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La Dolce&Gabbana Vita, Sicilian Style

Submitted by on June 26, 2012 – 9:27 pm 8 Comments |  
On Saturday June 23, 2012, the Dolce&Gabbana fashion house unveiled its men’s Spring-Summer 2013 collection as part of the Milan Fashion Week. Originally inspired by Italian film industry, Dolce&Gabbana are known to “think of a story and … design the clothes to go with it”, as Domenico Dolce once put it, but this time their story is unusual. In a nod to Domenico Dolce’s native Sicily, the designer duo presented a collection inspired by a quote from Sicilian author G. Tomasi di Lampedusa, describing Sicilians: “Their vanity is stronger than their misery”. Often opulent if not ostentatious in their designs, this time Domenico Dolce and his partner Stefano Gabbana opted for simplicity: “We wanted to put our clothes on real men because fashion should be for real people,” Stefano Gabbana told reporters. In a clear departure from the haute couture tradition, Dolce&Gabbana opted for “real men” instead of using professional models. Seventy three men and boys—ranging from 12 to 43 years of age—who come from diverse walks of life: students, house painters, barbers, waiters, even the unemployed were selected through a three month casting in Sicily. The collection itself looks like a parade of Sicilian men’s Sunday-best: dark suits, white jackets, shorts (traditional attire of Sicilian boys), and simple open-collar white shirts. But this is not low-cost fashion as each outfit is unique either in fabrics used or styling detail. Fabrics are ultra-light and ultra-fancy from linen to silk, to light wool and chiffon. The silk shirts, when not white, have a subtle print, while the finely woven sweaters reveal images of Sicily such as Greek temples and painted wagons.

In bringing Sicilian-themed attire to the catwalks of Milan, Dolce and Gabbana bridge between two very distinct regions of Italy, culturally and even linguistically. Milan’s historical connections are to the Germanic-speaking Lombards and northern France; it is thus unsurprising that it has become the leading center of high fashion, alongside Paris. The Italian variety spoken in Milan, Piedmontese, is more similar to standard French than it is to Standard Italian or southern Italian dialects. Lexical and grammatical differences between Piedmontese and Standard Italian are so great that many linguists consider the former to be a separate language. For example, the Piedmontese word for ‘work’ is travajé, a cognate with the French travailler and not the Italian lavorare, and the word for ‘apple’ is pom, a cognate with the French pomme and not the Italian mela. Like northern French patois and Standard French, Piedmontese bears an imprint of Germanic grammatical influences. For example, yes/no questions in Piedmontese can be formed by subject-verb inversion and the use of an enclitic pronoun at the end of the verbal form, which is not possible in Romance varieties outside the Germanic sphere of influence: Piedmontese Veus-to…? ‘Want-you…?’ is similar to the Standard French Veux-tu…? but no comparable form is found in Standard Italian or in Spanish.

Sicily, never fully Romanized, was influenced more by the Greeks and the Saracens, the Normans and the Aragonese. Linguistically, Sicilian—which most linguists also consider to be a separate language rather than a dialect of Italian—bears traces of all these influences, with words from Greek (pistiari ‘to eat’ from apestiein), Arabic (giuggiulena ‘sesame seed’ from giulgiulan), Norman French (raggia ‘anger’ from rage) and Catalan (ammucciari ‘to hide’ from amagar). While Sicilian is still widely spoken on the island, it is limited mostly to home use because the education system does not support the language. It is thus considered to be a vulnerable language, despite having some 5 million speakers. Piedmontese is spoken by nearly 2 million people, but its future is even less promising because children no longer learn the language as their mother tongue in the home.

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  • Alfia Wallace

    Then there are those
    delightful Lega Nord nationalists who want to create a separate state in
    northern Italy and exclude all those peacock-prancing, sun-soaking,
    lazy mafiosi in the south. Ahem. In any case, the Sicilians I grew up
    with in my father’s family were warm, funny, hard-working people who
    spoke something not mutually intelligible with standard Italian.

    • Asya Pereltsvaig

      Indeed. The very first Italians I’ve met (in 1990) were from Milan, and when someone brought up “mafiosi”, they were terribly offended. “No, we are from Milan, not the south”, they kept insisting. But yeah, my friends from Southern Italy are all funny and warm-hearted, and don’t particularly like the northerners. This is what I tried to say by the word “culturally” in the post…

  • James T. Wilson

    It is interesting that the inhabitants of every country I can think of, no matter how large or small, perceive a major cultural difference either between North and South or East and West.  In the larger countries (USA, Russia, China), there are both, but we tend only to talk about one dichotomy at a time.

    • Asya Pereltsvaig

      I don’t think Russia follows this pattern…

      • James T. Wilson

        I suppose I am the heir of a rather imperialist Leningrad-Moscow-centered view of Russia.  My Russian professor in college, an old man who had fled westward in 1945, picked out the peasant speech in Gogol and Bunin as being particularly southern, which I think one would now call Ukrainian.  I also recall certain pronunciations he found characteristically northern.  As for the distinction between East and West, the people I met in Irkutsk certainly thought there was a cultural difference between them and those who lived in European Russia, but that was a long time ago and Russia may now be much more culturally homogeneous than in was before 1991.

        • Asya Pereltsvaig

          Yes, these differences exist, but I don’t think they are the central ones…

  • Claudia Soria

    The regional language spoken in Milan is not Piedmontese, but Lumbard. Piedmontese is spoken in Turin.

    • Asya Pereltsvaig

      Although Milan is situated in Lombardy, the Lombard language/dialect is typically mapped as being further east, with Piedmontese (which is indeed centered around Turin) spilling into western parts of Lombardy. Of course, the distinction is rather arbitrary, as Lombard and Piedmontese are quite close to each other, and much closer than either one is to Sicilian! Like Piedmontese, Lombard shows traces of “Germanization”, for example in the use of verb-particle constructions, not unlike the English “throw” vs. “throw away” vs. “throw up”, etc.

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