One Who Dresses: Maria Antonietta
One Who Dresses is a series that provides a view into women's spirits and closets, as they share what getting dressed means to them. By giving women a platform to share the complex narrative that takes place at the intersection of who we are and what we wear, this series aims to inject more empathy into our relationship with fashion both with others, and with ourselves.
Tucked away among olive trees in the Pugliese countryside, down a windy dirt road, is the magnificent property of Vito and Maria Antonietta, where we spent possibly the most magical week ever last November.
We arrived very late at night and were greeted by the two warmest people you could ever imagine. I awoke the next morning to go for a walk among when I stumbled upon Maria Antonietta gardening in gingham pants, wearing oversized pearl earrings and bright red lipstick! Gardening!!! She positively oozed style. Of course, her style goes much deeper than her clothes. Her way of living, of seeing the world, of eating and communing with the environment (she and Vito farm the property organically by themselves) - all of these things make her one of the most stylish women I have ever had the pleasure to know.
So, it goes without saying I asked her to share her philosophy on style, which she graciously did. What follows is a conversation that took place between us in her and Vito's living room, after a beautiful dinner we shared. And if you happen to be planning a trip to Puglia, stay with them! Here is Maria Antonietta, in her own words.
What is style?
Style for me is fantasy; it is how we imagine ourselves dressing. Good style is provocative. It doesn’t matter what the fashion is. It could be long skirts or short skirts. No matter; I don’t bother with it. If I like something, I wear it. That is style.
What is your approach to getting dressed?
When I get dressed, I don’t want to be like anyone else, I want to be me. If someone told me I resemble so-and-so, I wouldn’t like it one bit. And I would change myself. Because I want to be me. This is how I feel about life, as well as fashion. I want my life, not the life of others.
I love the Japanese style. I have so many pieces from Japanese designers. I love Kenzo. In general, I don’t spend so much on my clothing. I prefer to invest in jewelry because it always has a value. This dress could be fine now, but in a month or two, it’s no longer fashionable.
I love to pair unexpected things together. I wear checkered pants with a floral jacket. People might say this is clashing, but I find it beautiful. Strange. Unusual. I think I’ve always been counter-culture. I have always dressed in a way that pleases me. I smoked, I wore red lipstick when it was provocative to do that. I even cook in my own way!
How do you learn to really listen to your inner voice? To be tuned in to your own frequency?
I think it’s strange that in our culture so many people want to be the same as others. They want to dress the same, to look the same. They aspire to have the same life as someone else. I don’t understand this. In this world, we would all be like soldiers, dressed in the same uniform. What personalities would we have? You only have one life, so you must live it, and it must be your own. People will always talk no matter what you wear or what you do, so don’t listen to what anyone says. Do what you want, always. Do what your heart tells you to do.
It takes enormous strength, and it is a constant battle. You have to be aware of your own power. You must understand that you have a force within you. Each of us does. You need to practice exercising your power every single day.
Have you ever dyed your hair? Would you ever consider dyeing it?
I always had very long, jet-black hair. My hair was always part of my look, and I was very attached to it. When I turned 50, I cut it. I felt it was time. I was starting to have wrinkles on my face and a lot of gray hair, and I was dyeing it at the time. I was going to the hairdresser to cut and dye every week because I have a lot of hair and it grows very quickly. The whole thing was crazy. One day, I just said to my husband, what if I stop dyeing my hair and I’ll have gray hair like you? He said, why not! So I stopped dyeing my hair. It’s half white now and half gray, and I like it this way. I’m no longer a slave to it, bound to my hairdresser. I am happy with how I look. My hair is suitable for my age. I think an old face with artificially dyed hair is at odds. The wrinkles are more pronounced. It’s just off. I think being natural makes me look younger, not older.
What is the relationship between style and age?
It’s complicated. In a way, the older you get you must do what you want. But I think at a certain age you have to be careful because if you overdo it, you become ridiculous. In Italy, so many women have plastic surgery and I think it is a terrible trend. You see them on TV and they can’t even laugh anymore, they can’t open their eyes. To end up looking like a clown to stay fashionable or beautiful is very bad.
I think one has to do what they want but within limits. You have to have a balance. You cannot be too bold as you get older. You want people to see that you have a strong sense of style, and you want people to stare, but for the right reasons not the wrong ones.
It’s interesting you mention plastic surgery. What do you think about the value we place as a society on youth, especially as it concerns our appearance?
It is very natural that when one is young, they feel beautiful. People make comments about a woman’s appearance. People look when she is walking down the street. And then one starts to get old and this attention stops.
If our self-worth is attached to our appearance, then when people stop saying how beautiful we are, we don’t feel beautiful anymore. It is very hard for many women so they think, “If I change my face or have some plastic surgery, people will think I’m beautiful again.” But it doesn’t work like that. Many years ago, I considered having a breast enhancement. My chest is very small and I’m always in a swimsuit in the summer here and it just became something I kept thinking about. If only my chest were bigger. But then I thought to myself, I cannot have the breasts of a 20 year-old on the body of a 70 year-old. It wouldn’t look right. Then I’d have to change everything. I’d have to get a face-lift, a leg-lift, do my arms and my butt. So I said: no! Too much. I don’t want to live like this. So I never did it and I never think about getting plastic surgery. I like myself the way I am. My husband also thinks I am beautiful.
There is a great Italian actress, Anna Magnani. Someone told her, “Why don’t you remove your wrinkles?” She said, “It took me 50 years to get them, why would I take them away?” They are a part of my life.
What should fashion do for women?
I feel that fashion is a force for change. Fashion helps us try different things, maybe even things that were previously taboo, liking mixing patterns or experimenting with new ways of dressing. We must try new things and have new experiences, and fashion is a way for us to do that. For example, why not put a collar like the one worn by Mary, Queen of Scots, on a denim shirt? Why not be daring? I say, try it!
What about self-acceptance—how does our understanding of our self relate to our sense of style?
The first thing is, you have to accept yourself. I am petite (1.6 mt, 5’2”). What can I do? I can wear high heels but if I need to walk somewhere or if my feet are tired, I have to wear flat shoes and accept that I’m not as tall as I would like to be. So I compensate and I focus on my strengths. I love to laugh. And I’m funny. I can make good conversation. I learned to dress well and cook well. You must develop other aspects of yourself so you don’t always think about the things in yourself that you don’t like but can’t change. And your style develops from this understanding of yourself.
You must be very honest with yourself. If something is in fashion but it doesn’t fit you, don’t wear it. I see men and women wearing these rimless glasses and the lenses are so thick. They have bad eyesight but they want to wear these little glasses because they are ashamed to have bad vision. I say, wear huge goggles if you have bad eyesight! Put an emphasis on your fault to make it into a virtue.
Understand that no one is perfect. God gives you one thing but not everything. If you use what you were given to spread love, to make a beautiful memory, and to be kind to people, that is what matters. You are making your strength your signature.