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How Do They Dress in Italian TV Series

A little constrained and with no brands

How Do They Dress in Italian TV Series A little constrained and with no brands

The work of the costume designer is very delicate: every character's style, both in cinema and television, is capital to tell something about him/her, so as the selection of his/her entire fictional closet. In the past few years, some series have become fundamental in fashion: series as Love and Top Boy on NetflixFleabag on Prime VideoEuphoria on HBO and the latest Normal People on Hulu represented with extreme precision the generation of millennials, paying attention also on their protagonists' outfits (the hoodie worn by Zendaya in Euphoria has been recently auctioned among some other props from A24).

Still, if we think of the most important Italian tv series, all the characters are always dressed the same: a little constrained and with a respectable school-boy style. Italian tv series, in fact, all suffer of the same flaw: for how much they try, they almost always reach a "blurred" version of reality. In particular, for what concerns teenagers, Italian series portray a non-existent generation where everybody's dressed the same, completely missing out the love that teenagers have for brands, whether it is a Supreme tee or a pair of Air Max. In particular, in Italian tv series there is a lack of brands, as if they don't exist in anyone's closet. Though, as Bad Tales by D’Innocenzo brothers fairly pointed out, even the most dull father in the suburbs in Italy has his own collection of Fred Perrys.

Recently, the production of tv series in Italy has quite grown: Gomorra – La serie (Sky) was the first series to emulate some characteristics of the American ones. From that moment on, mostly because of the arrival of Netflix, Italian television has changed a lot, trying to emulate the "American model" (the one dictated by Game of Thrones and HBO in general). This "new era" of seriality coincided with the rise of a new, most ambitious public who cares much more about the style of its tv heroes.

To be honest, Gomorra – La serie gave this trend a try. It was not easy to compete with the homonymous film (2008): Matteo Garrone was so precise in portraying the Neapolitan camorra, even in the choice of the briefs worn by the two young boys playing with guns. No matter how well designed, the series has the same flaw of all the Italian seriality: Ciro (Marco D’amore), Genny (Salvatore Esposito), Don Pietro Savastano (Fortunato Cerlino) and Donna Imma (Maria Pia Calzone) dress as yo could guess, with leather jackets, vulgar printed t-shirts and leopard furs, but where are adidas vinyl tracksuits? Why isn't anybody wearing Nike sneakers? Even the boss who answers the name of "Scianel" has actually never seen an item by Chanel.

Suburra, the first series by Netflix Italia, tried to make some adjustments. The series looks deep into the style of its characters and it even shows a man with dyed hair and some items by Marcelo Burlon and IUTER, both seen on Spadino (Giacomo Ferrara). Except for those two, though, and for some wanna-be Versace and Fausto Puglisi jackets, still there are no more evident brands.

It's different for Baby, the series that marked the debut of Alice Pagani (recently spotted with Nicholas Hoult in a campaign by Armani) and Benedetta Porcaroli (who recently starred in the latest videoclip by Achille Lauro and has been enlisted in the army of Alessandro Michele). In Baby, fashion makes its big entrance when the two protagonists establish their friendship with a tee by Fendi. Finally, here come some brands: the scions of the Roman élite (called “pariolini”) wear MSGMNorth Face bomber jackets and adidas sportswear, but above all they have Eastpak backpacks, a symbol for every Italian high-school student. Despite this effort, though, the series stumbles when it comes to actually styling the characters: the great capacity of teenagers, today, is to match a pair of Air Force with a Gucci hoodie, or to go to school wearing Eastpak and Prada at the same time. And this is a trend that Baby totally missed.

Also Summertime works with some brands, but it makes a terrible mistake: all the characters look like they have been dressed by their moms before heading to the kindergarten with pastel palettes, striped t-shirts and cute little Invicta-style backpacks. Without even mentioning the terrible product placements of Vans and some items by Lacoste, everything is non-sense. Even the bully has been cleaned up. We are still having a hard time figuring out why, in the same scene, some characters are wearing just their bath-suit and some other are wearing leather jackets.

Despite a lot of other merits, Skam Italia - the Italian version of the Norwegian format that won everyone's heart - does not reach great results in terms of costumes: in fact, the first three seasons were produced with very little money (Netflix was still a far dream). There is a complete lack of brands: sometimes you could see a pair of Vans (that are never explicitly in the shot), and even when you think that you have found an adidas tracksuit, you will be disappointed in noticing that it has only two stripes. All the characters wear anonymous hoodies and fast fashion dresses. Luckily, what is missing in brands and costumes is compensated by a real good mis-en-scène: the scene when Eva "corrects" her tights with nail polish is really remarkable.

The rules behind costume design in Italian tv productions are quite strict. In particular, the presence of a brand is mostly dictated by a sponsor; when there is not a sponsor, the biggest part of their clothing is then selected from a pre-existent archive made of generic dresses, recyclable, usually fast fashion items with no tags. Add to this the fact that generalist television has a lot of restrictions for what concerns showing off brands: many times, costume designers deliberately choose items with no logos just to avoid some annoying consequences. That's why the style of all the characters in Italian tv series might seem "flat": but that doesn't bother their producers, because they know that they have to sell their products to a generalist public that could be easily shocked.

"It is very important for me to say that it is been a few years that - as costume designers - we don't have the opportunity to work big big fashion brands because of many strong contractual limits", said Isabelle Caillaud, a spokesperson for A.S.C. (Associazione Scenografi Costumisti e Arredatori Italiana); "Many times, we can't absolutely propose items that have logos or anything that could make you associate them with famous brands. If you do that, every reference will be blurred in post-production (and that means extra-work and extra-costs for the crew). Furthermore, we don't have high budgets so we can't even buy all those items that could help us represent a specific social environment. Talking about teen dramas, we are also always asked to lighten up every transgressive detail about contemporary teenagers."

Recently, somebody gave up on the product placements in order to be free in the selection of its items and search for a most realistic representation: that is the case of Ultras by Francesco Lettieri, that is full of logos, none of which has been sponsored. Given this freedom, one may think that things are different when it comes to Netflix, but all of Netflix Italia productions are co-productions: they are lately distributed worldwide by the streaming platform, but their production is always entrusted to Italian companies (mostly Cattleya), with their rules and work ethic. It doesn't matter that Benedetta Porcaroli is a soldier for Alessandro Michele: she can try to propose some items sponsored by Gucci to the costume designer, but Gucci has not the last word.

"It is sad that beside Rai and Mediaset (the most important generalist broadcasters in Italy), Netflix places restrictive conditions, too. Netflix Italia doesn't invest the same money on Italian production as it does for other Countries", added Caillaud; "Obviously, because of all these limits brands have always been less interested in Italian tv series, considering that they are not going to get any useful feedback in exchange of their expensive costumes."

In general, the work of a costume designer is much free in cinema than in television. Despite these restrictions, though, one of the most famous Academy Award® winner of all times is Italian: Milena Canonero, awarded for her work on movies like Barry Lindon by Stanley Kubrick, Marie Antoinette by Sofia Coppola and Grand Budapest Hotel by Wes Anderson. Seriality is still far from these results. Fortunately, to tolerate this delusion, Netflix comes to your rescue: the fourth season of Skam Italia will be available from Friday May 15th, 2020. Who knows which sneakers they're going to wear.