When Federico Fellini's magnum opus premiered in New York City in 1960, the “Latin Lover” trope had already been omnipresent in Western popular fiction since the 1920s. In La Dolce Vita, Marcello Mastroianni’s portrayal of a photojournalist operating in the thick of Rome's growing obsession with celebrity culture was a role that made him Italy's biggest film star. Effectively smelting a character from a lumpen block of caricature, his elegant extraction packed polish, mystique and detail.
There’s more to the central protagonist Marcello Rubini’s depth and nuance, though, than Mastroianni’s stoical, cursive adroitness in front of a camera. Fellini needs a generous share of the credit for the artful narrative, one he co-wrote, inspired in part by the Montesi affair - a powerful cautionary allegory, tracing a weary individual’s vain attempts to escape the ennui that comes with chronicling the lives of fading aristocrats, B-list movie stars and society women. The aesthetic masterstrokes of his direction help, too, of course.
When it comes to the lead character’s brio as a complex south European lover, though, one shouldn’t overlook his wardrobe. For this, in part, we can thank the sartorial spirit of the age – mid-century style icons including The Rat Pack, Cary Grant in North By Northwest, Connery as Bond and JFK in the White House were all sharp adherents to the sleek, single-breasted, narrow lapelled look. But there’s more to La Dolce Vita’s sartorial might than the broader style sensibilities of the era.