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Articles by: Marisa Iallonardo

  • Art & Culture

    Summer Reading, Italian-American Style?


    I just finished reading Unaccustomed Earth, the newest book by Jhumpa Lahiri, the same author who wrote The Namesake and Interpreter of Maladies, the latter of which I also read. For those of you who might be interested in reading it, the book was great—lots of stories about growing up and moving on, with words that are almost lyrical in the way they flow. Though fiction, most of the stories focus on being Indian-American and what it’s like to grow up with parents who are immigrants and a way of life that’s caught somewhere in the middle.


    Naturally, it got me thinking about Italian-Americans, particularly what it’s been like for those of us who grew up—or are growing up—with close ties to the country and culture. I started to realize that I’ve read lots of stories on many ethnicities, but strangely, not many about Italian-Americans—particularly modern-day Italian-Americans, fiction or non. Sometime during the winter I finished Vita, a story written by an Italian-born author about a family of immigrants in turn-of-the-century America—which, for the record, did shed a lot of light for me on what that experience must have been like, and what it would have meant had they actually kept those apartments on Prince St. Then, of course, there was Eat, Pray, Love, which follows suit on the many memoirs written by Americans going to Italy to either find themselves or fix up an old house.


    Recently, I did a quick search of both Amazon and Barnes and Noble for books about Italian-Americans and came across many written about the 1950s and 60s or the turn of the century. I understand that this is largely because that’s when the wave of Italian immigrants was still large, but what about those of us who didn’t necessarily grow up at that point in time? Is it possible that there are so few of us? Or, has the Italian-American immigrant experience simply been overshadowed—a been there, done that type of thing?


    That being said, I could easily be overlooking some great work of fiction that just didn’t happen to cross my screen. So, if anyone has any thoughts in general, or specific books I should be reading (what better place to ask then this?), please do let me know!

     

  • Life & People

    Vogue Italia Takes on Racism in Fashion Industry with ‘All-Black’ Issue


     

    Vogue Italia has been making headlines recently, and it’s not just for their coverage of the latest couture shows. For months, the fashion industry has been buzzing about—and eagerly awaiting—the mega fashion mag’s July issue. Why? Because in an industry that has long been accused of not employing minority models, the most recent issue of the quarterly, from cover to coverage, features only black models.

     

    For years the industry has been called out for not using minorities on the runways, in magazine editorials and for ad campaigns. Reasons cited have included that issues and products don’t sell as well and that there aren’t enough minority models to go around. “Racial prejudice in the fashion industry has long persisted because of tokenism and lookism,” speculates Cathy Horyn in The New York Times column Critic’s Notebook, ‘We already have our black girl,’ says a designer to a fashion-show casting agent, declining to see others. Or: ‘She doesn’t have the right look.’ Laziness, paranoia and pedantry may also have something to do with the failure to hire black models for shows and magazine features in any meaningful number, but, hey, that’s just a guess.”

     

    Vogue Italia editor-in-chief Franca Sozzani, who has helped the magazine gain the reputation for being more cutting-edge than others, says the election here in the U.S. was one of her inspirations for the issue. She tells the UK newspaper, The Telegraph, “Obama was fighting Hillary, and I began to notice that all these girls at fashion shows looked alike. It occurred to me that it would be interesting to see some different girls, black girls, and that was the beginning of the story."

     

    The story consists of about 100 pages of photographs, with accompanying feature articles highlighting black women in entertainment and the arts. Renowned fashion photographer Steven Meisel, who regularly shoots for the title, took the stunning photos.

     

    “I thought, it’s ridiculous, this discrimination. It’s so crazy to live in such a narrow, narrow place. Age, weight, sexuality, race — every kind of prejudice,” Meisel told Horyn.

     

    To combat it—and prove that there are enough black models to go around—he shot the fabulous faces of Naomi Campbell, Iman and Liya Kebede—who scored the front page of the pull-out cover—as well as newcomers like Jourdan Dunn, Sessilee Lopez and plus-size America’s Next Top Model contestant Toccara Jones, among others.

