Giovanna Battaglia waves the shortest skirt I’ve ever seen under my nose. Its six inches of gold-lined aquamarine silk aren’t much more than a glorified belt. “So many fights with so many boyfriends,” she sighs, remembering the nights she tried to leave the house sporting this sliver of Dolce & Gabbana.
Far from being engaged by her leggy loveliness, Battaglia’s beaux were enraged by what upstanding Italian males apparently construed as wanton exhibitionism. “But I can’t change for any man,” she says, defiance slightly tempered by the weariness of battles often fought and not always won. One paramour nixed a Faultier denim micro mini (and she was planning to wear it with gold underwear, too).
Still we have our theme, Battaglia usually dresses to please herself, and her spates les bourgeois style usually involves legs. She recently turned 26, but the decade she is, unsurprisingly drawn to is the eighties, when glamazons stalked the globe in thigh-high Alaia silhouettes attenuated by vertiginous heels. “Once I wore a beautiful dress from the thirties, and it was the worst night of my life.” she remembers ruefully.
Fortunately for Battaglia, the new season brings within a renewed appreciation of her style. Confronted by such unselfconsciously glorious sex appeal, Milan just can’t help itself. Heads spin like Linda Blair’s when we’re out walking. She remains oblivious, which is essential to her allure. She is also able to negotiate a full day, cobblestones included, on her Alaia heels, so she is clearly to the manner born.
She grew up at Via Montenapoleone I, where the borders of her childhood world were the same streets that define Milan’s Golden Triangle, as dense a concentration of luxury retail as you’ll find anywhere int he world. (The storefront of her family’s building, once, a bread shop, is now a Ralph Lauren store.) Battaglia’s parents, who split up when she was thirteen, were artists, ocean-hopping satellites of the worlds of Warhol and Studio 54 in the seventies. But she wanted nothing to do with art. As back as she can remember, fashion was her obsession. At eight, she requested a fur coat. At twelve, she bought her first Vogue (her mother, Vincenza, still has them all).
She began modeling when she was sixteen because it seemed an obvious way to involve herself with fashion. A year later, Battaglia met Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana, who fell hard for her look. Easy to see why: With her Sicilian father, Calabrian mother, olive skin, and dark eyes, she was the living, breathing embodiment of their Southern Italian ideal. At the same time, she had a mannequin’s body, height, and hauteur. The fire of Magnani, the ice of Evangelista - perfecto! Battaglia was hired as a fitting model and “research assistant” (this part of her job consisted of muse like activities such as showing up at work in some gorgeous Sophia Loren-style underwear she’d found in a junk shop, which Stefano would promptly appropriate).
Vincenza liked and trusted Domenico and Stefano, so when Giovanna turned eighteen, she was finally allowed out to nightclubs. Within weeks she was dancing on tables in Capri, yachting from Porto Cervo to St-Tropez, living La Dolce (& Gabbana) Vita. "I used to buy a new outfit every Friday for the disco," she says. "Four years ago, I ended up with no daywear. I was wearing jeweled sandals in the day." Battaglia spent money as fast as she made it, thinking nothing of crossing the Atlantic for a party. And then, three years ago, the Damascene conversion: Modeling suddenly seemed too much - or too little. Battaglia packed a knapsack and headed to Thailand for a month on her own "detoxing from the lifestyle," she calls it. "I wanted to see whether I could come back and do something else, be something other than 'Giovanna the model.'" Which, ultimately, meant getting out from under Dolce & Gabbana's shadow.
For the past two years, Battaglia has been a fashion editor at L'Uomo Vogue. "Giovanna has started to change," observes Anna Dello Russo, who was her formidable boss at the magazine. "She's doing a different life. She knows what she wants and what she doesn't need." Inevitably, the changes are finding subtle expression in the way she dresses, though her mother still insists that anyone opening her suitcase when she's going on holiday would think she worked in a cabaret. Battaglia has a new olden rule: Even if it's tight and short, keep it simple. Small wonder she's so enamored of Azzedine Alaia. But equally there's the Y-3 white cotton tennis dress that was on of her favorite items last season. Another simplifying gambit: "Now that I've grown up a little, if I find something I like, I buy it in all the colors." At Boade de Neige, a charming boutique on Corso Corno, Battaglia bought five of the same dress, a simple fifties shift, in different shades. Alberto Torchia, a Neopolitan shirtmaker now based in Rome, made her dozens of monogrammed men's shirts, a bandbox-smart option with jeans and the ballerina flats she loves almost as much as her heels. The shirts are labeled CONFEZIANNATO PER GIOVANNA BATTAGLIA.
Buying in bulk creates a problem when your apartment is, as Battaglia says, "a garderobe with a bed." The moment she moved in, she wrapped the tiny kitchenette in a red curtain. She knew she wouldn't be needing it. Four closets jammed to capacity and two large rolling racks in the living room mark the place as the domicile/storage facility of a true fashion obsessive. (The Chanel mat outside the front door helps, too.) "I can't throw clothes away," she says. "Even when buying vintage, I think about the woman wearing it before me, I feel energy in the clothes."
Like Kate Moss, whose style she admires, Battaglia has an eye for distinctive vintage pieces, from the Cutler and Gross sunglasses she unearthed in a forgotten shop corner to YSL's black marabou cape from the seventies, which hangs next to the raincoat for her Vespa on the rack in her living room. Today her idée fixe is a Givenchy couture ensemble, also from the seventies. Its fitted, stilletto-sharp silhouette-tinyjacket, even tinier best, flaring pelmet skirt-wouldn't look out of place in Balenciaga's epochal fall 2006 collection. And tomorrow? "My favorites change of all the time. Like fashion."
There are, however, constants in her affections, like the pink-rubber Dolce raincoat lined in chiffon she bought in Porto Cervo in the dead heat of summer 1999. Or the transparent plastic Manolos with the red heels. These suggest that even if the last pair of shoes Battaglia bought were sober brown oxfords from Marc Jacobs – and even if she now carries a sensible Paddigton bag rather than a glittery little disco purse – she is hardly likely to hurry herself off to a convent. There's still Thursday night at Armani Privé, and Killer Plastic on Sunday night, where the drag queen dresses in vintage Thierry Mugler. And, fueled by her own concoction of champagne and Red Bull, Battaglia is still capable of dancing a chiffon dress or new pair of heels into tattered submission. "I don't go out to sit on a sofa" she snorts with Calabrian brio.– TIM BLANKS