If you’re from Milan, color blocking might be a bit passé, a bit “so 2 years ago.” But for the most of us, pairing complimentary-colored tops and bottoms has been a fun, warm weather look that we’ve “dared” to wear since neon shorts became a thang. But, even more than its upscale visitors and their fashion-forward frocks, Portofino has out-trended us all once again. This former fishing village mixes and matches their pinks and oranges better than even Beyoncé recently did.
Portofino has famously sported vivid, warm hues for centuries. The town was founded by the Ligurians, conquered by the Romans, frequented by the English (Bryon and Shelley were fans), and then made popular with golden age Hollywood stars by Rex Harrison. As writer Rory Ross puts it, “Were you to photograph Portofino today and compare it to a photograph taken when Rex Harrison ‘discovered’ the place in the Fifties, the pictures would almost be identical.”
All of the buildings, mostly fancy shops and restaurants on the first floor and small apartments above, are hand-painted about every 4 years. Using a water-based paint, artists restore the base color before stenciling and free-handing the decorative swirls and realistic additions at the end. I actually tried to be this kind of a building artist, but found that many are family-run businesses that have been around for generations, and an apprenticeship (let alone a gig) is difficult to obtain. That and that I realized I am just not interested in perching 6 stories atop a wobbly ladder trying to paint a perfectly straight line, lest I soil UNESCO-worthy history forever.
When we asked our dear friend and local expert (he’s lived in the area for 60+ years) why the village was painted in the mismatched palate, he said it was simply because it was cheaper that way. When you have to re-paint, you don’t have to worry about re-doing the entire piazza or finding that exact shade to make the front and side of the building uniform; instead, you just pick a paint color with a range from red to yellow and slap it up wherever it is required. This is classic Italian humor, but also reflective of the typical Genovese stereotype that people in this region are cheap and stingy. “Per risparmaire!”