I Am Love is a modern melodrama tracing how Emma Recchi, the Russian wife of a fabulously wealthy Italian industrialist, falls out of love with her husband and in love with a chef who is one of her adult son’s best friends.
The film is vaguely set in the 1990s, although the extended opening credits, with their grainy, static shots of the city in winter and thundering John Adams score, could just as easily come from the late ’60s. Indeed, the film is so loosely anchored in the second half of the 20th century that the CD Emma finds in her daughter’s jacket pocket at the drycleaner’s almost feels like an anachronism.
Designers Jil Sander and Fendi are named in the opening credits, so you know the clothes are going to matter in this movie. They embody the Recchi clan’s gracious, unpretentious wealth perfectly—Emma might wear an opera-length strand of Tahitian pearls to pick up the drycleaning, but she does pick up the drycleaning herself.
Emma’s wardrobe looks like it could have been lifted out of Jackie Onassis’s closet—lots of sheath dresses and perfectly coordinated separates in beige and blue—but my favorite outfit of hers doesn’t fit in with the rest: a pale blue menswear-styled blouse paired with slim gold chinos. The clothes are still expensive, well made, and fit her perfectly, but the colors are all wrong. Blue and yellow can look great together, but this particular combination of ice-cream-shop pastel and cheddar doesn’t. It’s awful. And it works.
The outfit feels like a lovely act of sprezzatura, the studied indifference and casual excellence described by Castiglione in his Book of the Courtier that a gentleman or lady would cultivate to disguise how much effort they put in or desire they felt for something. It’s the first time that Emma and Antonio have seen each other since a one-afternoon stand a few weeks before—to which she wore an unusually alluring backless red sundress—and neither one knows how the other feels about their assignation. Because her clothing choices have been so safe up to this point—even the backless sundress was ladylike—I like to think her clashing getup is a challenge to him to find her beautiful. I love that she does this: Who has never thrown up a wall before a lover to see if they care enough about you to break it down?
But of course he finds her beautiful—she has never been more beautiful than she is at this moment, because in trying to mask her desire, she has made it plain.