Why do the British, their wardrobes crammed with clothes, so often look a mess while the Italians, with generally fewer clothes, invariably look so elegant?
Italian image consultant Margherita Perico believes the reason we buy so many clothes is that we don't know what suits us. Consequently, we are continually going shopping, caught up in an eternal hunt for the magic something that will transform us. But because we don't really know what we should be looking for, we keep buying the wrong thing, or at least the not-good-enough thing. Well-dressed Italians, on the other hand, have a uniform and abide by certain sartorial rules, with the happy outcome we have all seen around us on our travels.
"You British are so… individual," sighs the small, pretty, deceptively unassuming Ms Perico, stirring her espresso at Pasticceria Cova on via Montenapoleone, in the heart of Italy's fashion capital. "But in London, everywhere I look I see the jacket too long, the trouser too short, the earring too small, the bag too big… It is a shame."
Once we know the rules and what we should be looking for, she says, we will buy less – but better. We might spend more than we did before as our taste becomes more refined, but it will be on clothes we actually wear rather than leave on a hanger until condemning them to eBay or a charity shop.
"So. The secret of Italian style is simple yet complex: fit, colour and fabric," she begins. "Every client, the first thing I tell them is 'Please, keep it easy, keep it clear, keep it simple'. The first rule is to know your body. Dressing well means time in front of a full-length mirror. Stand, turn, sit and lie like a Velasquez painting in front of a mirror. Analyse and accept yourself, good points and the bad. Otherwise, you will be dressing something you don't know. It will be like having a round table and buying a square cloth. It could be nice, but it also could not."
The second rule is to restrict the colours you wear. "Italians wear just two at a time," Perico advises. "They buy only four: black, blue, brown and white. In winter, black is king; in summer, white is black."
The third and most important rule is to pay close attention to fit. "Clothes should skim the body," Perico says. "Too tight, and it is as if you are exploding. Too big, especially if you are curvy, and people worry what is underneath."
So there you are. As we stand up – in front of a full-length mirror in the café – she gently grasps the back of my jacket. "You see?" she says. As I look at my new, waisted silhouette, I feel as if my eyes have only just opened. It's my favourite jacket, but how could I have been so blind? It doesn't fit!