The part of me that is forever Cosa Nostra

Click to follow
The Independent Online

There's a shop I seem to keep passing at the moment. No matter where I'm going or what manner of transport I am using, there it always is, somewhere between X and Y, a constant irritation to my senses, not because I don't like the shop and what it sells, but because I do. I am not going to describe its location exactly, partly for the reason that I am not certain myself, and partly for the reason that I don't want other people to know of its existence. Once everybody knows, it will have lost its allure. Enough that it's in London, in the vicinity of New Bond Street.

Generically, it's a shop you will recognise at once. A gentlemen's outfitters, as such were once called - though, of course, no man now thinks of himself as a gentleman nor goes along with the concept of being fitted out - expensively Mediterranean, of the sort always named after a famous Italian composer, Puccini, Verdi, Mascagni, Monteverdi, Donizetti, Morricone, though you suspect the owner, like the majority of his clients, is actually from the Levant.

The clothes, meanwhile, whoever buys and sells them, are definitely Italian. Southern Italian is how I think of them. From Naples or Bari or Taranto. Or maybe even more southern still - Sicily, say. Mafia clothes, that's what I'm saying. Clothes to meet other members of the Mob in. Which is presumably why I am drawn to the place, why I keep seeing it from the top of a bus, or from the window of a speeding taxi, or out of the corner of my eye when I am running to get to the chemist before it closes. There is a part of me that is forever Cosa Nostra. Nothing to do with violence or extortion. I wouldn't hurt or take money from a fly. It's an aesthetic thing, that's all. It's about dressing. I hanker to dress like a Sicilian-born Mobster.

I sat next to someone from the Mafia once, in a swing club in New York. He was tall for an Italian, with a long pale face and beautifully tapered fingers. He wore a treble-breasted grey silk suit, shot through with filaments of platinum, and the softest of soft white shirts, with long pointed collars and cuffs lined with swansdown. I admired the way he sat at the head of the table dispensing favours, buying the most expensive Armagnacs, choosing cigars for everyone, including the women, and permitting, with a slow inclination of the head, those who wanted to get up and dance to do so. He was, of course, above dancing himself. Personal dancing is not what you do if you're Mafia.

The other thing I liked about him was the way he kept smiling at me. It's possible that he was coveting my clothes as much as I was coveting his. A blue linty blazer worn over a button-down Viyella Tory shirt, yellowish corduroys and Chelsea boots. There weren't, after all, many other people accoutred as I was that night. But what I think he really saw in me was Mob material. Someone who might, in other circumstances, have been useful to him, maybe his bag-carrier, maybe his sidekick, who knows - maybe even his Godfather. When my father drove taxis in Manchester they called him The Godfather. So it's in my genes.

A couple of days ago, anyway, I finally found myself, with half an hour to spare, outside the very window I'd been speeding past for weeks. Pavarotti, I think the place was called. Or Lanza. I can't remember. What I do remember, though, and with great vividness, was a powder-blue ensemble - powder-blue blouson with navy leather elbow patches, powder-blue trousers with navy leather piping round the pockets, and powder-blue canvas yacht shoes, laced with dyed rope of the deepest indigo. All very well, but what shirt do you wear with that?

Then I saw it, high in the collar as is the vogue all over Italy at the moment, two buttons at the throat, the collars edged tastefully in steel, the cuffs sawn away at a diagonal, so that you can show off your diamond watch at the same time as your diamond links, and the colour - this being the best part - a peacock blue which seemed to change its hue according to the angle from which you viewed it, now azure, now violet, now as crimson as spilt blood. So there would be economy in buying such a shirt, as it goes with everything in your wardrobe.

Did I mention that the shop was also one of those where you have to ring the bell and say "Luigi sent me" before they let you in? They looked me over a couple of times, through the grille, then must have seen what the Mafioso saw in New York, and unlocked. I wasn't in there long. Just long enough to ascertain that the incarnadined pigmy buffalo belt for the trousers alone was £850. "Nice," I said, not showing alarm. "But I was looking for something a little more ostentatious."

I don't like being unable to afford things. Foolish, I know, but I feel that not being able to afford things is a sign of personal failure. Had I organised my life better, become the surgeon my grandma wanted me to be, or better still a footballer, I could have bought 10 powder-blue blousons edged in navy leather with my earnings from a single missed penalty.

No doubt that's who Pavarotti's fits out - footballers with the aesthetic of the Mob. But who am I to disapprove? I studied English literature with F R Leavis and can barely quiet the Mafia in my soul. What right do I have to expect better of men with CSEs in the three Rs of rapping, raping and roasting? Give any of us too much money and regard and we'll act like fools.

My single consolation as I leave Resphigi's empty-handed: thank God I belong to a profession that keeps me too poor at least to look a prat.

Comments