Authentically Italian… service?
“I never wear T shirts. Ever. I only wear shirts, even to the beach”.
I am not sure when we think of service that Italians come to mind, do they? I normally associate discount offers with an absence of service, or in the case of airlines, what I call anti-service.
But here I am, enjoying the frankly, uplifting experience of discount shopping, made so by the sheer joy of Italian-ness.
The Italian-ness is supplied by an Utterly Charming Italian (UCI) in Voi (pronounced Vaw-ee – and it means ‘ you’) a discount Italian fashion shop on Castlereagh St in Sydney. I’d gone in as, during the week, I’d spotted a sign, as enticing as it is potentially disappointing, that said ‘Closing down sale. End of lease’.
Voi is amusingly close to Westfield on Pitt and Castlereagh, Sydney’s new mecca of luxury brand fashion in Sydney. The juxtaposition is perfect. High-end expensive fashion meets highly discounted fashion. Voi sells many of the brands that you can find across the street in Westfield, although pretty much only Italian ones. Versace and D&G are all there. Although it is, I am sure, last year’s fashion.
The interior is, frankly ordinary. Everything is displayed on racks or piled in boxes on the floor. And then there are… the discounts.
The discounts. I mean proper, what I call, American style discounts. 50, 60, 70%. I remember a Filipino friend of mine giving me his philosophy of sales, learned from years of shopping with his mother, who sounded as if she could give Imelda a run for her money. “A sale”, he said “is not a proper sale unless it starts with at least 50% off.” Apparently, Filipinos, like Americans, understand this. 15% off is not a sale. 30% is not a proper sale. Australian and British sales are, in their eyes, not sales.
He’d approve of Voi.
Everything seems to have up to three price stickers. The original price sticker, often breathtakingly expensive. The discounted sticker – usually a good 50% off. And sometimes a third, which is, of course even more attractive. And there is the charming staff, calculators to hand, ready, it seems, to snip another handy 10% here and there.
UCI was telling me about shirts. He was dressed in a checked shirt, jeans, casual corduroy jacket and slightly shiny smart trainers. He had almost raffishly cut curly dark hair and the hint of a designer moustache. He was immaculately scruffy, as I suspect only Italians can be.
Now what it is about Italians that is so seductive?
Is it their apparent ease and self-confidence? The effortless style? Those delightful faltering accents? The ‘I am who I am’ poise? I am sure they can be as neurotic as the best of us but UCI was exhibiting none of that.
He was extolling the beauty of shirts. “For me, shirts, for a man, eet’s like shoes for weeman”. He had, he said, 70-80 shirts and, when he was sourcing merchandise for the shop, would buy at least another ten. The UCI’s girlfriend, (UCIG), who was working alongside him, looked askance, raised her eyes and sighed – but affectionately.
The shirts in question were reduced from $200 plus to $75 but you could buy three for $200.
I liked the shirts. But I didn’t like the collars. You know these collars that are severely cut away at the neck, like a fixed wing jump jet. Very Wall St and Macquarie Bank, it seems to me. I prefer narrower, what I call pointier collars. “Ah” he explained. “ You like Italian collars, not French”. I didn’t know there was such as thing as an Italian collar. And he proceeded to find me any number of Italian-collared shirts. While UCIG found me thin straight ties with stripes (another favourite of mine), although she tried to tell me that they, also, were an Italian style. I didn’t believe her. British, surely and Mod/60s influenced. But hey, who’s arguing over fashion origins when the prices are this good?
In addition to the more famous Italian brands, they had, as UCI explained, many Italian fashion institutions there. Barba (“Italy’s best shirt maker”), Camiceria Sartoriale (“very good shirts”), and then, in shoes, Fratelli Peluso (“he is mister shoes in Italy”).
He was clearly not the indulged mama’s boy that we often associate with Italian men, even as he explained that he couldn’t persuade his girlfriend to iron a single one of those 80 shirts. More raised eyebrows from UCIG.
And yet, and yet, he cleaned his own shoes. ‘I use cream”, he explained. “ You know…. what you call it…like Neeeveea”. I assumed he was mentioning Nivea, as he couldn’t think of the English word for shoe cream. But it turned out he really did use Nivea to clean his shoes. Stylish and eccentric.
At this point, his father (whose shop it is) looked up from behind the counter, his scarf beautifully art directed over his sweater. “And what do you use to clean your shoes?” I asked him. “ Clinique”, he replied, grinning from ear to ear.
It just shows you. You can get service in discount outlets. Fashion lessons, Grooming tips. And real style.
Just ask an Italian.