     

    Out in Italy since last Thursday, the issue is due here in the States shortly. Until then, check out some of the photos in this New York Times slideshow.

     

  • Life & People

    That's Amore!—Sort of




    These days, it’s almost a given that every successful reality TV show will have a spin-off. The honor will usually be bestowed upon the runner-up (see: I Love New York), or, the most memorable character from the season (see: The Hills). Since A Shot at Love with Tila Tequila, a bisexual dating show staring a pint-sized entertainer/internet celebrity/nude model, was one of MTV’s most successful shows (its finale was watched by some 6.2 million people), there was no doubt it too would have a spin-off. Who was given the honors this time around? Domenico Nesci, a 27-year-old from Milan, arguably the most popular character from the show, who won over American audiences by wearing a red-white-and-green Speedo, neon headbands, and an Italian accent. The name of his dating show? That’s Amore!, naturally.

    That’s Amore debuted on MTV on March 2 and ran for only six episodes. It featured 15 girls vying for Nesci’s love and attention by competing in various challenges to win his heart and become his “bambina.” Challenges—which were delivered via pizza box—included wading through a kiddie pool full of spaghetti and meatballs, with each girl attempting to put the most meatballs in her mouth, cooking the best chicken parmesan and making a pizza in the least amount of time. But the food wasn’t the only testament to Italian “culture.” The outside of the entire mansion was lit up in red, white and green and inside was a confessional of sorts, where a table with a red-and-white checkered tablecloth was set up for the bambinas to talk about their feelings for Nesci, all while sausages and prosciutto hung on strings behind them.


    Although Nesci is from Milan, when he brings the two finalists—child-care worker Megan and club hostess Kim—to Italy to meet his family, they actually visit Acquaro, a small town in the Vibo Valentia province in Calabria where his grandparents are from, presumably because with its village atmosphere (this includes a donkey and a band processing into piazza) it's a bit more “authentic” than the big city.

       

    Nesci himself had been working as a waiter in L.A. before being chosen as a contestant on A Shot at Love. With dark hair and greenish-hazel eyes he describes himself as the “Mastroianni of the 2000s” and when asked by the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera if he helped bring the mythic “Italian man” back to America, he basically says that Americans have accepted the way he is: sweet, nice, passionate. That American men can be a bit “rozzi”, and that he knows what to do with women. “Le invito a cena a casa, apro una bottiglia di champagne, cucino piatti italiani, dico cose carine. È una tecnica infallibile. In poche ore sono già nel letto,” he says. (I invite them to the house, open a bottle of champagne, cook Italian dishes, say nice things. It’s an infallible technique. In a few hours, they’re already in the bed.)


    Now, here’s the thing, we’ve all realized by now that reality shows aren’t, well, real. But sometimes, the stereotypes within this show were just too much to handle. Really, did the girls need to stand on pedestals attempting to be Roman statues or cook chicken parm? It’s so ridiculous that it’s actually kind of funny. But honestly, I am truly scared for Americans if they think that this is what Italy is: donkeys in the street, sausages hanging from the ceiling and boys with accents asking “Will you be my bambina?” So while Nesci can be quirky and endearing and does seem a bit more genuine than, say, Brett Michaels in Rock of Love, let’s hope that if they ever shoot a second season they do it with a lot less of the stereotypical “pizza, spaghetti and mandolino” and a lot more of what present-day Italy actually is. Although, come to think, there weren’t any mafia-related challenges. Thank God for small miracles?







     

  • Life & People

    Italian Brands Expanding Around the Globe


    Benetton, Italy’s largest retail company, reported that they would be expanding their efforts in India, China, Turkey and countries in Latin America and the former Soviet Union. According to an article on Forbes.com, CEO Gerolamo Caccia Dominioni said he expects to see sales in those markets rise from about $155.1 million to as much as $465.2 million in the next three years alone, with the number of stores increasing from 500 to about 1,200.

     

    But Benetton isn’t the only company to see the potential in developing countries. Also on Monday, Salvatore Ferragamo, based out of Florence, announced it would be teaming up with Indian real estate giant DLF—which currently owns some 224 million sq. ft. of property in the country—to open 10 new stores there over the next five years. Already, shops in New Delhi, Bangalore and Mumbai are expected to open by the end of the year.

