Shortly after moving to Italy (back in another lifetime), I was amused to find fashion-savvy Italian men strutting the streets of Milan and Vicenza dressed as American cowboys.
Philip Morris had decided to market cigarettes abroad by sending their iconic Marlboro Man on holiday to Europe. They chose the venerable Italian fashion and textiles firm, Marzotto, to design Marlboro Classics, a Western lifestyle-inspired line.
The idea seemed foolish to me at the time. After all, this was Italy — home of Valentino, Armani, and Gucci. Why would Italians want to look like cowboys?
But then I had a closer look at the clothing line. These were not the cowboys of the true American West, or even Hollywood’s Golden Era. These cowboys were sleek, high fashion, and urbane. Slim cuts, elegant yet minimalist details, and an obsessive attention to the tuck of a shirt, the break of a jean, and each ensemble of colors distinguished the authentic from the copy. It was not the same Marlboro Man. But was that really so bad?
True American cowboys might have considered the Italian cowboy fussy. True American cowboys might have beaten up the Italian cowboy after the rodeo. But Italian women were entranced. And the line caught on like wildfire.
Marlboro Classics boutiques began appearing all over Eastern and Western Europe. Suddenly, everywhere I looked, I was home: A swing of fringed suede swept by me at London-Heathrow. Slim, tobacco moleskin jeans whisked by me on the Champs-Elysee. And a devilishly handsome Russian in a cowboy hat and duster sipped his cappuccino while smoking a Marlboro at a ski lodge in Cortina.
It was then I realized that the American cowboy lifestyle has a universal appeal. It smacks of adventure, bravery, strength, masculinity, independence and self-determination. And that’s sexy. While not every man can embody all those qualities, perhaps his attire can.
So how did the designers at Marzotto pull this off? Vintage shopping in the good ol’ U.S.A.
Twice a year, the Marlboro Classics product development team traveled the American Southwest on an all-expenses paid shopping trip to buy up what we’d cast off. They redesigned the used garments with their fine Italian tastes and sent them to market. You can still find now-vintage Marlboro Classics apparel on Ebay. Or you can find current-day manifestations of the Euro-cowboy in collections by Lanvin, Maison Margiela, or Vetements. But you’ll pay a pretty penny.
I say we cut out the middle man.
Vintage shopping around the Southwest is stellar! I’ll probably regret letting you in on my secret, but I’ve just returned from Persnickety’s Resale Boutique in Northern Tucson. It’s off-the-beaten-path and in a retirement town, which means the finds are fabulous! Debi Wallace, the owner and former fashion industry pro, has a discerning eye, a steady supply of authentic Southwestern styles, and a collection of vintage Native American jewelry to suit even my meager budget.
I’ll always have a soft spot for the Italian cowboy but, these days, I’m wedded to authenticity.
5811 N. Oracle Road
Tucson, AZ 85704