Like all foreign words 'sprezzatura' is a subtle concept difficult to translate. It conveys a casual ease in life, a mode of being and way of living that makes the difficult look effortless.
Agnelli as Icon
The iconic example of sprezzatura is embodied with the Fiat heir, playboy, and fashion icon Gianni Agnelli and his signature style of wearing his watch OVER his shirtsleeve.
Why is this an instance of sprezzatura? It conveys an utter nonchalance and casual indifference to style itself, all why inscribing an utterly unique style that makes its wearer look fantastic. It’s no surprise then that Agnelli’s style would intimidate his rivals. He would show up looking absolutely stunning and, most importantly, like he put so little effort into it that he couldn’t even bother to put his watch on right. This guy would look incredible - and like he put no effort into it!
While many men have since tried to emulate Agnelli’s ‘watch over the sleeve’ style, it never really works for the style plagiarists. Why? Sprezzatura conveys a casual indifference and ease. To copycat Agnelli so closely as a model casts one as a ‘try hard,’ as someone who is already working to hard at modeling what should be ultimately effortless.
Jazz and Sprezzatura
In a way, sprezzatura embodies that now so over used (to be nearly meaningless) word ‘cool’. The notion of ‘cool’ grew out of the jazz era. And jazz itself may well be the ultimate model for sprezzatura in fashion.
An accomplished jazz player is an incredible musician that knows all the rules of music. And his ability to play free-form jazz and riff on something new only works precisely because he knows not only all the rules, but which ones break. And any true jazz musician knows the secret to riffing on someone else’s tune is NOT to copy it copy, it but to make it eminently one’s own.
All fashion must be one’s own signature. And it is a delicate balance between obeying rules and subtly breaking them in just the right way.
So yes, even though we no longer have sumptuary laws that dictate what fashion one is allowed to wear based on social class, all fashion is nevertheless a kind of uniform. And true style, which is not mere fashion, is the lifestyle of ease embodied in one’s very being writ large in dress; sprezzatura then is perhaps a textile driven jazz in which one exudes the uniqueness of one own being all while embracing the rule-driven heritage of social whole.