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155 Views - 05 Apr 2021

On Refinement

According to one of the greatest philosophers of the twentieth century, José Ortega Y Gasset, beauty is such when it lacks unnecessary preconceptions. All that is superfluous leads to the impoverishment of the aesthetic stature of a work of art; it is a question of measure, of involuntary yet forced minimalisms, beauty is a power purified from the greyness of tired minds, where there is sobriety, art flourishes.
Yet a crowd of poets, artists, exegetes of the Dionysian world will take the stand to demonstrate that "apparently" art also feeds on excesses, as does fashion. Instead, we should emphasise that these categories, children of a militant romanticism of the Victorian world and the contrast-rich Belle Epoque, are demiurgic, mocking entities.
Like the D'Annunzio hedonist or the Parisian bohemian, the Victorian dandy are all human archetypes that tend towards exaggeration. Their life is a prevailing obsession to reach an as of yet uncoded Übermensch; while remaining in their alchemical laboratory of pleasure, beauty and art. As mentioned, they are fraudulent figures. They symbolise uncontrollable potentialities that feed on neurotic bulimias of everything within their reach; can we, therefore, believe that beauty cannot take roots in these lands overflowing with elements?
We have to change our minds. The superfluous does not exist in them. They have renounced the aseptic rules of a moralistic society, and they set God aside for refined anthropocentrism, unadorned with everything else except themselves.
Refinement, the muse that makes love to art, is a process of subtraction; after all, Armani himself affirms that refinement must not strike or unhinge who knows what hyperuranium of ideas; it just has to be remembered. The absences are remembered; the voids, the "unspoken" aesthetic that suits the garment, as the pastel colours get lost in soft polychromies and silent synaesthesia.
Theodor Adorno expresses the "negative harmony" in a crystalline way; "A successful artistic work does not resolve contradictions in a spurious harmony. It expresses the idea of harmony negatively by incorporating pure contradictions without compromising its internal structure." As a result, some struggle to understand what they should do to reach refinement. Refinement is a palimpsest of expedients and sensitivity, a piece of exquisitely personal and unrepeatable baggage that cannot be lent or forwarded to other people.

Kitsch may be considered the refinement counterpart, though it has a peculiar nature and does not tend towards absolute banality. Trash, instead, is the involution of refinement that is tarnishing itself with dissonances and cacophonies. Yet, by adding all these defects, it remains an entity not to be neglected, at the very least for its comic connotations. The real enemy of this world-system of refinement is, without a doubt, "Vulgarity".
While Kitsch and Trash are concordances and dissonances of common good taste, at least they remain aware of their nature. If anything else, at least, for this reason, they are not to be negatively discarded. Instead, those who embellish themselves to achieve elegance and refinement often do nothing but insult the system of ideas of "negative" harmony of the Adornian matrix. To quote Oscar Wilde, Vulgarity is a crime. The great Arturo Graf offers us a perfect synthesis of the vulgar man "The vulgar man tries to appropriate the goods of life, the noble man intends to deserve them". In agreement with the literary critic, we have before us a precise analysis of those who try to grab refinement, which one cannot possess but deserve through silent mechanisms of self-critical conscience both on an aesthetic level and on one's charisma.
Refinement is like an immaterial aura that hovers over the heads of those who know how to evoke it, like gentle enchanters of time immemorial who possess ancient formulas or sacred books.
On the other hand, Vulgarity is a continuous addition, a nauseating tendency to enrich not only clothing but also everything around the person, from material instances such as accessories to awkwardly performed behaviours, desecrating the rituals of behavioural etiquette.
Therefore, he does not limit himself to slaughtering a standard idea of beauty with a carnival of patched-up clothing. Instead, he contaminates good taste as refinement is bent to erroneous moments and contexts. The class is not a prerogative of appearing but of being. This concept expresses itself also in the refinement's punctuality, which manifests itself in the exact context, at the right time and in the right consortium of people. It would be unthinkable to wear exquisite clothes in an informal context, as it would be vulgar to exhibit expensive accessories where not necessary, such as places of aggregation where simplicity and practicality are the masters.
The same principle is also reflected in the make-up world, where sober make-up with perfectly calibrated shades bring out the complexion and natural beauty of the subject. In contrast, shocking and aggressive make-up is not vulgar if the context is a pop fashion show or an exhibition of post-modern and underground art or a nightclub. Therefore, refinement is about recognising the context and the right audience and determining how to deal with it.
However, in the eternal struggle between appearing and being (refined), one should not take for granted that refinement is not a personal peculiarity. As we already said, refinement is a subtractive process combined with a slow inner exploration. Nevertheless, we must admit that refinement takes root in some individuals who do not even strive to exercise it, such as Eleonora Duse, Clara Bow, Anita Stewart, Greta Garbo, Theda Bara and Claudia Cardinale in the feminine field. On the other hand, among the men, we must mention the contemporary Vincent Cassel, the dancer actor of the 30s, Fred Astaire and Gregory Peck. But there are many others.
These personalities possess refinement on an innate level; therefore, unlike those who flaunt jewellery or new clothing items in a vain and vulgar narcissistic display, they know how to exude it naturally. Accordingly, I quote the quote from the great writer W. Somerset Maugham "The elegant man is the one whose suit you never notice", and it is true, elegance, as well as refinement, are inherent in being, regardless of the suit.
But then, why continue to dress with discreet criteria? Because "clothing is, at the same time, a science, an art, a habit and a feeling", and none of us can contradict Honoré de Balzac. After all, it is the same Balzac who in the Human Comedy tried to codify the entire corpus of social and anthropological experiences that surrounded him. He specifically created a terminology of "human types" or somewhat reworked Theophrastus of Alexandria's treatises, a catalogue of morality and vices. So it is clear how the taste of clothing, and thus refinement, are anthropological peculiarities that spontaneously manifest themselves in specific individuals. All the others need to experiment, dare, and create new frontiers of refinement. From this assumption, one must know how to make one's refinement, which remains individual and personal but evolves by learning and wearing new clothing paths. The selection of raw materials, the way to wear, the bearing and the colours all create a great metaphor of beauty that takes root in a personality ready to stand out in infinite silences; because refinement means to shake the world without making a fuss.

By Cristiano Saccoccia


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