On Wednesday, longtime Ferrari Chairman Luca di Montezemolo announced that he was stepping down. Speculation was rampant that his departure was due to conflicts with Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne, who will run Ferrari while Montezemolo figures out his next move.
That could involve leading Alitalia, the Italian national air carrier, or perhaps leading all of Italy, if he revives discussion about mounting a political challenge to Silvio Berlusconi.
At a press conference on Wednesday, Marchionne and Montezemolo looked reasonably chummy. But as you can see from the photo above, the have a more than slightly divergent sense of style.
Both men pose in front of the “Cavallino Rampante,” the famous Ferrari Prancing Stallion logo, set against a background of Ferrari red. And both men adore Ferrari automobiles and are dedicated to the Scuderia Ferrari, the marque’s racing arm. But that’s where the similarities end.
Marchionne is in his trademark, and Montezemolo is in his.
Marchionne has made the bland sweater, in navy blue or black, an inverted style statement in the auto world. Unless it’s very warm, he is never not wearing one. In the car world, executive wear suits. By not wearing one, Marchionne has defiantly set him apart as a casual visionary, a technocratic professor who is really a daring risk-taker.
Montezemolo wears a suit, but it’s nothing like the suit a mere mortal car exec — from, say, GM or Toyota — would wear.
It’s cut in a quintessential Northern Italian style, relaxed and conservative, but impeccably detailed, with lapels that might strike a modern audience accustomed to the “Mad Men” influence as rather wide. Note that the lapel width is echoed by Montezemolo’s short collar and tie, itself in a restrained yet not dull dotted pattern and dimpled to perfection beneath a carefully asymmetrical knot. A hint of white linen peeks above the jacket pocket.
But what really makes the look is how Montezemolo wears the suit. No American auto executive would ever pose for such a photo with his jacket unbuttoned. Nor would he stuff his hands in his jacket pockets, an affectation that the Italians learned from President John F. Kennedy, who routinely did this during press conferences.
Most men wear suits as if they were armour. Italians wear suits like they’re a second skin.
The whole thing is of course hand-made and quite expensive. It’s a sartorial expression of Montezemolo’s connection to the Northern Italian aristocracy, many of who strive for this kind of no-effort elegance. And in Montezemolo’s case, it’s no put-on! The man has a title, which of course he’s classy enough to never use.
The difference is vivid, but Montezemolo and Marchionne have one thing in common: Neither looks even remotely uncomfortable. And for what it’s worth, Marchionne could never get away with dressing like Montezemolo — nor would he try, at risk of being accused of fraudulence.
The occasion could have been tense. But two of the biggest names in the auto industry both look as though they’re ready for a nice lunch, followed by espresso and a cigarette. And maybe a quick spin in a Ferrari, with a brief debate beforehand about who gets to take the wheel.
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