We have been discussing Italian style since the very first post of this blog. We have shared tips and little quirky secrets about Italian food, the Italian language, Italian style in general and the history of great Italian inventions, as well as providing you with tips on where to go and what to do when you visit. In this post, however, we want to go back to basics, to the main point of this blog and do what we do best: we are event planners and we are passionate about sharing promoting Italian style and trends. Therefore, let’s take a step back: what is Italian style? How does it manifest, what represents it and, most importantly, how do you apply the concept of Italian style to a business or corporate event?
Italian Style, culture and stereotypes
When trying to define Italian style (or the style of any nation, for that matter), we walk the fine line between cultural awareness and stereotypes. We might be tempted to simplify this distinction by ascribing all the positive characteristic to an authentic understanding of a Country’s culture and traditions, while dismissing all the negative generalisations as stereotypes, but that is not necessarily correct. What can we pinpoint as the archetypical Italian style? A loud and cheerful attitude to life in general and a relaxed approach to rules and regulations? A romantic inclination to put emotion before reason and wear one’s heart on one’s sleeve? A passionate, hedonistic pursuit of sensual pleasure in all things? Good food and impeccable outfits? We believe it may be all of these things at once and none at all. What we decide to focus on, however, is the concept of Italian style that was established by the golden age of Italian fashion and Italian cinema, by the great Italian brands that made history in the fields of design, technology and, of course, cuisine. The essence of Italian style, to us, is a natural elegance that comes without trying too hard and that can be at the same time understated and buoyant, daring and minimalistic.
The one thing you should not do
Most Italian professionals that attended Italian-themed events abroad, particularly when the event itself was created by locals to please or compliment an Italian guest, have experienced the slightly cringing sensation of stepping into a room or a hall with tables decked in red and white, red wine bottles in straw baskets and tomatoes dangling from hooks on the walls. On behalf of all of them, we ask you not to do any of that, unless you are opening a trattoria and have a strong sense of self-irony.
Venues and decoration
Ultimately, what’s wrong with the red and white tablecloth and the dangling tomatoes? Mostly the fact that they are used as a stereotype in Italy as much as anywhere else and that will make your event look inauthentic. This does not mean that you should not try to give an Italian twist to the furnishings and interior decoration of your chosen venue. If the event allows it, you should pick a theme and stick to that, instead of trying to convey a whole national identity in one colour-scheme. You could take your inspiration from recent fashion trends and collections by some of the best known Italian designers, or from a specific aspect of Italian culture or landscape. When presented with a brief for a product launch for the well-known childcare brand Inglesina, we discussed various ways of conveying a distinctive Mediterranean and specifically Sicilian vibe in a venue in less-than-Mediterranean Milan. We decided to use rustic, white-painted wooden furnishings and pallets, decorated with real citrus fruit. This not only provided the perfect colour scheme of whites, yellows and oranges – ideally suited for a collection dominated by blue and white – but also filled the room with a pleasant scent of citrus, that made our guests feel like they had stepped into an open-air orchard in sunny Sicily.
An Italophile and well-meaning event planner in northern Europe recently organised a classical music gala that was primarily intended for an Italian audience. The traditional musical repertoire was, of course, expected and greatly appreciated, but the intended climax of the evening was not. The event planner had arranged for the conductor to surprise the attending guests by turning to face the audience instead of the orchestra and conducting them in an impromptu performance of O sole mio. That did not go down well and the orchestra had to come to the rescue as the audience was growing more uncomfortable by the second. The mistake, on this occasion, was to assume that the Italian character can be summed up in a few major classics and a desire to be in the spotlight. That is not the case. In fact, the classics should be used in moderation when planning an evening’s entertainment, even if you are going for a traditional rather than a contemporary vibe. Going for modern classics, possibly revisited with an unusual twist, will surprise your guests and make for an interesting alternative.
This is by far the easiest element to get right, as Italian cuisine is so popular and appreciated internationally that it is virtually impossible for your event to be set in a city or an area that has no good quality Italian restaurants or catering services. Assuming that you have already located the best Italian chef in your area, let’s now focus on the menu. As we have mentioned in the past, not all Italian cuisine is created equal. Regional and seasonal differences matter and there is no such thing as standard Italian food. With this in mind, we suggest that you choose a theme and have your chosen caterer build a whole menu around it. You could pick a specific region or a preferred ingredient or you could decide to take your guests on a journey, offering courses from different regions, creating new, surprising and harmonic combinations. If you feel you can be daring, you could try matching regional street food to a formal gala dinner or haute-cuisine versions of traditional recipes to an informal occasion. Whatever menu you decide to serve your guests, just be sure to round it off with a fragrant espresso and an amaro, but never, never a cappuccino.