A big birthday is a license for fashion hyperbole:  If you can’t go over the top now, when can you? Kudos to my dear friend, the fashion designer Francesco Risso, who not only conceived, designed and pinned me into my mega-watt outfit, but stuffed the ball-skirt (which was bigger than my Cinquecento) into a gigantic sack and carted it down to Rome like my very own Fashion Santa Claus.


9am. Train from Milan to Rome

I have a habit of overdressing for travel, just to visually reprimand the lazy people who have chosen sweatpants and running shoes for trains or airplanes.   My birthday weekend was no exception.

Outfit: I left the house strapped into a pair of gold, knee-high gladiator sandals in honor of the city that invented that footwear trend 2,300 years ago. The gilded moment was compounded by a vintage YSL gold brocade coat, which I wore over a sober black Jil Sander dress. My clothes went into a giant T. Anthony suitcase, while my computer slid into my favorite crocodile bag by Alvaro Gonzalez.

7pm. Cocktails at Café della Pace    

Early to arrive, my American guests, including 20 friends from high school and college, were ready to party.  We gathered at a very typical Roman bar on a cobblestone street, drank tons of wine, and made a lot of American noise. Then I skipped off to a private dinner with just my family.

Outfit: It was just a happy coincidence that my vintage two-piece YSL fringe skirt and quilted jacket perfectly coordinated with my exuberantly decorated hotel room. Two prints are never enough, so I added another layer of zany pattern with Brian Atwood’s snazzy snake bag and tamed the madness with a pair of MiuMiu flat black patent-leather sandals.


11am-3pm. Sightseeing and a gay wedding

We took the Americans on a private tour of Palazzo Pallavicini Rospigliosi, a 17th-century spectacle dripping in Renaissance art and furniture. Then I hopped over to the Spanish Consulate to bear witness to my gay friends Nick Vinson and Alvaro Gonzalez getting married, which we celebrated with an al fresco lunch and some lovely caffe shakeratos.

Outfit: Red, white and blue! I pulled on a favorite vintage two-piece, printed-cotton skirt and shirt that looks a lot like the American flag and paired it with the flat MiuMiu sandals.

7pm. Cocktails at Salotto 42

By this time all 120 guests were in town and ready for an unruly, disorganized evening of non-stop cocktails that was very Roman in spirit.  We all poured out of the bar and onto the cobblestones in front of Rome’s awesome Hadrian’s temple.

Outfit: I knew I was overdressed for cocktails but didn’t care. I pulled out my most lavish vintage YSL 1970s brocade ball-skirt and paired it with a white Gucci tank top, vintage Astrakhan capelet and a handbag custom-made by Alvaro Gonzalez. The only thing practical about this outfit was my footwear: flat Prada gold sandals.


11am. Vintage Vespa ride for 70 people

Rome’s most beautiful sites and neighborhoods are best enjoyed from the vantage point of a vintage motorino seat. We did as the Roman’s do by swiveling and swerving around traffic, and swarming together like a screaming group of teenagers.

Outfit: Nothing spells Roman holiday quite like an extravagant dress on a motorino. I picked runway look #1 from Mary Katranzou’s Spring 2013 collection and paired it with sensible Prada flat sandals, a Vespa helmet and, best of all, my husband.

7.30pm. The main event: Black tie cocktails and dinner at Villa Aurelia

Outfit: Turning 40 called for more-is-more extravagance and my friend Francesco delivered with a custom-made lace jacquard, feather-trimmed ball skirt and a mirrored-metal disk embroidered halter-top.  His partner Lawrence Steele had sketched the outfit during a wine-induced fitting at their Milan apartment one night. The trim of opulent ostrich feathers got a punch from a pair of sexy Brian Atwood high-heeled sandals.

10.30pm. Dancing at Villa Aurelia and the spontaneous after party at Jackie O disco in the center of Rome

Outfit: The mirrored-disk top stayed on, but the 40-pound skirt had to get lost for better dancing action. I slipped into a short black-lace vintage skirt and Gianvito Rossi high-heeled sandals.



11am.  Breakfast at Hotel L’Inghilterra

By this point, I was officially pooped. But I had enough energy for one last breakfast before wandering the small streets with friends, and letting everyone spend the rest of the day on their own time.

Outfit: A Roman send-off called for a local designer. I wore Rome-based Caterina Gatta’s dress crafted from a vintage Versace squirrel fabric with flat Prada sandals and a new vintage bracelet-watch gifted to me by designer Alvaro Gonzalez. Then I packed up all those wonderful clothes, collapsed onto a train and returned home one year older and happier.

– J.J. Martin