     

    And, arguably the most recognizable name in the bunch—Gucci—has opened new stores in Prague, Macau, Cape Town and Auckland this spring alone, and has plans to open additional stores in Eastern Europe and China in the coming years. According to an article in retail trade newspaper, Women’s Wear Daily, Gucci sales in China, where it has 16 stores, rose 120 percent in the last quarter of 2007. CEO Mark Lee told the paper that despite a difficult economy, “We run Gucci with a long-term vision, we stay focused on the customers and the product to create desire.”

     

  • Life & People

    Marketing Italian Jeans Through Social Networking


    Recently, I came across an article in Women's Wear Daily about Diesel Jeans' newest campaign: Diesel: U: Music. I was excited about the venture, although the idea itself isn't a new one for the company. Seven years ago they launched a music competition where unsigned bands would compete for a chance to gain exposure and perform live in London. It helped then largely unknown bands like We Are Scientists and The Bravery generate lots more buzz. This year, though, they've ditched the competition idea and instead are allowing users to upload their own original music to http://dum.diesel.com. To go along with it, they've set up a radio station out of South London, which will be broadcasting 24 hours a day until May 30.

     

    In an article in British Vogue, Andy Griffiths, the head of communications for Diesel was quoted as saying, “Diesel-U-Music Radio covers everything we really value - music, community, DIY spirit and new ideas. It's about smart, creative people, whether they're established artists or bedroom DJs, in New Cross or New York, showcasing their unique view on the world and doing it with passion. And it’s going to make amazing radio.”


    For those who love to find new music, it really is a great resource. What has been created is, as one Diesel spokesperson noted in the WWD article, a “social networking site for music.” Much like MySpace Music, which has been a launching pad for many great artists and much in the same vein as YouTube or Current TV, where users upload their own videos, the site allows bands to create their own page profiles, complete with blog posts, sample songs and room for user comments. 


    A quick scan on the bands page found groups from Peru, Japan, the UK, Slovenia and even Wyoming—with the music varying tremendously in sound and style. As someone who's been known to listen to French rap and Italian techno, this is perfect.


    Now, if only they could make finding the right pair of jeans that easy.


    I have a strange love affair with Diesel. It probably started some five years ago, when I went to Italy and all my friends—who, when it came to jeans, previously owned only Levi's, maybe a pair by Lee—were decked out in these tight, dark jeans with the letter "D" strategically placed over the back pocket. Although the northern Italy-based company, whose headquarters are in Molvena, a small town in the Veneto region (which I hear, has an amazing outlet store), has been around since 1978, their premium denim line was the thing to wear at the time and everyone it seemed—guys, girls, grandmothers (ok, I'm exaggerating, but hey, who knows?)—had a pair.


    I loved them, instantly. They, however, didn't seem to love me back. Finding a pair that fit perfectly was a daunting task that took me to tons of different stores, in and out of countless dressing rooms and in and out of what felt like every style available that season. What made it worse, you see, was that I wasn't entering the typical U.S. retailer where you can walk in, try on 10 pairs of pants, walk out, and have no one be the wiser. (Can you tell I've done this before?) No, this is Italy, where the salespeople say "Salve" before you've even fully opened the door, where they lay out each pair of jeans on a table, explain the wash, the cut and what makes one pocket design different from the other. Where they don't take easily to the "No, grazie" and smile from an indecisive American girl. I thought my cousin Miriam was going to strangle me with a low-waisted, slim-fit, five-pocket, stitched-trimmed pair at any second.


    Eventually, though, I did find them. And let me tell you, for me, it was well worth the hassle. They're dark, with a skinny leg and a wide waistband and even now, a few years later, I wear them constantly. Since finding those elusive jeans, I've kept tabs on the company and shop their stores often.


    And now, after listening to different bands from the DUM site throughout the entire time that I’ve been writing this article, I can guarantee I’ll be heading back to it often in hopes of finding groups from around the world, great songs and of course, the band that fits me best. 

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