Italy Week

What Jazzercise and Futurism Have to Do with Spritz

April  8, 2016

From leotard-clad ladies of the ‘80s to Italian Futurist art to the undying allure of effervescence, here are eight things that inspired the design of the new book Spritz, which is all about Italy's most iconic aperitivo cocktail.

See the resemblance?

1. These girls

Yep, that’s us, in our dreams. Although the actual spritz that we speak of in the book has little connection to the spritzer of the 1980s leotard set, there’s no denying that the very word still picks up what these ladies are putting down.

So, while we drew heavily from mid-century (and preceding) Italian booze advertising and design, we also wanted to acknowledge 1980s Southern California in a nod to the spritz’s American debut. Our designer, Margaux Keres, and our illustrator, Matt Allen, totally got it, and promptly nailed it.

2. Effervescence

Do not underestimate the power of bubbles. There is a reason why Champagne is an enduring symbol of celebration. From the sound of the cork popping to the cloud of carbon dioxide tumbling from the bottle to the fizzle of bubbles against a glass, we wanted this book to telegraph these same effects when you cracked open the cover. And it’s also why we risked being arrested to capture that double-page spread of an exploding bottle of Prosecco. (We shot that image on W. 10th Street in the village, and it took more than a couple of takes.) There must be bubbles; always, bubbles.

Worth getting arrested for. Photo by Dylan + Jeni, from Spritz

3. Futurism

There are a lot of very bad things about the Futurist art movement. Like Fascism. We decided to focus on the good, albeit weird, aspects. Italian cocktail culture really grew up in the 1920s and 1930s, during a period of very intense nationalism and a rejection of the past in favor of aggressive modernism. The drinks of this era were typified by a total rejection of all products that were not Italian (they even refused to call the drinks “cocktails,” instead referring to them as polibibite), alongside a psychosexual exploration (srsly) of how different cocktail combinations inspire certain behaviors. It’s now referred to as Futurist Mixology.

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Even though today’s Italian cocktails don’t exactly sport Italian-made whiskey and anchovy-stuffed communion wafer garnishes (also real), the classics are still expressions of Italianism. The spritz, which, in the modern era, originated in Italy as a mix of water and wine by way of the Hapsburgs, became truly Italian in the 1920s and ‘30s with the addition of Italian bitters. It’s an improvement as much as it is a statement of nationalism.

4. Bitter

There are three mandatory features of a spritz: bitterness, bubbles, and low-ABV-ness. You can riff to no end within that framework, but without these three things, it becomes a different category of drink altogether. Italians are obsessed with digestion, and part of our gravitation pull to the spritz was to explore how bitters factor in to the front end of a meal.

It’s also interesting to see how the idea of bitterness is expressed in 20th-century Italian booze advertising. The notion that bitterness represents both the poison, and the antidote, has contributed to a certain mystique around both bitter aperitvi and digestivi that’s still peddled today.

More: Five bitter drinks we wish Italy would export to us.

The Venetian Spritz and Safe Passage from Spritz Photo by Dylan + Jeni, Dylan + Jeni

5. (Not) Working

The spritz hates to work. Hates it. Its whole purpose in life is to get everyone to quit his or her job. This is a drink that so purely embodies leisure in form and function that you can’t help grab a hold of a spritz and wonder if you should just pack it up for the day. A big part of what led us to spritz (yes, it’s also a verb) is not just the drink itself, but the formal observance of the sacred time of day when Italians stop working and start socializing. We all unwind in different ways, but in no other country does leisure feel quite so imperative as it does in Italy.

6. Natasha David

This book probably would not have been written if it weren’t for Natasha David, an incredible bartender and partner in New York’s Nitecap. This girl loves the spritz as much as we do, and has been a true ambassador stateside.

More than that, she’s demonstrated just how permutable the formula is. Her list at Nitecap has a rotating spritz section, which for us was a bit of a bellwether. It prompted us to say, “Hey, what’s going on with this drink here?” When we looked around and then back to Europe, we realized that there was a compelling story to be told about the spritz, both across the pond and here at home.

The spritz trail. Photo by Matthew Allen, from Spritz

7. Venice

The Venetians know how to drink. So much so that it’s almost a feature of evolution that people there don’t drive or own cars. It’d be a disaster. From the outside, Venice is now often dismissed as a tourist attraction, and there are, undoubtedly, plenty of Germans and selfie sticks, but if you look outside of St. Mark’s and explore the locally inhabited neighborhoods, like Cannaregio, you’ll find a city wonderfully preserved.

It’s here that aperitivo, in its true form, can still be found. This is also a city so rich in color—from the aqua blue of the canals to Titian red—that we wanted the book to capture some of that vibrancy, both in spirit and design.

8. Vintage Italian Liquor Advertising

This is, perhaps, an obvious one. Design for the book started with a mood board mashing up vintage travel posters and Italian liquor advertisements, most of them from the 1920s through the 1960s. Fortunato Depero, the Futurist artist famous for a number of Campari advertisements, figured in heavily.

In fact, his work for Campari and Strega in the 1920s influenced the typography and design of the book directly. And, weirdly, those posters almost seem to be making a phone call to the future—specifically the 1980s. We took it as a sign that our mash up wasn’t totally misguided.

More: Hear Talia and Leslie talk more about spritz life on the Burnt Toast podcast.

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Editor in Chief, PUNCH. Author of SHERRY.