Dylan Jones: If you ask me

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The Independent Online

If you ask me, Gio Ponti is probably the greatest fashion designer ever born. At least in essence. Of course, he wasn't a designer at all, not in that sense, not in the sense of wrapping oneself in attractive baubles and fashionable fabrics – his vision was bigger, and Ponti designed buildings, tables, magazines (Domus was his invention), lamps, coffee machines, anything with an industrial bent. Fashion for Ponti was purely utilitarian, simply clothes that would stop him appearing naked in his workshop. And while he would almost certainly not appreciate the context, he would no doubt subscribe to Jeremy Clarkson's principal reason for wearing (denim) trousers: "To cover my genitals."

In the 1950s, having designed anything that was worth designing, he became obsessed with clothes, and had some of his designs made up by the workwear supplier for one of his building projects. "There is absolutely no point in inventing new systems of construction and new building structures if we continue to keep the body imprisoned within the caprices of an irrational fashion," he wrote, hopefully in bad translation. "The problem of today's fashion ... does not lie in discovering some new kind of adornment for an evening dress, but in suggesting to men, as part of a new organisation of life, different ways of dressing as well."

Ponti's idea was simple. He had four suits made: two for winter, two for summer; two of which were formal (for society events) and two casual (for the drawing board and the building site). And though fabrics would alter from season to season, the suits were virtually identical in cut (the workwear jackets had two extra pockets to hold Ponti's many pens). He was also specific about colour: pale blues, sand and cement grey for summer; black, charcoal grey and blue for winter.

The suit soon became Ponti's uniform, and he rarely wore anything else. "Ponti-style" has been emulated by many since his death in 1979, yet no one has come close to matching his sense of déshabillé (a word he would have hated).

But perhaps this is not too surprising. After all, Italians have always been show-offs. Fiat bigwig Gianni Agnelli persisted in wearing his watch over his shirt, the Italian airforce sport suspiciously photogenic sunglasses, and the Pope has always worn a funny hat.

Men, think on.

Dylan Jones is the editor of 'GQ'