated in a surreally large and empty boutique, helping Ramona find the perfect dress to wear for the upcoming funeral of Viola’s tormented son, who died by suicide. Many would likely not consider a funeral to be a social opportunity, but—as Jep advises Ramona in a masterful monologue—this is “a high-society event par excellence” with rules for how mourners should conduct themselves and dress.
What’d He Wear?
“The protagonist in The Great Beauty may be searching for substance, but boy, does he have style,” wrote Michael J. Agovino in December 2013 for his excellent profile of Jep Gambardella’s clothing that appeared in Esquire, featuring commentary and details from his digital interview with costume designer Daniela Ciancio, who was awarded her second David di Donatello for Best Costumes in recognition of her work on The Great Beauty.
One of the signature images from The Great Beauty is Jep, seated with casual dignity with a yellow sports coat, rectangular-framed glasses, and spectator shoes to break up the monochromatic all-white outfit. To be fully transparent, the first time I saw the image I assumed this was some Peter Sellers character I was yet unaware of, so rooted was Jep’s attire in that hip early ’60s period when Mastroianni’s characters were engaged in their own passeggiata.
The yellow jacket is a standout piece from Jep’s colorful wardrobe, designed in Ciancio’s words ” to reveal his soul—full and empty at the same time…for this purpose, I mixed Armani with the colored custom-made suit of the traditional Neapolitan brand Cesare Attolini.” As confirmed on the tailor’s website by a photo of Toni Servillo being fitted, this yellow sports coat was one of those colorful Attolini pieces.
The fictional Jep shares Sorrentino’s and Servillo’s Neapolitan origins, so it neatly fits that Signor Gambardella would have his suits and sport jackets tailored by the prolific Attolini, whose father Vincenzo had revolutionized Neapolitan tailoring in the 1930s.
Neapolitan style, particularly tailored jackets, are notable for unique details like the boat-shaped “barchetta” breast pocket and those distinctive soft shoulders, devoid of padding and constructed with a larger sleeve that naturally shirs against the smaller armhole on the body of the jacket; depending on intentional variances in its construction, this pleated effect can take the final form of the smooth “spalla camicia” or the bumped-shoulder “con rollino“.
Jep’s darted-front jacket is tailored from a yellow twill fabric, single-breasted with the traditional Neapolitan 3/2-roll front with the double back-stitched notch lapels rolling over the top of the three recessed creamy white sew-through buttons for a two-button appearance. In addition to the celebrated “barchetta” pocket over the left breast, the wide “tasca a pignata” patch pockets on the hips are also distinctive to Neapolitan tailoring, designed with rounded bottoms that Sonya Glyn Nicholson likened to the shape of a brandy snifter in her fantastic exploration for Parisian Gentleman. Jep dresses the widely welted breast pocket with a crimson red silk twill pocket square, puffed rather than folded in his usual rakish manner, and patterned in a pale yellow floral print that coordinates with his jacket while adding a welcome splash of contrasting color agains the bright outfit.
The long double vents are a break from traditional Italian tailoring, which was ventless during the heyday of the 1950s and ’60s, though double vents had emerged as a prevailing style among Italian tailors over the most recent decades. The sleeves are finished with four “kissing” buttons at each cuff, likely functional and fastened through contrasting brown-threaded buttonholes.
Jep’s habit of wearing a white or off-white shirt and trousers provides a subdued, neutral foundation to let his boldly colored jackets stand out. Under his yellow jacket, he wears a creamy off-white shirt with a structured semi-spread collar worn inside his jacket lapels. The shirt has a plain front and button cuffs.
Unless he’s dressed in a full suit, Jep typically balances his colorful jackets with gently napped cotton trousers in a soft eggshell white, his stylish continental answer to the way many Americans—among others—tend to press their khakis into service. Due to his relaxed but dignified posture, Jep’s waist line goes unseen but we can assume he wears the same brown leather belt with this outfit, tonally coordinating with his immaculate brown-and-beige spectator oxfords.
Ciancio confirmed to Esquire that Jep exclusively wore shoes from Hogan and Tod’s (both Tod’s Group brands), though I’m not sure which of these Italian shoemakers made this pair. The wingtip toes and heel counters are all a rich brown leather while the vamps are a warm beige. The top pieces around the shoe openings and the facing through which the black laces are threaded through five sets of eyelets are also brown leather, and the outsoles are a hard dark brown leather. Jep wears ivory socks that effectively continue the leg line into his shoes with more elegance than plain white hosiery.
Like his friend Romano, Jep frequently wears Ray-Ban eyewear, donning a set of square-framed glasses in dark tortoise acetate. Jep’s stainless steel watch has been tentatively identified as a Rolex, possibly an Air-King, by a reader who emailed Jake’s Rolex World last year. Fastened to his left wrist via steel Oyster-style link bracelet, Jep’s Rolex appears to have a silver dial with non-numeric hour markers similar to a ref. 14010 Air-King.
(After this post went live on Instagram, a commenter also suggested that Jep may more likely be wearing a platinum Rolex Day-Date with an ice blue dial.)
How to Get the Look
We know Jep Gambardella is a man who dresses with intention, but his embrace of his hometown Neapolitan tailoring keeps him looking natty yet nonchalant even in attention-getting pieces like a bright yellow sports coat, colorful silk pocket square, and spectator oxfords; Jep truly embodies the oft-overused (and misused!) term sprezzatura, the sartorial philosophy of putting excessive effort into looking like you dressed without effort.
- Yellow twill Neapolitan-tailored single-breasted 3/2-roll sport jacket with double back-stitched notch lapels, wide-welted “barchetta” breast pocket, rounded patch hip pockets, 4-button “kissing” cuffs, and long double vents
- Off-white cotton shirt with semi-spread collar, plain front, and button cuffs
- Eggshell white chino cloth flat front trousers with belt loops, side pockets, and plain-hemmed bottoms
- Dark brown leather belt
- Brown-and-beige leather 5-eyelet wingtip spectator oxfords
- Tortoise acetate square-framed Ray-Ban eyeglasses
- Rolex Air-King with stainless steel 34mm case, silver dial with non-numeric markers, and steel Oyster-style link bracelet
- Crimson red floral-printed silk twill pocket square
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie.
You can also read more about the style of The Great Beauty in Michael J. Agovino’s frequently cited Esquire article here and more about Neapolitan tailoring in Sonya Glyn Nicholson’s piece for Parisian Gentleman here. I also recommend this thoughtful tribute to the film’s style from The Tweed Pig.
Many think that a funeral is a fortuitous event without any rules. That’s not true. A funeral is a high-society event par excellence. You must never forget that at a funeral, you are appearing on stage … You must patiently wait for the relatives to disperse. Once you are sure all the guests are seated, only at that point, may you offer your condolences to the family. In this way, everyone will see you. You take the mourner’s hands and rest yours on their arms. You whisper something to them, a comforting phrase, said with authority. For example, “In the days to come, when you feel the void, I want you to know that you can always count on me.” The public will ask, “What’s Jep Gambardella saying?” … You’re allowed to retire to a corner by yourself as if contemplating your sorrow. However, another matter must be approached with shrewdness. The chosen place needs to be isolated but clearly visible to the public. Besides, a performance is good when it is devoid of any superfluity. So, the fundamental rule: one must never cry at a funeral; you must never steal the show from the family’s sorrow. That is forbidden… because it is immoral.