On the second anniversary of the actress’ passing, we look back at her legacy through some of her most memorable outfits and films.
Monica Vitti was never just a matter of cinema. Each of her roles have become ingrained in popular culture, her lines memorable, her smiles and little cries unmistakable, her looks unmatched.
Her grace, elegance and wit flawlessly amalgamated with the popular and sanguine braggadocio of her working-class upbringing. She could equally take caustic, dramatic bourgeoise roles like in her strings of works with husband Michelangelo Antonioni (L’eclisse, L’avventura, La notte, Deserto rosso) and become a raucous popular mask (Polvere di stelle, Ninì Tirabusciò la donna che inventò la mossa, Il dramma della gelosia (tutti i particolari in cronaca), and many more). At best, she could do both in one very same film, winning herself the crown of the queen of Italian cinema – no offence, Sophia.
Monica Vitti rocking fur and leather, 1969 circa.
What mirrors said ability is her wardrobe, which on many occasions has contributed to affirm Vitti’s films in collective memory. Think of the kitchen sink drama-esque green coat by the lunar landscape of Ravenna power plants in Deserto rosso (1966), the charming and subtly kinky bourgeoise outfits of romantic comedy dramas like Amore mio aiutami (1969), or the colourful 1960s dresses of comedies like Le Fate (1966) and the denim minidress of Ti ho sposato per allegria (1967), which mirrors all the bubbly and evanescent naïvety of 1960s pop culture and the playfulness of the sexual revolution.
For the occasion we selected 5 looks from 5 of our favourite Monica Vitti films, working both as a fashion and cinematic compendium.
Modesty Blaise (1966)
Monica Vitti in one of the costumes designed by Marissa Martelli.
At the height of European’s cinema Pop and Op art craze comics seemed like a good idea to translate said kaleidoscopic visions into blockbuster films. The result was a melting pot of eroticism, mind-blowing modernist and Radical set designs, nonsense storylines and avant-garde costumes. If Jane Fonda became a sensation with her Barbarella, Vitti followed suit with her role of British comic strip heroine Modesty Blaise.
The costumes, which anticipate her enigmatic, yè-yè femme fatale edge of La ragazza con la pistola, were designed by Marissa Martelli and mixed the spy movie penchant for catsuits with other magnificent, space age-oriented dresses reminiscent of the work of Pucci for the likes of Braniff Airlines.
Promotional photographs documenting Vitti's costumes in Modesty Blaise.
The film runned at the International Cannes Film Festival where, though, it was defeated by cult French flick Un Homme et une femme and by an Italian classic, Pietro Germi’s Signore e signori with its CAM Sugar score by Carlo Rustichelli.
La ragazza con la pistola (1968)
The black PVC mac defines the look of Monica Vitti in La ragazza con la pistola by Mario Monicelli, 1968.
The film directed by Italian comedy heavyweight Mario Monicelli and italian entry as Best Foreign Film at the 1969 Oscars, was the first in which Vitti held a solo protagonist role.
Despite the number of accolades bagged by the oeuvre, including the David di Donatello, Nastro d’Argento, and Grolla d’Oro as best actress for Vitti, at the time the film was received as nothing more than an enjoyable comedy.
However, the film is a testament to the then incoming feminist revolution, although retaining the quintessential lighthearted wit of Monicelli’s works.
The title itself captures this feeling in a nutshell: a Sicilian girl sets on a journey across the Swinging England of the mid-to-late 1960s to chase Vincenzo Macaluso, a local beau who she spent a premarital night with but escaped the morning after to avoid marriage. In her handbag is a gun, to kill the man.
Lobby card for La ragazza con la pistola, 1968.
Clothes hence become the signifier of the character’s psychological and attitudinal evolution, from the Catholic and tradition-bound Sicily to the land of the sexual revolution. These include a black PVC coat, an orange leather jacket, mini skirts and knee-high boots. Even a red perm wig paired with oversized, yè-yè sunglasses and, of course, the gun to vindicate her Sicilian defloration.
The soundtrack by elusive composer Peppino De Luca further suggests said transition, moving from hints of Mediterranean folklore to the most lysergic of psychedelia, including the use of sitar.
La pacifista (1970)
La pacifista features a grittier and more 1970s-edged take on some of the stylistic solutions of La ragazza con la pistola.
Greek director Miklós Jancsó’s La pacifista is a peculiar work in the filmography of Monica Vitti, commenting on the divisive student turmoil of post-1968 Milan, a city split between left and right-wing extremists.
Vitti plays the role of a mature journalist, an emancipated intellectual woman that falls in love with a radical student interpreted by Pierre Clémenti. Here Vitti seems to mirror many topical figures of the Italian cultural landscape of the time, like Oriana Fallacci, Carla Lonzi or Camilla Cederna.
Her looks in the film are some of the most overlooked in the career of the actress, who switches between shiny PVC flares, silky chokers and an all white tunic held by an oversized, ethnic belt that suggests the will for pacifism and exoticism of the hippy generation, which by 1970 had already become ingrained in dominant culture as a costume. The latter look draws many resemblances with the one worn by Mick Jagger during the historical Rolling Stones 1968 Hyde Park gig held in memory of the late Brian Jones, the beginning of the end of the pacifist illusion.
Il dramma della gelosia (tutti i particolari in cronaca) (1970)
The futuristic glasses worn by Monica Vitti in Il dramma della gelosia (tutti i particolari in cronaca), 1970.
One of the topical films in the career of Monica Vitti is also one in which the actress deploys a great variety of clothes, from her ragged working-class florist outfits to the pompous PVC minidress worn in the hilarious scene inside Casa Papanice, looking way too rigid and uncomfortable despite fashionable to symbolise how the character feels out of place in her social upgrade.
The film also contains the legendary bedroom scene with Marcello Mastroianni and Giancarlo Giannini, in which Vitti wears a black lace underwear set with stockings in an attempt of seduction neutralised by the bittersweet hilarity of Ettore Scola’s script. A look that seems to equally nod to and parody the famous Loren-Mastroianni strip tease in Ieri, oggi, domani (1963).
Vitti's underwear recalls the outfit of Sophia Loren in Ieri, oggi, domani.
However, the icing on the cake is the futuristic pair of white cardboard-made glasses sported by Vitti when sitting at the restaurant with Mastroianni. A clash between the rustic and demised interiors of the joint and the design-edge of the accessory, which once again makes Il drama della gelosia a must-watch.
Qui comincia l'avventura (1975)
The biker look of Monica Vitti in Qui comincia l'avventura, 1975.
A road movie Italian-style with Monica Vitti (and Claudia Cardinale) riding an all-black Honda motorbike in all-black leather catsuit and helmet. What’s not to love about this?
The international title better captures the iconographic stance of the opus: Blonde in Black Leather. As a matter of fact, Qui comincia l’avventura suggests a 1970s, grittier and proto-punk take on the American and British biker movie tradition of the previous decade, channeling characters like Marianne Faithfull in Girl on a Motorcycle (1968), Nancy Sinatra in The Wild Angels (1966). But also the iconography of Brigitte Bardot in the video for the Gainsbourg-penned ‘Harley Davidson’ as well as its Italian counterpart, Ombretta Colli when presenting on RAI TV her cover version of the song, ‘La Moto’.
The soundtrack by Riz Ortolani is unfortunately lost, but the iconic power of the Carlo Di Palma-directed film remains untouched.
The biker look of Monica Vitti in Qui comincia l'avventura, 1975.