Luxury, Italian style
An elite event in Manhattan provides a unique window on the best that Italians have to offer. Dine with Mario Batali, slip into a silky Davide Cenci jacket, and sip a glass of enticing Barolo.
NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- There are few cultures as dedicated to the art of fine living as Italy's. Don't believe it? Think of endless, 14-course lunches and dinners, often eaten on seemingly endless Italian vacations; think of the fabulous decadence of La Dolce Vita; think about the best pair of shoes you have ever seen.
This week a magazine publisher is seeking to bring the best that Italy has to offer to a few hundred lucky New Yorkers.
"New York Toasts Italy" is a two-day event bringing together the best Italian food celebrities in New York City - including chef Mario Batali and grocer/restaurateur Giorgio DeLuca - shopping, and a Friday night silent auction, with proceeds going to charity. Bidders will fight over a wrought-iron bed from the Tuscan manufacturer Caporali, valued at $10,000; a custom-made cocktail dress from designer Luca Luca, valued at $2,800; and custom-made shoes from the fabulous craftsman Silvano Lattanzi on Manhattan's Madison Avenue, which retail for about $2,000.
After a day of discounted shopping across Manhattan, participants will dine at one of six restaurants, with the chefs - like Mario Batali at Otto and Todd English at Olives - onhand to walk diners through each course. The event is the brainchild of Geri Brin, a magazine veteran who last year began publishing Bene magazine, a luxury quarterly magazine distributed for free in upscale Italian restaurants in large American cities.
"We were looking for a way to extend what Bene is on paper into something in real life," explains Brin, who expects to sell 600 tickets to the event for $115 apiece. Her audience will include "foodies," as well as those tempted by discounts at shops and boutiques that rarely offer them. These include the shops mentioned above, as well as several wine retailers, furniture importer Ambienti Italia, a Vespa scooter shop and even (horrors!) some mass retailers like Benetton.
So what is it about Italy that inspires so much love of luxury and fine living? "It's really passion more than any single thing," ventures Brin. "The Italians are exactly like their food: classy, spicy, and gorgeous."
And it's been that way for a long time. One of the featured discounts is beauty products at the sumptuous New York outpost of Santa Maria Novella, the famous 13th century pharmacy in Florence that to this day manufactures its own line of soaps, shampoos and other toiletries. Their house eau de cologne was originally created for Catherine de Medici, who knew a thing or two about high living.