Circling Back is where GQ revisits the little things about the big things in pop culture.
Italy is responsible for producing magnificent art that has endured throughout the centuries, from the Sistine Chapel to the Mona Lisa, from David to the Pietà. But I’m not here to talk about any of that. Instead, let us open our hearts and our minds to some Italian masterpieces of equally astonishing beauty: Furio Giunta’s shirts on The Sopranos.
In season two of the mob drama, the gang goes to Naples. Christopher spends the whole trip strung out; Paulie tries and fails to Eat, Pray, Love; and through some wheeling and dealing with a sexy and superstitious female boss, Tony Soprano acquires a fearsome new foot soldier in Furio. Off camera, in preparation for his new life in America, Furio diligently packs a suitcase exclusively filled with ponytail holders and dozens of luxurious silk party shirts. Andiamo!
While the other mobsters mostly opt for track suits, bowling shirts, and dark suits, Furio has never met a flamboyant button-down he isn’t passionate about. And it’s no wonder: the shirts are tremendous. They surprise and delight more than anything else on the show. I would watch an entire Sopranos spinoff about Furio going shopping. (I would watch another spinoff about Artie Bucco’s earring.) Shirts aside, I have always felt a bit of an affinity for Furio. Like Furio, my father is a born-and-bred Italian. Unlike Furio, he is a refined Milanese man. Like Furio again, I sense that he is often gravely disappointed in me. And I, too, refuse to understand the game of “golf.”
When he arrives in America, Furio enters the new world shirt-first. Tony throws a welcome party in his honor, which Furio attends with his long locks flowing, wearing a glorious black and gold number that looks like an area rug made love to an Oxford. Feast your senses.
I asked my GQ colleague and author of the fashion newsletter Opulent Tips, Rachel Tashjian, to expertly assess the, well, opulence at play. Her review? “The power of these shirts comes down to their bold ability to combine two elements which would be entirely opulent on their own: wild scrollwork borrowed from Italian Renaissance/baroque architecture, and silk fabric,” she told me. “The prints echo the height of human achievement in fusing the decorative with the utilitarian. The luxe fabric is an expression of male decadence—one of the defining issues, of course, of The Sopranos. Together, they convey the irresistible seduction of working for Tony: labor and pleasure are impossibly entangled.”
Also curious as to how stylish Furio is compared to his comrades, I consulted Emilia Petrarca, a fashion news writer at The Cut and creator of the Instagram account Every Outfit on The Sopranos. “I wouldn’t say Furio has more or less style than anyone else, but he maybe has more Italian designers in his closet, which would explain the range of incredible silk shirts he owns,” she wrote to me. “That said, he doesn’t seem like someone who really cares about big designer labels. He likes to get his hands dirty, or wrap them around a ball of mozz. If I saw Furio in the real world, I’d think: That man has style. And I’d trust him with my life.”
Never one to shy away from a bold and bellissimo daytime look, Furio dons the same black and gold color scheme when visiting the Soprano home. He enjoys a pastry with Carmela, Carmela enjoys his shirt, and we enjoy witnessing their undeniable sexual tension.
Soon after, he throws his own housewarming party. For this, Furio reveals his most extravagant and virile shirt yet. There’s cheetah print involved, some birds on the back, what look like goldfish on the sleeves. It shimmers, it shines. Mamma mia! He channels all of the shirt’s energy to engage in some powerfully erotic line dancing with his boss’s wife. This is followed by a torrid emotional affair, which will eventually cause him to flee the country. The shirt is at least 25% responsible for this outcome.
Furio’s breathtaking shirt choices are not just relegated to times of leisure. For instance, he’s not above tucking in a tiger stripe top while standing around and looking menacing at the pork store—the most fearsome any man has ever appeared while wearing an animal printed blouse.
Or when conducting business at the Bing.
Or even when he’s called upon to dismember a dead body. Astonishingly, none of the other guys ever bust his balls about his Eurotrash shirts. The lesson here? Get friends who will unconditionally support your most outrageous looks. Also, nobody will criticize your outfit if you’re a terrifying mafioso.
Unable to wrest these gorgeous silken images from my mind, I needed to find out everything I could about them. I first reached out to Sopranos costume designer Juliet Polcsa, who let me know that the shirts were either sourced from Versace or Versace knockoffs.
Rachel explained some of the history here. “For Gianni Versace, the printed silk shirt represented an entirely new definition of masculinity, totally modern and liberated, with little regard for bourgeois male fashion standards like the tie and the traditional suit,” she said. “The prints also lionized the history of Italian art and therefore worked as a celebration of the culture he believed totally supreme in its artistic expression.” See: masterpieces.
Federico Castelluccio, the actor who portrayed Furio, was surprisingly game to talk to a stranger about shirts he wore on a television show 20 years ago. “The character of Furio was supposed to be set apart from the American Italians. [Juliet] figured in order to make the character more authentic, his look set him apart from the other guys,” he told me. “She would say, ‘I’ve got these Versace shirts.’ Those loud Versace shirts were not my taste, obviously, but they totally worked for the character.”
I asked Castelluccio, a prolific painter who also happened to discover a $10 million Guercino a few years back, if he had any theories about the black and gold and white color palette Furio often favored. “I would think the black is there because, subconsciously, it’s a dark thing that they’re doing. The underworld of the mob is very dark. And then the glitzy part of it was the gold,” he said. “It makes sense with an underlying tone. There was a duality to Furio.”
Castelluccio says that when he encountered fans in the wild, they most often brought up Furio’s tops. “Fans would always come up to me and say, ‘Hey, I bought a shirt really close to the one in that scene,” he said. “And I’m like, ‘Oh very cool man, very cool.’”
While his personal style doesn’t have much overlap with Furio’s, Castelluccio did keep a couple garments after the fact. “I think I gave one to my uncle in Canada,” he says. “I may still have one of them.” He also held onto Furio’s leather coat, which he loved because “he’s starting to get more Americanized with his wardrobe.” Perhaps it’s best, then, that the Furio plotline ended when it did—a few more years in New Jersey and the silk shirts may have tragically been sent to sleep with the fishes.