Paninaro Style: The Italian Youth Culture Born Out Of A Sandwich Bar

Italians aren't always known for their street style, but the Paninaro boys of '80s Milan left a sartorial mark on the world which is still felt today...
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Italians aren't always known for their street style, but the Paninaro boys of '80s Milan left a sartorial mark on the world which is still felt today...

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Italy is often regarded as a stylish country, a passionate country and a culturally rich country. Little attention is paid towards the hardships it went through from the time of the Second World War and throughout the following decades. The scene of a political war fought at street level, between those with right wing, fascist ideas and those who believed in a communist way of life is afforded little attention by those who regard it as the so called fashion capital of the world. However it was from such issues that a new generation of young Italians decided to abscond from the political strife and the threat of terrorism to adopt a new attitude towards life.

During the early 1980s a noticeable clique was forming in Milan, a new generation of wealthy and fashion obsessed youngsters who used sartorial vigour to display their social standing. Their catwalk was not the high-end landing strip of a glinted warehouse during fashion week however; it was the sandwich bars of Milan’s city centre, specifically Al Paninos in the Via Agnello district of Milan. Their culture was called Paninaro, and those that followed it christened the Paninari.

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The fashions adhered to by the confident and cosmopolitan Paninari encompassed expensive, continental labels that were worn in neat and sometimes unconventional styles. Displaying a nationalist awareness and an appreciation of home grown labels, Armani and Fiorucci were two of the most evident names associated with the movement although Best Company was the must-have label in any self conscious Paninari wardrobe. Moncler, Trusardi and a little later down the line, the Massimo Osti productions of Stone Island and CP Company also become much revered staples of the style. A love of classic Americana was also in abundance with Timberland deck shoes being one of the most cherished aspects of the Paninari look, as well as Italian made Superga pumps.

Unlike a lot of youth movements that deter the attentions of the media in view of keeping their scene underground and exclusive, the Paninari embraced their role in the mainstream. The exclusivity of the clothing they wore was enough for them: they chose not to be a mysterious hybrid for whom people who were not involved didn’t know who or what they were, they celebrated the fact they were part of Italian culture and various magazines dedicated to the lifestyle were published and read in abundance. Incidentally, in 1986 The Pet Shop Boys released 'Paninaro', a record celebrating the culture.

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Although Paninaro culture was the sole creation of the Milanese youth, the look was exported to the UK during the mid 1980s with labels such Burlington socks, Paul and Shark, Pop 84, Best Company and most notably, the Armani eagle which became synonymous with a certain fraternity within the casual scene.

Although the Paninari had largely faded away towards the late 1980s and early 90s, the labels that were most cherished by those involved with the scene have lived on and in some cases flourished after being adopted by others. It’s perhaps quite fitting to note that many traces of Paninaro style have yet again crossed over to the UK and, intentionally or not, make up the look that is currently most popular in London and other main cities.

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The most notable trend is the wearing of denim rolled to the ankle – something that has been adapted and done for the past few years and is now an accepted way to wear jeans in general. This trend was one of the key components and noticeable hallmarks of the Paninari, who rolled their Armani jeans to display their Burlington socks for all to see. Stone Island and CP Company, although worn religiously throughout the proceeding years by football going lads, has also seen big resurgence in popularity along with the deck shoe in summer and other aspects of the Paninaro look such as bright coloured back-packs and the like.

With Italian fashion is often perceived as being a pretentious and hollow entity, best left to snooty, flamboyant characters whose demeanour is entirely fake, that original and home-grown culture that spawned from the sandwich bars of Milan should not be forgotten. Let’s dismiss the catwalks flanked by celebrities and the flashes from the cameras of Vogue’s photographers for a minute and pay a little bit of homage to one of Italia’s finest contributions to modern street culture, that of the Paninaro.