I’ve spent quite a lot of time in Italy this year (for work, rather than play) – and I’ve decided: in my next life, I want to be Italian. Well, we probably all want to be Italian. Sensual. Sexily elegant. Effortlessly beautiful. (Or so it seems: that just-got-out-of-bed, tousled hair – which in reality requires hours in the hairdresser, at the once-a-week appointment which is an Italian woman’s almost-religious duty.) It’s a look that’s become timeless – ever since Sophia Loren wiggled her way onto a movie set, in the 50s. Today, we can see it on sultry actress Monica Bellucci – and on Catherine Zeta-Douglas. (Her dusky skin, dark hair and luscious lips are pure Latin – even if, um, she is from Wales…)
To recreate the look is – technically – simple. Take one kohl pencil, use it generously, then blend it around the eye-line for a morning-after-the-night-before smudginess. Add lashings of mascara. Apply red lipstick – then bite on a tissue, so your lips look just-kissed. Add lashings of clear lipgloss. Keep a pair of very large sunglasses to hand (or on the top of your head), and don’t be mean with the gold jewellery. (The Italians have no phrase for ‘less is more’.) Preferably, show a little – or a lot – of cleavage, the more elevated the better, and tie a silk scarf around the handle of your handbag.
But the Italian look takes more than mere cosmetics, accessories and under-wired lingerie. You have to feel it. You have to smoulder. And you should perfect two expressions: pouting, and throwing your head back with laughter, to show off a swan-like neck. If you’re the passionate type, then you can tap into your inner Italian beauty with ease. If you’re uptight, don’t even bother. You’ll just look like a caricature, playing dress-up in Mummy’s red lipstick.
I asked an Italian woman I met on a business trip recently to share some of her secrets. First up, she says, is always to figure out what your best feature is, and enhance it with make-up. So if your lips are nicely-shaped, wear a lipstick that’ll make them stand out. (That’s going to be super-easy this season, when make-up’s definitely having a ‘lip moment’.) If it’s your eyes, go for bold eye-make up. If your cheekbones are already pretty good, play them up even further with bronzer and contour powder. (And forget pencil-thin eyebrows forever: even lighter-haired Italian women go for a bold brow – and look fabulous, with it.)
Italian women also believe in sunshine. I’m already a convert (having had two broken wrists, which made me anxious about my vitamin D levels) – but Italian women believe in at least 15 minutes a day, my new friend told me, for skin, hair, nails and energy levels. The thinking about sunshine has been completely turned on its head, in the last few years: yes, we still need to treat the sun with respect, and not overdo it – but its protective effect against cancer and osteoporosis means we should slot some sun exposure into our daily beauty ritual, for the sake of our overall health. I don’t need asking twice to get out there and soak up some restorative rays – even if it’s Hastings sunshine, rather than Capri’s…
I do think it’s odd, though, considering how many beautiful Italian women are out there, it may seem strange how few Italian names there are on the global beauty market. Perfumes, yes – from Roberto Cavalli, Laura Biagiotti, Versace, Armani. (Because fragrance – generously-applied – is another essential element of Italian gorgeousness.) But why so little Italian skincare? Well, ask any Italian beauty her beauty secret and she’ll probably answer two words: olive oil. For suntanning. For moisturising. For scrubbing. (Mix half and half with sugar, in a cup, and you’ve got the perfect, ultra-nourishing body scrub.)
And – a trick Jerry Hall (the ex-Mrs. Jagger) swears by – for using as a hair mask, on her Italian-ishly long (although un-Italianishly blonde) hair. ‘It’s an old Italian tradition,’ she says. ‘Soak your hair in olive oil, then cover it with a shower cap and wrap it up in a towel on a lazy Sunday afternoon. The longer you leave it, the better.’ (Then, of course, shampoo and condition as usual, until you want to smell like an insalata verde.)
Most Italian beauties don’t bother with olive ‘extracts’ – they just apply, straight from the bottle. And if you’ve ever wondered why their skin gleams so sensually – now you know… (But if that all sounds a little messy, you might want to check out Lamas Avocado & Olive Ultra-Smoothing Shampoo and Conditioner – very reparative, and wonderfully scented with touches of sandalwood.)
And although I take Power of Krill daily to ensure I get my correct balance of EFAs, I also slurp olive oil on quite a lot of what I eat. (And my skin’s still getting lots of compliments, thanks.) I bake with it, instead of butter. I certainly never eat a tomato without plenty of olive oil (the oil helps release the vital lycopene, in the fruit). And a salad, to me, is downright naked unless it’s got lashings of extra-virgin olive oil coating every leaf. (The pressed oil isn’t the only thing you want to be getting enough of, meanwhile: olive leaf extract is said to help keep colds and flu at bay. So you might want to check out Solgar’s option, as the ‘sniffle season’ approaches.)
But this autumn, I’ve decided, I’m definitely going to try to tap into my inner Italian woman in all sorts of ways. My heels may be a little higher, my skirt a little tighter. I faithfully promise not to leave the house without lipstick. And while it’s pretty hard for an English rose to ‘smoulder’, I’m going to do my darnedest.
I’ll let you know how I get on. But ‘ciao’, for now…