Capri, a resort island dating back to the height of the Roman Empire, has long served as a refuge for characters of all sorts, from royals to eccentrics, movie stars, literary luminaries, and the jet set. They come for the island’s natural beauty, its cliffs descending steeply to lapis waters, its chic villas and their stunning gardens, its social scene at once inclusive and exclusionary.
“Capri means eccentricity paraded as a sense of belonging, a belonging that exploded in the media with la dolce vita and that launched itself on the path of a dreamy gypsy in the late sixties,” Cesare Cunaccia writes in a new book, Capri Dolce Vita (Assouline, June 2019). “Until a few decades ago she was a jealously guarded realm of beauty, which could only be entered by those who knew its entry code or by hereditary right.” The coffee-table tome captures the island’s appeal with stunning photographs, from the mid-20th century to modern days, interspersed throughout with quotes from some of the notables who’ve frequented Capri over the years, which illuminate the hold the island’s ancient charm possesses over those loyal to this extraordinary destination. “There is no other place in the world like Capri, that puts together the special beauty of the island with an extraordinary history, a passion extremely rich in values and the great personality and energy of southern Italy,” says Leonardo Ferragamo in the book.
And yet, while geographically and culturally Italian, the isle can feel as though it were its own universe. “Its remove, its special distance offshore, gives Caprese a perspective and remote rapport with the rest of civilization. Naples and Amalfi reduce to faraway twinkles on clear nights, plenty far enough for just vague awareness, way too far to hear or for worry. And the southern and western views out past the Faraglioni, only sea, forever, give as complete a peace as one can conjure,” the book quotes photographer Jonathan Becker as saying. Indeed, its images capture this exotic seclusion.
It features photos of landscapes, and brightly colored buildings ascending a steep hillside, and welcoming hotel terraces; boats in a harbor and a favorite gelateria; plates of seafood and parties on boats; swimming pools and sculptures; fruit platters and fashion shoots; Jackie O and Brigitte Bardot. The photographs are of the type to evoke nostalgia in those who’ve ever considered the island a home, and to inspire daydreams in those who haven’t yet visited.
The book focuses its lens particularly tightly on the 1960s, during Capri’s heyday as an exclusive hideaway for the elite. “We’d dance all night, get up late the next day, and have lunch on the motoscafi. Everybody knew everybody. It was what used to be called ‘a happening’ and really was quite a moment in time,” model Marisa Berenson recalls of the era. Designer Valentino Garavani reminisces similarly: “It was a crazy moment. All the fashion people, all the models, all the movie stars; it was a sort of dolce vita.”