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Simon Doonan's Guide to Capri

 Designer Jonathan Adler, author Simon Doonan, photographer Jonathan Skow, and designer Trina Turk in front of La Scalinatella.

Photo: Jonathan Skow

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 Passeggiata

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?


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