Gianni Agnelli

Plaza Uomo UK - - Sidan 1 - Words jo­han kellman lars­son

Twelve years af­ter Gianni Agnelli’s death, his achieve­ments as a busi­ness leader are not nec­es­sar­ily the topic when peo­ple dis­cuss his legacy, in­stead it is his sense of style. Plaza Uomo pro­files the man who em­bod­ied mod­ern Italy.

The Sum­mer

of 1962. A black-and-white pho­to­graph. This is con­sid­ered to be one of the most fa­mous pic­tures of Gio­vanni Agnelli. You can al­most hear the in­dus­try ty­coon’s leather loafers clat­ter­ing against the bak­ing hot beach prom­e­nade. Jacqueline Kennedy is walk­ing next to him. They’re in Ravello, the gem of the Mediter­ranean, in south­ern Italy. It is here on the Amalfi coast, one of the most beau­ti­ful coast­lines in the world, that Gio­vanni Agnelli ac­com­pa­nies Jackie who’s tak­ing a beach hol­i­day, with­out her hus­band John F. Kennedy. Af­ter­wards steamy ru­mours about “Gianni” and Jackie hav­ing had an af­fair ap­pear in gos­sip mag­a­zines and news­pa­pers. How­ever, the rea­son for the photo be­com­ing so widely cir­cu­lated is partly due to Agnelli’s ”popover” sweater with its open col­lar. Some­thing of a holy grail in to­day’s menswear fash­ion.

There is some­thing quite brazen about Agnelli’s ex­pres­sion in the photo. This is his mo­ment. A fash­ion­able pa­tri­arch in hol­i­day chi­nos who is part of shap­ing – and re-shap­ing – his beloved Italy. The New York Times obit­u­ary, pub­lished in 2003 af­ter the 81-year-old passed away with com­pli­ca­tions aris­ing from prostate cancer, in­cludes a sen­tence that could have been the per­fect cap­tion for the fa­mous pho­to­graph, “Gio­vanni Agnelli be­came a sym­bol of Italy’s post­war re­nais­sance.”

Few Ital­ians have been as in­flu­en­tial, trend­set­ting and imi­tated as Gio­vanni Agnelli. Gianni had ev­ery­thing: power, money, sta­tus and style. When the Ital­ian news­pa­per Il Mondo con­ducted a sur­vey at the be­gin­ning of the 1980s which fo­cused on who held the most power in Italy, Agnelli came sec­ond. Only the Pope was con­sid­ered to have more power. De­spite Gio­vanni Agnelli’s im­mea­sur­able sig­nif­i­cance and renown, the man him­self ap­pears to be an enigma. Per­haps be­cause of his many roles. Who was the real Agnelli? A force­ful in­dus­tri­al­ist? Ex­trav­a­gant play­boy and jet-set­ter?

Foot­ball fa­natic? Aris­to­crat and bil­lion­aire with a sense of fash­ion? It is clear that the most prom­i­nent part of his legacy – with slightly more than a decade pass-

“He was spe­cial, charis­matic. Wh en he came into the house you could feel the at­mos­phere


ing since his death – is pre­dom­i­nantly not about his strate­gic busi­ness achieve­ments (such as Agnelli trans­form­ing Fiat into a global in­dus­try gi­ant). His legacy is of­ten boiled down to – that’s right – his well-tai­lored wardrobe. A quick search on Google will guide you to re­cent ar­ti­cles with head­lines such as “The God­fa­ther of Style” (The Wall Street Jour­nal), “Agnelli’s 10 Best Style Moves” (Esquire), “The Well-Dressed Sym­bol of a Mod­ern Italy” (Swedish pub­lic broad­caster, Sveriges Ra­dio). Even af­ter his death, Gianni has con­tin­ued to head­line Best Dressed lists all over the world. His grand­child Ginevra Elkann, who runs a gallery cen­tred around the fam­ily’s art col­lec­tion in Turin, sums up her grand­fa­ther’s par­tic­u­lar mag­netism in The Wall Street Jour­nal in 2013.

“He was spe­cial, charis­matic. When he came into the house you could feel the at­mos­phere change. There was ex­cite­ment. When he was around, you knew some­thing spe­cial was go­ing to hap­pen.”a.

Gio­vanni Ag nelli was born

in 1921 on the out­skirts of Turin with a weighty sil­ver spoon in his mouth. In­her­ited power. The Agnelli fam­ily’s unique sta­tus and for­tune was based on the dy­nasty’s crown jewel, Fiat, which was founded by Gianni’s grand­fa­ther (also named Gio­vanni Agnelli) in Turin in 1899. His grand­son stud­ied to be a lawyer at the Univer­sity of Turin and grad­u­ated in 1943 and was given the nick­name that would fol­low him for the rest of his life, l’Avvo­cato (the Lawyer). Dur­ing the Sec­ond World War Gianni served in the Ital­ian cav­alry. He was wounded twice on the Rus­sian front and yet again in North Africa (where he drove a Fiat-made mil­i­tary ve­hi­cle). Leg­end has it that the third gun­shot wound did not hap­pen on the bat­tle­field but in a drinksod­den, smoky bar in Libya. The back­ground: a fight over a woman. A Ger­man of­fi­cer is said to have put an end to it by shoot­ing Agnelli in the arm. It wasn’t the first or last time Gianni would be drawn into a stormy love af­fair; dur­ing his life­time he is claimed to have had af­fairs with women such as Pamela Churchill Har­ri­man, Elle MacPher­son and Anita Ek­berg. Af­ter the war he re­turned to Turin and be­came the vice pres­i­dent of the Fiat board.

“I started at the top,” Agnelli used to quip about the start of his ca­reer. From 1966 on­wards he ruled the fam­ily busi­ness. Agnelli’s em­ploy­ees cre­ated the slo­gan, “Agnelli is Fiat; Fiat is Turin and Turin is Italy.”

