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Three decades already passed after the birth of one of the most important trends of Italy’s fashion history, the ‘Paninari’, a phenomenon born in Milan yet globally-known which from youth scene transformed into the life, style and attitude model – consumerist too – of a generation rich in its own slang and look.

Milan, ’80s.

A group of youngsters hangs up every day at Panino café in Liberty square, behind San Babila area; they share the lust for life, the passion for style and the wish to be fashionable so to pick up chicks. Youngsters not so keen to study and with a few money coming from wealthy families usually haunt the centre’s stores searching for pieces and outfits to stand out and be recognisable amidst the mass – without looking annoying to their parents’ eyes.
The previous generation – that of the ’70s – totally broke apart youth scenes by its contrasts and political violence combined with drugs diffusion, and after the fall of ideologies the new trend becomes to overturn the protest years’ most proletarian ideas and to follow the economic boom and the new American icons.
A wide group starts to distinguish itself and to face street-life thanks to the most used weapon of all the counter or sub-cultures which until that time had influenced the Milan centre’s alternative youngsters (from San Babila to via Torino and San Lorenzo Columns): the look! We quote the Darks and New Wavers, Rockabilly and Rockers, the Metal-heads of Transex shop, the Mercanti square Skins, the Ticinese Punks and the several Chinas.

So in the first half of the ’80s a youth trend was born against the flow – influenced by the mainly American brands and labels in turn. Absolute icons of this period are Timberland kicks: combat-boots, high-laced boots and boat-shoes definitely are the first three and unique must-have items to be considered a ‘cool guy’ and to deserve the respect of the ‘crew’.
Between a sandwich and the other, given that money’s missing due to the high cost of those shoes, the rest of these guys’ cash ends at the Panino bar indeed (‘Panino’ means sandwich) – the one that names the guys and girls group as… ‘Paninari’!
Thirty years later we still can value this lifestyle and its wish to stand out and create its own sort of uniform managing to be recognisable, in a world which didn’t know cell-phones or social networks and where communication wasn’t offering much to young people… so from comics and music-videos something that was considered in between a dump youth scene and a powerful involving phenomenon came to life. It’s a mix of all that what had the merit of making many boys ‘go wild’ and have fun among those years’ bars, discos and shops, some ‘skirmishes’ included.

Let’s arrive at a status-symbol not less important than legendary ‘Timba’ shoes, matched with Burlington socks; from ski-slopes comes a jacket taking over the bomber mostly worn by the group’s guys, often back-to-front showing the orange side and usually over a white sherpa-lined Levi’s denim-jkt… we’re talking about the Moncler – Grenoble style – Paninaro’s signature down-jkt which along with pom-pom beanie and Armani jeans (an El Charro belt for many too) that way becomes a style-statement for a lot of teenagers.

Several important shops were born and raised thanks to that new trend indeed, we highlight the most valuable, Disegni, behind Corso Vittorio Emanuele, popular showcase for the new Paninari who want to have the ‘right look’… without forgetting MC Dill’s and Yankee. There was also Primavera (in San Babila area too) for Rifle and Americanino jeans, or famous Fiorucci likewise Stone Island’s store.
Girls enrich their outfits with Naj-Oleari bags, patches and headbands of the pastel-hues from Best Company sweaters and Henry Lloyd nautical waxed-jackets.
At the time an amazing boom of brands and magazines gets interested in the phenomenon, and ‘Il Paninaro’ comes forth born, the comic and then lil’ mag which as a fanzine will accompany over four years a bunch of guys ready to be influenced and ‘marked’ by this new language.

‘Wild Boys’ by Duran Duran is the soundtrack of those guys who want to be tough ones and believe that wearing Schott and Avirex G-1 jackets or shearling-coats with Ray Ban sunglasses, and maybe riding a Zundapp bike (or a Jeep Wrangler the luckiest ones), would be enough to make ’em men already or big riders and adventurers – even if often they never went much away from the Wendy spot in Argentina square.

In this period the Paninaro phenomenon crosses Italy’s borders – being celebrated even by the Pet Shop Boys in a wonderful LP album – and goes more ‘mainstream’, then getting imitated by worldwide cultures. As well as iconified by the main Italian denim-brands prior to Diesel and Energie; we might mention the ads and editorials dedicated to Paninaro fashion by Uniform, Lee Cooper, Roy Roger’s and Enrico Coveri.
In the second half of the ’80s the Western trend of Durini street explodes and with the opening of the new Burghy fast-food in San Babila square it’s usual to see guys wearing cow-boy hats, El Campero boots and Texan accessories. Not by chance, the ‘Drive-In’ show and Enzo Braschi create a key-character, whose signature lines become a core code in the chats of the long Saturday afternoons spent outside the fast-food astride scooters. Those words animate a model of style and attitude that until the ’90s was a backbone of the fashion sector’s economic market – a model which after its decline resulted in several other ‘drifts’ such as Hip-Hop, Yuppies and stadium Boys, losing itself in an important yet one-hit-wonder of Italy’s scene.
While now it’s time for some of the bangers that hit the dancefloor of clubs like Pantera, Le Cinemà, Central Park, 23esima, Notorius and of the many city-centre house-parties, where something always ends up to ‘disappear’, either the stereo or a few jackets: n°1 the above-mentioned Duran Duran’s ‘Wild Boys’, rocking as well in the Paninari cult-movie ‘Sposerò Simon Le Bon’ (viz I’ll marry SLB), and then remarkable bands such as Spandau Ballet, A-HA, Wham… while in disco they dance Modern Talking, Falco and Gazebo. And along the beats of ‘Comanchero’, ‘Paris Latino’, ‘I Like Chopin’ and ‘Amadeus’ a whole generation joins the fray!
A particular tribute goes to the already-quoted mags-comics: ‘Il Paninaro’ and ‘Wild Boys’, in addition to ‘Il Randa’, ‘Preppy’ for girls and the more illustrated ‘Cucador’, which with their reviews and contents become the Paninaro newbies’ bible.
Like wild fire in the Italian cities grow and meet entire youth groups adopting as ‘uniforms’ the Avirex jackets and shearling-coats, jeans and Frey boots or Nike Wimbledon with light-blue Swoosh especially in Lombardy, while Americanino and Vans in Rome area, yet there’s space for Stone Island, Lacoste and Sisley as well in the seaside-holiday locations (like S.Margherita or Courmayeur). Always on ‘Il Paninaro’ mag, a focus titled ‘Troppo Giusto o Troppo Scarso’ (something like ‘too hot or not’) sets the trend-standards of these years of shopping and endless hunt for newer and newer status-symbols. Years we remind also for the Invicta rucksack with the Girella snack inside and for grandma’s hand-patched jeans, with a Big-Bubble and telephone coins in the pocket, when – Baltimora ‘Tarzan Boy’ cassette put in the Walkman – we used to speed toward the cinema in two on Ciao scooters to see ‘Top Gun’.

It was the legendary ’80s!