Anna Dello Russo fills my computer screen in a pale pink, shell-print silk Versace dressing gown with an emerald Prada earring dangling from one ear. She is wearing her trademark gold aviator sunglasses. Hot Puglian sunlight beams through her veranda doors as she grabs her phone to do a twirl for me – the silk robe barely covering her.

Scroll through Dello Russo’s Instagram page (where she has an impressive two million followers) and you will see that she embodies the maximalist side of Italian glamour. This is a woman that photographer Helmut Newton described as "a fashion maniac" – someone who made a music video for H&M in a PVC mini dress and gold platform boots, and who once owned 4,000 pairs of shoes. Professionally, she has reached the top of the industry: she was fashion editor at Italian Vogue for 12 years, and has been an editor-at-large for Vogue Nippon for over a decade. Mostly, though, she is known for her outfits.

Dello Russo became famous when Instagram and street-style blogs ensured anything over-the-top caught our eye. With her bowling-ball-sized fibreglass cherry hats, Louis Vuitton bondage mini dresses, watermelon fascinators and 2ft-high feathered helmets, she quickly became the most dazzling peacock in the extravagant new world of street style online.

"Exaggeration makes me feel happy," she says in her strong Italian accent. "I love clothes that are extremely flashy and colourful and joyful, I love it when I can wear something that makes no sense. I am not a conformist, and I do not like rules or dress codes. Clothes can be like therapy. Reality is tough sometimes but fashion shouldn’t have to reflect that."

The fashion icon does not believe in age-appropriate dressing
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All this makes her sound like someone who would have really hated lockdown – but with daily Instagram posts to feed the fashion beast and a newly bought farmhouse in Puglia to roam around in, Dello Russo was seemingly content. After years of being single she is now in a relationship so serious that she was prepared to auction off all her shoes to make room for him.

"Ah, I had too many clothes and no space for a boyfriend," she says. "When Angelo arrived in my life, he asks, ‘Where is my place?’ and I realised I had to move on. Now I have very few things. I am like that British woman, Mary Poppins: in my one little bag there are so many things."

That may be true – although I suspect Mary Poppins would be scandalised by some of the thigh-high Gucci skirts, silky Versace mini dresses and acres of toned, bronzed flesh on display in the photo shoots from Dello Russo’s sunny garden. "I love my legs," she says, with a shrug. "I love short skirts because when you wear short clothes you can go faster, and you feel very light. Although I will admit that when you get older that gets more difficult, and my legs are not what they used to be."

Dello Russo turns 60 next year and when I ask how she feels about the upcoming milestone she exclaims, ‘Madonna – no’, and exhales loudly while shaking her head. She is certainly not alone in dreading big birthdays, but I admire her refusal to temper her fashion choices because of her age, and her determination to keep on wearing the skin-baring pieces women two decades younger might blanch at.

"It helps that I don’t really care what people think," she says, "but getting older is not easy for me because while I do believe fashion is ageless, you need a certain physical shape to wear what you want and not be ridiculous, and a certain freshness to ensure you don’t look like a caricature.

"But also, as you get older you know what suits you. It’s a mix, and you need to balance your experience with what’s good for your age and shape. Find what makes you exciting – one thing I know is that accessories are a friend to older women."

Age may also be why Dello Russo is moving away from working exclusively within the fashion industry. She read history of art at university and decades later has curated a contemporary art sale for Sotheby’s, which was open for online bidding for a week from July 6. "For me, the arts have always been intertwined and they have all had an influence on me," she says. "A constant search for beauty in all its forms informs every choice I make – from the clothes I wear to the cutlery I use."

Age may be why Anna is moving away from working exclusively within the fashion industry
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While showing me her colourful collection of vases, she talks about how seeing the Sistine Chapel for the first time was a seminal moment for her – and describes the fresco as being "like the biggest fashion show I could ever imagine". Given how moved she is by Renaissance art, she was surprised by how contemporary her choices for Sotheby’s were, and the final edit was a mix of big names like Damien Hirst, urban artists such as Invader and painters like Arman. As a nod to fashion, she included a blanket from the British brand Colville – the proceeds from the sale of this piece will go to a Milanese refuge for vulnerable women.

Art, however, is not her only project. In her local village of Cisternino, she has opened a space called Frisellanna where, in the bougainvillea-filled courtyard, you can buy Puglian bread drenched in olive oil.

A clothes horse who once said shopping was only for fashion and never for food, selling carbs – whatever next? "Ah, there is a little corner to buy clothes inside," she says, "but as I get older I have to approach life more slowly. Fashion is a magic world made for dreaming, but I am learning real life can be beautiful too."

The Daily Telegraph

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