It is dif­fi­cult to

fully grasp the ex­tent of the cul­tural and po­lit­i­cal in­flu­ence Agnelli wielded in his home coun­try. At the be­gin­ning of the 1990s ev­ery other car on the Ital­ian roads was a Fiat. Un­der Gianni’s man­age­ment the auto com­pany grew into a gi­gan­tic in­dus­try con­glom­er­ate with ten­ta­cles reach­ing in all di­rec­tions: wine pro­duc­tion, news­pa­pers, air­craft, en­ergy tech­nol­ogy and telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions. Dur­ing Agnelli’s 30 year reign as head of Fiat, auto-mak­ers Lan­cia, Maserati, Alfa Romeo and Fer­rari were brought un­der Fiat’s um­brella. For a time the Fiat em­pire was de­scribed as “a state within the state”. The fam­ily also owned the foot­ball club Ju­ven­tus at which Gianni was the hon­orary pres­i­dent from 1947 to 1954 (ev­ery morn­ing at six, wher­ever he was in the world, he’d call the club to get the lat­est news about the team).

“Ital­ian gov­ern­ments come and go, but Mr Agnelli is a per­ma­nent estab­lish­ment in the coun­try,” the U.S Sec­re­tary of State (un­der Richard Nixon) and Agnelli’s friend, Henry Kissinger, once com­mented.

When Italy’s sil­ver-haired

doyen went to his grave in 2003 he was val­ued at $2 bil­lion. With such a pow­er­ful prece­dent to live up to, there is lit­tle won­der that his suc­ces­sion be­came prob­lem­atic. Agnelli’s only son, Edoardo, had com­mit­ted sui­cide three years pre­vi­ously. The other nat­u­ral heir, nephew Gio­vanni, passed away in 1997 as a re­sult of cancer. Gianni’s neph­ews John and Lapo Elkann took over the helm of the fam­ily em­pire in­stead. John, the old­est brother, is now the Chair­man of Fiat, while no­to­ri­ous younger brother Lapo Elkann has shoul­dered the pub­lic im­age. Apart from re­launch­ing the city car, Fiat 500, dur­ing his time as the com­pany’s mar­ket­ing di­rec­tor, Lapo also in­her­ited Gianni Agnelli’s wardrobe which

has con­trib­uted to mak­ing him one of the most well-known style icons of our time (see Plaza Uomo is­sue 4/2014).

The vi­sion­ary Agnelli is gone, but his well-dressed spirit re­mains. It is quite pos­si­ble that there hasn’t been one sin­gle day since his grandiose fu­neral in Turin in 2003 that fash­ion mag­a­zines around the world have not men­tioned his glam­orous life­style and style-in­flu­enc­ing look. With suits from Ital­ian tai­lor­ing house Caraceni and the Bri­tish la­bel Hunts­man – fre­quently teamed with hand-crafted loafers from Ital­ian shoe­maker Car Shoe – he em­bod­ied mod­ern Italy. His ur­bane yet re­laxed el­e­gance worked just as well in the of­fice as for a dry-Mar­tini lunch on a yacht. Gianni’s most imi­tated style move? Wear­ing a wrist­watch – of­ten an Omega or a Patek Philippe – on the out­side of a starched cuff. Gianni did not have time, he said, to pull up his shirt sleeve. To­day this is a com­mon sight among Italy’s busi­ness lead­ers and fash­ion de­sign­ers such as Mau­r­izio Cor­neliani. Other style trends kick-started by Gianni in­clude let­ting the shorter part of the tie dan­gle free; leav­ing the but­ton-down but­tons open on a shirt and wear­ing boots or loafers with a busi­ness suit. The au­thor and jour­nal­ist Taki Theodor­a­cop­u­los – who was mem­ber of An­gelli’s in­ner cir­cle – told The Wall Street Jour­nal in 2013:

“Gianni was el­e­gant and wore clothes beau­ti­fully. He would have been a great dancer as he was built like a boy, with nar­row shoul­ders. The way clothes hung on him, it was just as the de­sign­ers imag­ine it.”

Agnelli was the mas­ter

of ­sprez­zatura, which means some­one who has mas­tered the rules but chooses to break them with a cer­tain fi­nesse. Taki Theodor­a­cop­u­los again:

“When he wasn’t per­fectly dressed, it was de­lib­er­ate. The tie askew, the un­but­toned shirt – noth­ing was an ac­ci­dent. Or, to put it another way, it was meant to be an ac­ci­dent, which made it even more stylish.”

Look­ing at pho­tos of l’Avvo­cato, some­thing else be­comes clear: he rep­re­sents an in­com­pa­ra­ble and time­less aes­thetic. It doesn’t mat­ter if the pho­tos are from the 1960s, 70s, 80s or 90s; his suits would have worked just as well to­day.

On the day fol­low­ing the an­nounce­ment of Gianni’s death, Ital­ian news­pa­pers de­clared, “Italy’s last king is dead.” The na­tion still mourns numero uno. To­gether with the en­tire fash­ion world

Few Ital­ians have been as in­flu­en­tial, trend­set­ting and imi­tated dur­ing the 20th cen­tury as Gianni Agnelli, here pho­tographed in Tri­este in Fe­bru­ary 1967.

Gianni Agnelli whizzing down the slopes at Swiss ski re­sort St. Moritz on 24 De­cem­ber 1976.

Fe­bru­ary 1972. Agnelli shows-off a model of Fiat Tower, to be con­structed at La Défense in Paris.

Agnelli in con­ver­sa­tion with rac­ing driver Mario An­dretti dur­ing the Monaco Grand Prix in 1975.

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