Paninari: the first and only Made in Italy Subculture
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The Paninari wear expensive clothes, lead the life of a scion, and introduce sportswear into the urban lifestyle - like the padded Moncler sleeveless jacket or Best Company sweatshirts - which they usually wear during their skiing vacations in Cortina or Courmayeur.

From Milan San Babila to the Mass Culture

Milan, 1981

We are in Piazza San Babila, the vibrant center of the famous ‘Milano da bere’.

Here, a large group of young people between the ages of 18 and 25 have gathered for the opening of the first Italian Fast Food restaurant – the Burghy – from which the first subculture born in Italy, the Paninari, will spread.

They listen to English-speaking music, especially Duran Duran, the Pet Shop Boys and the Beastie Boys.

The latter are three rappers from the American upper class who lightly sing about the ephemeral needs of modern kids, such as buying new Superstars or taking part in the coolest parties; they are the antithesis of the emerging figures of anti-materialist or politically committed hip hop, those who denounce the poverty and marginalization of the ghetto to the sound of ‘bars’.

The cultural reference of the Paninari to the Beastie is not casual, but of fundamental importance to understand the social status in which they move: they are the sons of the wealthiest families in Milan, they live their condition with haughtiness, winking at the consumerism made in USA.

The Paninari wear expensive clothes, lead the life of a scion, and introduce sportswear into the urban lifestyle – like the padded Moncler sleeveless jacket or Best Company sweatshirts – which they usually wear during their skiing vacations in Cortina or Courmayeur.

Unlike all other subcultures born in the shadow of some political ideology or musical genre, the Paninari claim no particular creed, other than inordinate aestheticism, political disengagement and frivolity.

Paninari is born, as a dynastic succession

They are the sons of the Milanese industrialists, they don’t want to produce income like the Yuppies: they just want to exploit their wealth and without embarrassment. Certainly, it is not enough to wear a pair of Lumberjack to stand out as a Paninaro: image is essential, but so is flaunting the wealth necessary to build that image, that ‘uniform‘.

Those who cannot are automatically out of the group.

Their peculiarity is a relaxed stylistic code, which also translates into a lifestyle aimed purely at enjoyment, at joking, at lightness and tanning all year round: a cult of well-being that is as much economic as aesthetic, just like those who can afford vacations even out of season, thanks to second and third homes by the sea and in the mountains.

The apex of the movement was reached in 1986, when the Pet Shop Boys recorded the song “Paninari”, a song with frivolous and disengaged lyrics:

‘Paninaro, Paninaro, oh, oh, oh Food, cars, travel

Paninaro, Paninaro, oh, oh, oh Armani, ah-ah-Armani, Versace’.

In January of the same year, the magazine ‘I nuovi Galli’ (The New Gauls) was published, a comic book dedicated to the paninaro culture that defined it clearly, even from a lexical point of view: terms such as ‘togo’ (handsome), ‘matusa’ (old) or ‘un cifro’ (a cipher) remained in the Milanese slang lexicon for decades.

But it is with ‘Drive-In‘, the TV program of reference for young people in the 80s, that the idealtype of the sandwich maker is represented – and mocked. The legendary Enzo Braschi imitates the absurd jargon, the movements and the bravado of a generation of young men from Milan, which will soon spread to Rome with the so-called ‘Tozzi’.

The Paninari introduced in the mass culture the almost obsessive interest in the care of one’s own aesthetic aspect, an absolute novelty for the man of the 80’s, contributing to the creation of the new image of the Italian male and a new idea of masculinity, which will lead – shortly thereafter – to the birth of the man prèt-â-porter.

Towards the end of the ’80s, the Paninari became mainstream: they broke the boundaries in the shadow of the ‘Madunina‘ statue, flowing into different declinations and new territories, such as Turin, Rome, Nuoro, Naples.

Their ‘authentic‘ upper-middle-class birthright is definitively distorted, becoming merely a trend.

With the advent of Tangentopoli, the carefree – and economic well-being of the 80’s give way to one of the deepest political crises of the country, which sees many of the industrial fathers of the young paninari investigated. With the change of times, the paninara subculture will also die out quietly.

We will find it again a little later with a change of clothes, but with the same peculiar characteristics of gain-consumerism-ostentation thanks to the followers of the new Italian political figure: Silvio Berlusconi.

From 1994 onwards, the value system of the Paninari seems to find a new effigy with the “Guru” of Milano 2 and the promises of the Italian miracle.

 

WORDS: Manuela Palma

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