Italy Goes to the Polls / Italian Election '94: TV tycoon Berlusconi wins fashion stakes by a whisker

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The Independent Online
IT WAS the face of Massimo d'Alema, No 2 in the former Communist PDS that launched Silvio Berlusconi into politics. Mr d'Alema's 'narrow moustache', his 'vindictive sneer' and his hands 'exhibited like flags' on television, as described amid shudders by the dapper media tycoon, may have changed the destiny of the nation.

Image is playing a big role and Mr Berlusconi, with all the advertising skills he has at his disposal, would never commit the sin of waving his hands like flags.

The anti-Berlusconi press makes fun of the make-up he wears when television cameras are around, the lacquer he needs to smooth his thinning hair after a walkabout, the nylon stocking pulled over the camera lens to erase wrinkles and produce warm tones. But he comes over as an ad- man's dream: his scrubbed American-style features and haircut, his expensive double-breasted suits, his polished shoes and calm, smiling confidence project the impression of the successful entrepreneur that Italy needs to make it rich and happy. He is reported to have sent people around to photo agencies to buy up unflattering portraits, to have sent newspapers the right ones to use, and to exclude photographers where they might get too candid a shot.

His Forza Italia people are encouraged to dress in his image - sharp suits, ties, or navy blazers and grey flannels. A militant in the Northern League described a meeting with their supposed Forza Italia allies to plot strategy. 'There we were in jeans, up to our ears in telephone calls and thousands of pamphlets. They were all spit and polish. They wanted to talk about polls and marketing. They looked at us as if we were out of our minds.' There was no rapport and they did not meet again.

Which is not surprising. Umberto Bossi, the League's leader, could not give a damn about image. He thinks nothing of peeling off his pullover on stage in front of the crowds; his tie - if any - is invariably pulled loose, his jacket flies as he gesticulates wildly.

Then there is the left, a sartorial disaster. Old tweed jackets, baggy pants. Achille Occhetto, leader of the PDS, already a cartoonists' delight with his shock of salt-and- pepper hair and bushy moustache, goes in for homely knitted waistcoats. The look of a favourite uncle, but definitely not the leader of the New Italy.

But there is something about Mr d'Alema, and it is not just his politics, which are to the left of Mr Occhetto's, that makes him the No 1 hate-figure of the right. It is probably his moustache, black and thin, set in a pale unsmiling face. The moustache 'of a provincial hairdresser', declared Oliviero Toscani, Benetton's controversial ad-man. 'Of a police commissar' said the Corriere della Sera. To me he looks like a villain of silent films. 'Why that shape, that odious cut?' asked the Corriere 'That's how it grows,' he replied, pointing out that - moustache or no moustache - he pulled in 33,000 preferential votes in the last elections. 'It is made that way and I am keeping it.'