“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” Leonardo DaVinci
Ciao, bella! Author, Gabriella Contestabile has written THEE book for women about Italian women. SASS, SMARTS and STILETTOS (SumisuraPublications) is all about how Italian women make the ordinary, extraordinary.
Ah, that inimitable Italian style. It’s embedded in an Italian woman’s DNA. Fashion doesn’t define her. She defines herself. She knows an extraordinary life is not about status, money, or achievement. The only mastery it requires is one her heritage has given her, the irrepressible passion to make art of life itself.
Ask an Italian woman where she gets her sense of style and she will tell you it’s not about labels. It’s tethered to humble roots; humanity, community, conscious consumerism, and a profound appreciation for art in all its forms.
SASS, SMARTS & STILETTOS takes readers on a journey from the humble hill towns of Abruzzo to the revered fashion capitals of Milan and Rome, into the artisan workshops of Florence, and the humanistic business practices of Luisa Spagnoli, Brunello Cuccinelli, and Alberta Ferretti, from the emergence of Italy’s fashion industry after WWII, to slow food and sustainable fashion initiatives taking root around the world.
Life lessons echo in the words of the author’s mother and grandmother, in the voices of Italian film divas, designers, tastemakers, writers, and artisans across generations, from the first Sala Bianca in Florence to the game changing design ethic of Franca Sozzani, Miuccia Prada, and Donatella Versace.
We were fortunate that Gabriella found some time to tell us about her writing and reading life:
- What is the last great book you’ve read?
‘Leonardo DaVinci’ by Walter Isaacson. No one does biography like Isaacson. He reveals Leonardo’s perspective on how one should live; through passionate curiosity, careful observation, and playful imagination. This is one of those books you sink into the way we did before computers and social media, when the joy of learning and discovery led us to question, observe, and live fully in the moment.
- In today’s tech savvy world, most writers use a computer or a laptop. Have you ever written parts of your book on paper?
Yes. To get my thoughts flowing I first write in my journal. There is something honest and grounded about a pen scrawling across paper. I’m forced to write more slowly, think more clearly, and connect all the sensory elements in the chapter I’m working on. Settings are important in my work. I want to place the reader in the scene so she feels she is on the Ponte Santa Trinita’ with gelato in hand, or on that train ride through the Alps. When I hand write I don’t edit myself and I’m not tempted to check emails or social media.
- How long have you been writing?
Since I was eight years old, living in Ottawa, Canada, and failing miserably at penmanship. My mother made me sit at this big round table overlooking the park I was not allowed to play in until finished, and practice writing rows upon rows of each letter. I got so bored I started to write stories instead, and I haven’t stopped.
- Which was the hardest character to write? The easiest?
“Sass, Smarts, and Stilettos’ is non-fiction so all the characters are real. The hardest part was writing about myself. My publisher recommended I talk about our immigrant experience, my mother’s stories, and our life in Italy. I wanted to make it more about the reader’s experience vs. my own, so I re-worked multiple drafts to weave relatable life lessons into the narrative. Turns out most readers said they liked the personal anecdotes.
The easiest character was my mother Clelia to whom the book is dedicated. She lives with us now that she’s 95, and still goes to work two days a week. Care giving brings challenges, but many gifts. I’m convinced the book would not have resonated had Clelia not been part of our daily lives. I felt that palpable connection every time I sat down to write. Images and childhood memories came alive, as if I were re-living them, and inspired me to keep writing.
- How did you do research for your book?
One of the best parts of writing this book was that I got to research subjects I love, and explore passions instilled during my formative years. I created a binder with individual chapters so I could go to whatever chapter I felt inspired to work on that day and added my research notes broken out in topics (fashion, slow food, art, Italy after WW II, etc.) and rough drafts. So if on a particular day, due to something I’d read or heard, I wanted to write about the evolution of Italian fashion after World War II that’s what I did.
- Do you snack while you write?
Rarely. I may treat myself to an espresso and a piece of chocolate for a boost in the middle of the day. I do get up regularly to stretch or walk outside since I trouble staying indoors and sitting for long periods of time.
And when it comes to food, mealtimes are so sacred to Italians and Italian Americans we rarely snack or eat on the go. Even when I worked long hours for Prada we would stop, leave our desks, and enjoy lunch and conversation followed by espresso in a nicely appointed room away from computer screens and distractions.
Gabriella Contestabile is the author of the novel, The Artisan’s Star, and owner of Su Misura (Made to Measure) Journeys; a boutique travel concept for the female traveler who relishes off-the-beaten-track adventures that celebrate the Italian way of life.
The book/travel initiative has its roots in her pre-writer life as a foreign language teacher, later as Executive Director and Vice President of International Training in a number of global companies (including Estee Lauder, Shiseido, and Prada Beauty) where she would create immersive and unconventional learning experiences in unique settings around the world.
One of her favorite pastimes, wherever she is in the world, is to scout out the best, and most ‘Italian’ espresso in the hood. It requires multiple tastings, but that’s the idea. Gabriella was born in Italy, and raised in Ottawa and New York City, where she currently lives with her husband, her mother, and a furry Shih Tzu named Oreo.
FYI: I’d like to introduce Oreo to my Shih Tzu, Sunshine!
Connect with the Author:
Thanks to Italy Book Tours,we have one copy of SASS, SMARTS and STILETTOS to giveaway. Just tell us what’s your favorite Italian meal? Mine is spaghetti and meatballs, but it’s really all about tasty meatballs.
We’ll announce a winner soon. Good luck!
GIVEAWAY: USA only, please!