Introduction to Subcultural Anthropology: Paninaro

Pet Shop Boys "Suburbia"

On this day (22 September), 1986, the Pet Shop Boys released the single “Suburbia” b/w “Paninaro,” which introduced an Italian subculture to the wider world. It was certainly my introduction.

Paninari (the plural of Paninaro) were an Italian youth subculture in the 1980s. Their name came from the word “panino,” Italian for “bread.” La Stampa branded them that due to the fact that their original, preferred hang-out was the Al Panino, a sandwich joint in in Milan‘s Via Agnello, where they first congregated in 1983.

In 1985 the now defunct Burghy, an Italian chain specializing in American fast food, opened a location on Piazza San Babila, that became their home base.

Paninare

Though often characterized as apolitical, the group’s fascination with Reagan‘s US, Thatcher‘s England, conspicuous consumption, and vapid hedonism was a sort of political statement in and of itself. They were also viewed as being somewhat right wing after first gaining media attention for their occasional run-ins with young Communists and otherLeftists. On the other hand, they weren’t exactly traditional Fascists, however, as this cult of wealthy kids had a reputation for acceptance of gays — which seems to be particularly reflected by their musical preferences.

The painaro’s fastidious style was very brand-specific. They favored Timberland or Durango boots, Sebagodeck shoes, Converse All-Stars or Vans for footwear — worn over Burlington or argyle socks. Their trousers of choice were rolled-up Armani or Levi’s jeans worn with large-buckeled El Charro belts — worn over  Naj-Oleari underwear. Best Company sweatshirts, Les Copains sweaters, or Lacoste or Mistral shirts were worn under Moncler dolomite coats or Schott leather jackets. Accessories included boldly-colored Invictabackpacks, Ray-Ban sunglasses. Other popular brands included  ChevignonChipie, CoveriCP CompanyFiorucciHenri LloydMoschinoNaf Naf, Stone Island, and Versace. It should come as no surprise that Paninari were influences on Casuals… and I’m pretty sure that I bought my sister a Naf Naf shirt in ’89.

The preferred mode of transportation was a Zündapp 175

  

In 1985, a Paninaro game called Il Paninaro was created for the Commodore 64. You can download it here, and soon you’ll be riding German motorcycles and ordering burgers. The goal is to became a “Gallo,” the equivalent of a Mod Face.

  

As with the best fashion-minded subcultures, they were eventually served by their own magainzes, in their case, Paninaro, Preppy, and Wild Boys. The subculture peaked in popularity in 1987, when an issue ofPaninaro sold over 100,000 issues — reportedly setting a new record for an Italian magazine. Another sign that they’d made it was that they were the subject of parody, in their case by Enzo Braschi on the Italia 1 series, Drive-In (1983-1988).

In 2005, the former Paninaro re-convened in Milan to celebrate their 20th anniversary.

Paninari
Neo-Paninari? Image by Stefano Galuzzi

While I may not share their devotion to brands or love of fast food, I think a Paninaro night would be a refreshing alternative to the same-ish-different-DJ mix of 60s/Psych/Mod/Freakbeat that has crushed my desire to ever go to local clubs. Check out the following classici del paninari.

Falco – Der Kommissar

Culture Club – Do You Really Want to Hurt Me?
P. Lion – Happy Children

Duran Duran – Wild Boys

Alphaville – Big in Japan
Dead or Alive – Lover Come Back to Me
The Communards – Don’t Leave Me This Way

Michael Cretu – Samurai 

Moon Ray – Comanchero
Nick Kamen – Each Time You Break My Heart

Wham! – The Edge of Heaven 

Cameo – Word Up

MC Miker G & DJ Sven – Holiday Rap

Bronski Beat – C’mon! C’mon!

Pet Shop Boys – It’s a Sin

*****

Eric Brightwell is an adventurer, writer, rambler, explorer, cartographer, and guerrilla gardener who is always seeking writing, speaking, traveling, and art opportunities — or salaried work. He is not interested in writing advertorials, clickbait, listicles, or other 21st century variations of spam. Brightwell’s written work has appeared in AmoeblogdiaCRITICS, and KCET Departures. His work has been featured by the American Institute of Architects, the Architecture & Design Museum, the Craft & Folk Art MuseumForm Follows FunctionLos Angeles County StoreSkid Row Housing Trust, and 1650 Gallery. Brightwell has been featured in the Los Angeles TimesHuffington PostLos Angeles MagazineLAistEastsider LABoing BoingLos Angeles, I’m Yours, and on Notebook on Cities and Culture. He has been a guest speaker on KCRW‘s Which Way, LA? and at Emerson College. Art prints of his maps are available from 1650 Gallery and on other products from Cal31. He is currently writing a book about Los Angeles and you can follow him on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter.

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