Sophia Loren once said of her beauty, “Everything you see, I owe to spaghetti.” It’s a fabulous quote from a fabulous woman, one whose life embodies a particularly Italian approach to glamor and beauty. The product of a true rag to riches fairytale, Loren grew up penniless and went on to become one of the biggest film stars we have known. Her bombshell looks conjure up instant imagery of wonderful summer dresses and sun kissed skin, of a life well lived under starry skies. In a season where we have looked to the glamor of the Mediterranean and the barefoot chic of an Italian summer for a collection steeped in sunshine, nature and the wonders of Riviera living, she is a fitting muse.
Loren’s life wasn’t always dripping in glitz and glamor. Born in 1934, she came into the world on a charity ward for unwed mothers (her engineer father refused to marry her piano teacher mother in a scandalous move for the time.) Taunted for being an illegitimate child, wartime Italy proved a brutal place to grow up, with Loren and her family suffering terrible poverty amidst the constant danger of bombings. Living with several relatives in a small apartment and brought up on strict rations, Sophia was so skinny she was known as Sophia Stuzzicadenti (Sophia toothpick) at school. Her mother Romilda, however, was a great beauty, stopped often in the street for her resemblance to Greta Garbo, and as the young Sophia grew up it became clear her looks were also far from ordinary. Her family encouraged her to enter a beauty contest aged 15, which she did, wearing a dress made by her Grandmother from their living room curtains – and the rest is Italian film history.
When the young Loren first met her future husband, the film producer Carlo Ponti, she was just 15 and he was a 37 year old married father of two. He came across her at a beauty contest, quickly becoming her mentor and manager and steering her towards stardom both at home and in Hollywood. They were lovers by the time she was 19 and married when she was 22 – in spite of some stiff competition from Cary Grant, who Loren had starred with in The Houseboat. Ponti and Loren went on to have one of the most successful marriages in show business. His savvy and her talent propelled her into a new stratosphere of success, one that saw her win countless awards including the first ever Oscar for best actress in a non English speaking role. Equally successful was their partnership at home. In spite of a difficult start (they were forced to annul his initial marriage after the Italian authorities refused to grant him a divorce from his first wife, fighting tooth and nail for the right to wed until 1966, when it was finally granted, in France,) they were together for 50 years. When Ponti died in 2007, Loren was asked if she’d ever remarry. She replied, “No, never again. It would be impossible to love anyone else”.
Early on, Ponti had promised Sophia, “the most beautiful house in the world.” That house turned out to be an extremely grand 16th Century villa in Marino, not too far from Rome. Captured in 1964 in a series of photographs by LIFE magazine photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt, their life there seems to have been the very embodiment of La Dolce Vita. The grand, main house with its shuttered and balconied façade looked over gardens full of fig trees whilst the interiors were opulent, furnished with the couple’s art collection as well as wonderful antique tapestries and furniture. Images of Sophia strolling through the garden picking flowers, breakfasting on the terrace or lounging by the pool reveal a barefoot chic side to the bombshell that absolutely chimes with our Spring Summer collection, one in which raffia bags and wooden clutches, earthy colors and heady prints all come together to bring a little bit of just this sort of sun drenched allure to the party.
In much the way that Loren has always been a truly Italian kind of movie star, so her home and approach to style and beauty seems to dance to the same intoxicating tune. Given the carefree glamor it exudes, we defy you not to yearn for a piece of it.
Photo Courtesy of Life Archives