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The Rich Kids of 1980s Milan

Words:

Edd Norval
January 22, 2018

They were rich, bought expensive clothes and hung out in a Milanese sandwich bar. They also went on to be one of the most influential groups of kids on European style ever. The Paninaro scene, named after their favourite café, Al Panino, were a group of 'cool kids' that had money to burn and an eye for all things garish.

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Their style was a European twist on the classic Americana style they saw in films and TV shows like Top Gun and Knight Rider and the preppy style of America's Ivy League colleges. Although those were used as their reference point, it became their own through a uniquely Italian sensibility. The brash El Churro engraved cowboy belts and ovular Texan buckles were always on show below their rolled up Best Company sweatshirts. This would come accompanied by bright leather gloves and a shiny Moncler gilet or puffer jacket. Below you could expect to see rolled up Levi 501's to reveal their patterned Burlington socks and boat shoes or boots.


Best Company was a brand that featured the typical-of-the-time oversized sweatshirts with some strangely compelling embroidery and prints. In one of their classic Olmes Caretti designs, the founder of the company and collaborator with Kappa, Henri LLoyd and Sperry boatshoes creates natural scenes that are rather surreal. The sweatshirts would came in a lot of colours, but they tended to be worn more muted to allow their jackets to do most of the talking. Best Company are no longer active, but their classic sweatshirts are notoriously difficult to find and when they are often fetch handsome figures.


The reappropriated symbols of Americana coalesced with their upper-class upbringing and it never stayed unnoticed. The unique clash of cultures helped enter them into the popular consciousness, the kids were all over Milan, they were the 'it' kids of the times, today's Instagram starlets.


It's rare to find a group of upper-middle class people being the bastions of a new subculture. Yet here they were, bright like peacocks in the squares of Milan and eventually, knowing how mobile this young group were, had magazines and songs dedicated to them. It was the open-market policies of Raegan and Thatcher that made their lifestyles possible, yet they came across as counter-cultural, intriguing and even underground, despite their ubiquity in the Italian (and later European wide) press.

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In the mid 80's, the Pet Shop Boys were playing a gig in Italy and saw a group of paninari boys and girls in a nightclub, inspiring their 1986 B-Side and national anthem to the group, 'Paninaro'. The groups legacy goes much further than just a song though.


Their rebellion came in the form of rejecting the slow-food culture of Italy and adopting the fast-food culture of America - along with their adoption of almost stereotypical ultra-American clothing. They were, like many subcultures, fighting against the culture of their parents. The unique thing about the paninari kids is that they do so by embracing, rather than rejecting, material possessions. Thanks to this vast proliferation of their style throughout the country, it saw a second phase of growth when it was spotted by travelling football fans.


The hordes that head overseas to follow their club often travel for so much more than what happens on the pitch, but for the experience. Pre-internet this was especially true. It was possible to go on a trip away and be able to come home in brands that weren't even available in your country - one's that no one had ever heard of. It's said that the quintessential football technical wear brand, Stone Island, was first encountered on the backs of these young kids as they hung around outside a café.


The Italians gave Americana a twist, then the British gave Italian technical wear their own twist. To this day the style of the paninaro is never too far from the terraces of the UK's football grounds. Original pieces from their wardrobes are coveted items amongst those that are stylistically inclined.

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To finish off their outfit and to solidify their status as 'upwardly mobile', they had to actually be mobile. Cars didn't allow enough freedom of movement when travelling and gathering in large groups, so the motorcycle was the obvious choice. To match their brash outfits, they also liked brash bikes. The louder and more gaudy they were, the better a symbol of their social standing amongst their group. It was peacocking with petroleum.


In a county of Vespa's they chose to ride on dirt-bikes. Hondas, Suzukis and Yamahas were popular choices but none could rival the only road bike they did drive, the Zundapp KS125 - it ticked all their boxes, cool as hell and naturally, a large catalogue of colours.


The paninaro movement was so pervasive in Italy at the time that it was hard to imagine the world any other way. In that sense, they were on the stylistic vanguard of a new cultural revolution - the introduction of globalisation, achieved through fast food consumption and idiosyncratic style. They had entire magazine lifestyle sections dedicated to them and each city had their own regional variations in the style. Despite being relatively short-lived, such is the nature of globalisation, they live on, on the football terraces, in heritage brand's lookbooks and most importantly - in everyone who wants to stand out.

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