Ah, La dolce vita! For most people, this intoxicating phrase is synonymous with Rome. Not for me. Reluctant though I am to irritate the ghost of Federico Fellini, I think the concept finds its fiercest and most fabulous expression on a certain little nugget in the Bay of Naples—Capri.
What makes the island so sweet? Just how dolce is the vita? How dolce are the dolce? How dolce is the Gabbana?
Capri is, first and foremost, a fatally appealing combination of rusticity and glamour. The juxtaposition of simple pleasures—plopping in the Med; hiking deserted cliffs; scarfing down bowls of fresh figs—with a full-throttle commitment to style makes for an extremely dolce vita. It also makes for great creative inspiration. As somebody who spends most of the year whirring like a hamster on the wheel of fashion, I naturally find it necessary to hop off and refuel every so often. Recently, I decided to seek relaxation and inspiration in Capri. My traveling companions are my designer/ceramicist husband, Jonathan Adler, L.A.-based fashion designer Trina Turk, and her photographer husband, Jonathan Skow. (On our trip, we avoid confusion by referring to the latter as Mr. Skow.) We spend a thoroughly dolce week at the legendary La Scalinatella. Eccentric and luxurious, “the Scally,” as we affectionately dub it, looks as if it were decorated by Salvador Dalí after dropping acid. With its improbable collection of borderline-kitsch antiques and its stark white architecture, the Scally is the perfect base from which to sally forth and forage for inspiration.
Lay of the Land (and the Sea)
Jonathan is addicted to blue: baby blue, navy blue, azure blue—he has yet to meet a blue that does not inspire a pot or a pillow for his stores. The blues of the water here—best viewed while swimming in a grotto—are incomparable. Trina is also something of a Med-head. She finds inspiration in every rock and ripple: the coral stripe that runs around the island and pops into view when the water is choppy suggests an entire beige-and-pink resort collection to her.
And then there’s the people-watching. On Fontelina Beach—a great place for a voyeuristic lunch—Trina takes further inspiration from the sighting of a bronzed Monica Vitti look-alike in a white cotton lace kurta with long flared sleeves over a teeny bikini. “White lace and a deep tan—a phenomenal combo,” says Trina, as if writing the Women’s Wear Daily review of her own upcoming show. Mr. Skow photographs the moment and, unsurprisingly, a white lace kurta appears in Trina’s spring 2010 collection.
On every descent to the sea, Mr. Skow plays the role of intrepid paparazzo, hanging off cliffs and boat decks to get the perfect shot. He enjoys taking pictures without the usual ramparts of photo equipment, likening it to “swimming without a swimsuit—very liberating.” One afternoon, Mr. Skow decides he wants an action shot of Jonathan and me diving off the side of our sailboat. Much to the amusement of Giancarlo, our captain, it takes about 15 tries before Mr. Skow finally gives the thumbs-up.
Soaking Up the Design
From the kitschiest Rococo to the coolest mod minimalism, our trip is a nonstop festival of Italian design. Every jaunt yields distracting visual stimuli. Whenever Jonathan walks through the lobby of our hotel, he gazes at the hallucinogenic blue-and-white floor tiles until he bumps into a fellow guest. And the futuristic, mod lounges that we encounter at the Gio Ponti–designed Hotel Parco dei Principi on a day trip to Sorrento are a personal favorite, as is the funky wall mural—made from shards of groovy Midcentury ceramic tchotchkes—at Buonocore, a gelato shop across the street from Ferragamo back on Capri.
We are all inspired by the island’s addictive boutiques. Trina can’t get enough of the gaudy-but-chic handmade sandals. Jonathan feels a warm kinship with the uninhibited Caprese potters. Wandering around a souvenir shop near the docks, he snags a small abstract raku owl to send to his Peruvian workshop. He is determined to emulate the crackled glaze that garnishes the wings of the little creature.
And I find something else in the tiny stores of Capri—window-display inspiration. There is no space for the kind of dioramas that I have been installing at Barneys for the past 25 years. The Italians compensate for the absence of attention-getting props or rows of mannequins with something we fashion insiders call “merchandise handling.” This technique reaches a zenith in the dinky window displays here: Malo cashmere sweaters are lusciously folded; Lacoste shirt collars are erect; D&G belts spill from crocodile shoes; perfectly pressed Hermès scarves ripple like the water that laps the side of Valentino’s yacht down in the Marina Piccola. In the boutique displays, there is an innate finesse—the same finesse that the cook at Da Giorgio uses to arrange the shrimp and linguine on the plate with effortless panache—which inspires me because it points the spotlight back to what really matters: design and quality.
The best part of any Caprese day is the magical passeggiata, the nocturnal stroll. Trina digs her nails into my arm as we watch this fashion spectacle one night: “For the last couple of years, women in the States have been wearing gray anti-fashion thrift-shop grunge,” says Trina, as Mr. Skow snaps shots of long-legged beauties teetering down the cobblestones of the Via Camerelle in their Pucci party frocks and strappy gold Dolce & Gabbana sandals, “and this full-on commitment to adornment and glamour is what fashion is all about.” “Transformation!” says Jonathan. “Exhibitionism!” I say.
Campy revelations aside, we all come away with something else, something pretty major, from our trip—a distinct feeling of optimism. Despite the lousy economy, the Capresi manage to keep an upbeat worldview. This is a reminder that la dolce vita is not a luxury destination, but a state of mind. Whether you are on a vacation, a stay-cation, or an inspira-cation, this dolce state of mind is yours for the taking. So put down your BlackBerry. What are you waiting for?
Grand Hotel Quisisana 2 Via Camerelle; 39-081/837-0788; quisisana.com; doubles from $480.
Great Value Hotel Gatto Bianco 32 Via Vittorio Emanuele; 39-081/837-0446; gattobianco-capri.com; doubles from $255.
J.K. Place Capri 225 Via Provinciale Marina Grande; 39-081/838-4001; jkcapri.com; doubles from $734.
Punta Tragara 57 Via Tragara; 39-081/837-0844; hoteltragara.com; doubles from $490.
Da Giorgio 34 Via Roma; 39-081/837-5777; dinner for two $100.
Da Luigi ai Faraglioni 5 Via Faraglioni; 39-081/837-0591; lunch for two $98.
Faraglioni 75 Via Camerelle; 39-081/837-0320; dinner for two $132.
Gelateria Buonocore 35 Via Vittorio Emanuele; 39-081/837-7826; gelato for two $10.
Ristorante Aurora Via Fuorlovado; 39-081/837-0181; dinner for two $122.
Trattoria il Solitario 96 Giuseppe Orlandi; 39-081/837-1382; dinner for two $60.
Dsquared 81 Via Camerelle; 39-081/838-8235.
Kiton 19 Piazzetta Umberto I; 39-081/838-8229.
Malo 11 Via Vittorio Emanuele; 39-081/837-0479.
100% Capri 29 Via Fuorlovado; 39-081/837-7561.
Russo Uomo 8 Federico Serena; 39-081/838-8208.