For Italo Manca, going out without a bow tie and suit jacket would be unthinkable! An “aberration” that would make him, one of the most elegant men in Milan, feel naked, almost illegitimate. The owner of La Libera – a legendary establishment in the Brera district – his eyes sparkle at the thought of Fashion Week, which will be held from 18 to 24 February as part of the city’s annual calendar of events. This unmissable event is an opportunity for him to display the most desirable pieces of his wardrobe through outfits that are thought out daily in the smallest detail! A true fashion archivist with his collections of watches, shoes and fascinating cufflinks, the man is inexhaustible on the subject. In fact, he is the very illustration of the idea one has of the Lombard capital and its sense of style, and its oldest inhabitants seem to be the guardians. In the cobbled streets of the city, his silhouette (bicycle, immutable cigar and crazy moustache) is totally unmistakable. And if we ask him, he will even offer us some precious advice. We will learn, for example, that harmony is as important as elegance. That light is paramount; it is, in fact, we hear, what dictates the daily dress of the Milanese: “When the weather is fine, I choose colours for the sun. When the weather is grey, I choose colours to go with grey! ». But also that you must cultivate your imagination. Milan has is particularly good at that. Open to ideas and people, the capital of design is generous. It’s liberating! This Italian’s extraordinary home is a testament to that. An ode to his zest for life, to the love of travel and to humour, which can be found (really) anywhere. Once a sailor, a waiter, a boxer and then an entrepreneur, this lively character seems to have accumulated the memories of a thousand lives. Each one as hectic as the next, but with one common denominator: non-conformism.
Italo, who are you? What’s your connection with Milan? In short, what was your life like before La Libera?
I was born in Alghero, Sardinia, and grew up in Sanremo. When I was 14, I wanted to work in an haute couture workshop, but I was told it wasn’t possible because they only hired women. So I went to Monte Carlo to work at the Hotel de Paris as a waiter. Then I continued in this line of work on cruise ships with the Italian company, Home Lines. Finally, after a period in New York, I returned to Italy with the idea of opening bars and restaurants in the Brera district of Milan with some of my friends. Nowadays, we have seven establishments: La Vittoria, Il Banco, Le Stanze, Il Nazionale, Le Bandiere, Il Timè and La Libera. Next year, La Libera will celebrate its 40th birthday.
There is a real precision in the selection of colours, which only Italians know how to master. In Brera, you are a character known for elegance and refinement. Can you tell us where your excellent taste comes from?
It all stems from my father, who only wore tailor-made clothes. I used to go with him whenever he visited his tailor or his shoemaker. That’s where my education came from! But I must say that my brothers are not like me. So I may just have been born this way (laughs).
Is your home a reflection of you, in terms of its decoration?
My house is full of colour too! I have a lot of paintings and books. My decoration reflects the love I have for my work and reading. I have travelled a lot too, and I am a fan of boxing, a sport I took part in when I was young. I think that shows, in a way.
You collect suits. How do you choose them?
Maybe my mood determines the choice. But more often than not, it’s random. I’ve never counted my clothes. All I can say is that they cost me a lot (laughs).
What are your favourite places for clothes shopping? What advice would you give to men on how to look elegant in all circumstances, summer and winter?
I usually go to Maison Charvet for my cravats and bow ties. For everything else, I rely on individual craftsmen. My advice: be more imaginative and look at yourself in the mirror! And above all, conform less.
What is the signature dish at your establishment, La Libera? Who are your customers?
There isn’t just one, there are several signature dishes: La Cotoletta alla Milanese, a veal cutlet coated in breadcrumbs and fried in butter; il Riso al Salto, a pattie made with risotto; and La Glace au Four, a baked ice cream. As far as the clientele is concerned, we have regulars (I’ve seen families grow up over the years!) as well as people passing through, and now more and more foreigners. Among them, Daniel Harding, a loyal customer!
And what do you cook at home?
At home, I eat very simply, light things. But when I entertain friends, I like to cook traditional dishes! So when I go out, what I look for is this famous but “updated” traditional food. I liked Gualtiero Marchesi very much. And now there is his student, Daniel Canzian, who runs an excellent restaurant.
Do you have anywhere you can recommend by the sea?
The Velvet restaurant in Bordighera, a beautiful coastal town near Sanremo and very close to France.
Photography: Valerio Geraci – Text: Caroline Balvay @thesocialitefamily