Thursday 10 May 2018

Book Tour | Sass, Smarts and Stilettos: How Italian Women Make the Ordinary Extraordinary


Book Title: Sass, Smarts, and Stilettos: How Italian Women Make the Ordinary Extraordinary by Gabriella Contestabile

Category: Adult Non-Fiction, 201 pages

Genre: Travel / Arts / Fashion / Self-help

Publisher: Sumisura Publications

Release date: November 2017

Tour dates: April 23 to May 11, 2018

Content Rating: G (No violence. No swear words. No sex scenes.)


Ah, that inimitable Italian style. It’s embedded in an Italian woman’s DNA. Fashion doesn’t define her. She defines herself. She knows an extraordinary life is not about status, money, or achievement. The only mastery it requires is one her heritage has given her, the irrepressible passion to make art of life itself.

Ask an Italian woman where she gets her sense of style and she will tell you it’s not about labels. It’s tethered to humble roots; humanity, community, conscious consumerism, and a profound appreciation for art in all its forms.

Sass, Smarts and Stilettos takes the reader on a journey from the humble hill towns of Abruzzo to the revered fashion capitals of Milan and Rome, into the artisan workshops of Florence, and the humanistic business practices of Luisa Spagnoli, Brunello Cuccinelli, and Alberta Ferretti, from the emergence of Italy’s fashion industry after WWII, to slow food and sustainable fashion initiatives taking root around the world.

Life lessons echo in the words of the author’s mother and grandmother, in the voices of Italian film divas, designers, tastemakers, writers, and artisans across generations, from the first Sala Bianca in Florence to the game-changing design ethic of Franca Sozzani, Miuccia Prada, and Donatella Versace.

Learn how to live fully within your own philosophy of living. Say goodbye to mindless consumerism, emotional clutter, and others’ expectations. Create a personal style that fits like a custom blazer by Ferr├Ę and enchants like the colors of a Sicilian sunset. Then go on to craft an extraordinary and empowering life made-to-measure for you alone.

To read reviews, please visit Gabriella Contestabile's page on Italy Book Tours.

Buy the Book:

About the Author:

Gabriella Contestabile is the author of the novel, The Artisan’s Star, and owner of Su Misura (Made to Measure) Journeys; a boutique travel concept for the female traveler who relishes off-the-beaten-track adventures that celebrate the Italian way of life.

The book/travel initiative has its roots in her pre-writer life as a foreign language teacher, later as Executive Director and Vice President of International Training in a number of global companies (including Estee Lauder, Shiseido, and Prada Beauty) where she would create immersive and unconventional learning experiences in unique settings around the world.

One of her favorite pastimes, wherever she is in the world, is to scout out the best, and most ‘Italian’ espresso in the hood. It requires multiple tastings, but that’s the idea. Gabriella was born in Italy, and raised in Ottawa and New York City, where she currently lives with her husband, her mother, and a furry Shih Tzu named Oreo.

Connect with the Author: Website ~ Twitter ~ Facebook ~ Instagram ~ LinkedIn


I admit that I don't read a lot of non-fiction books (unless they're for work!) but the beautiful cover of Ms. Contestabile's new title didn't make me think twice about wanting to leaf through it. I read this book during my bus journeys, lunch periods, and also on my days off. Not out of duty but because I truly enjoyed it! Every page paints a picture of Italy, its roots, and just how lovely and respectable the Italian woman is.

I have been to Italy twice in my life - the first time was when I was about three years old and the next was when I was seven. These were back in the day when family holidays abroad weren't very common. Unfortunately, neither of these trips I can remember well. This book definitely made me see why our parents brought us there twice - because how can you not? As an adult, I definitely would love to come back again and experience it for myself (where I am actually aware of what's happening around me - haha!). The food, the sights, the clothing... the author has done very well in showing us what makes her proud about her roots.

I think this book is for everyone regardless of whether or not you have been to Italy. It is just so eloquently written to the point that you feel you are escaping into a holiday whenever you read it. I also feel that it has been well researched and all the facts about designers and the history of different places were very informative. I found myself Googling things along the way - such as palazzo pants! I see them everywhere these days but didn't know what they were called. This book will also make you want to try new things (for me, that would be the fish baked in salt crust. I found out that Gusto in Newcastle Quayside serves it, which is near where I am. Must try it soon!) and is that such a bad thing? Also, I think the book ties in very well with one of my favourite books of all time - Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert.

Praise for Ms. Contestabile's writing! I would give this all stars and more. If you can't get enough of her, I suggest checking out her blog where she writes just as lovely as if she were working on a book.

One of my favourite quotes from Sass, Smarts and Stilettos:
When we explore our heritage, via intention or impulse, we make unexpected connections. They come to us while we read a line in a novel or watch a mother roll up the sleeve of her child's sweater, when we catch a whiff of jasmine on a summer evening in Villa Borghese or rub a fabric that rustles the way it did when we were children.


1.What is your favourite restaurant in Italy?

There are so many, not only restaurants but tiny bars and trattorie that are either off the beaten tourist track or not highly publicized. That’s where you want to go.

Caffe' Canova Tadolini in Rome, once the neoclassical sculptor’s studio for a morning cappuccino, pastry, and a fresh pressed ‘spremuta d’arancio’ whilst surrounded by his preparatory models of world famous works of art.

For truly artisanal gelato and chocolate Vestri in Florence, also known as Vestri, Cioccolato d’Autore.

The outdoor terrazza of the JK Place Firenze for aperitivo and stuzzichini (small plates) in Piazza Santa Maria Novella.

For a special dinner I might go to Ora D’Aria, Buca Lapi, or Borgo San Jacopo in Florence. All are outstanding, elegant, gracious, and serve a delicious cuisine. On a daily basis however I go where the locals go. I had the best pizza Napolitana I’ve ever eaten at a tiny bar in the port of Naples for example.

And the minute I step foot in Florence I go to a tiny bar on a side street off Piazza Santa Maria Novella for my favorite, a delicious pappa al pomodoro (Tuscan tomato and bread soup) with a glass of local wine and followed by the espresso I’d been dreaming of on my flight into Fiumicino.

2. What is one misconception about Italians?

That we eat voluminous amounts of over-sauced food and that there’s a single generic Italian cuisine. Each Italian region from north to south boasts its own distinctive cuisine based on microclimates, and what grows in the soil.

That said, the basics are non-negotiable; fresh, locally sourced ingredients simply prepared and savored slowly, preferably with a glass of the local wine. Think branzino (sea bass) baked with herbs and served with a simple drizzle of first press local olive oil in a restaurant by the navigli in Milan, spaghetti cacio e pepe or fried artichokes in Rome, a pappa al pomodoro (a Tuscan bread and tomato soup) and a bistecca Fiorentina (Florentine steak) in Florence.

Bad food for an Italian is never an option. You will find fresh, simply prepared, delicious food everywhere outside the commercial tourist areas, even in rest stops along the highway, at airports, ski resorts, beaches, in schools, or in the smallest trattoria in a residential neighborhood. No processed food. No bad coffee. If you encounter bad food in Italy it’s because you’ve ended up in a place no Italian would set foot in.

3. Can you tell us about your daily routine?

I get up early and do a 20-minute morning meditation to unravel the mental cobwebs. Then I write for thirty minutes in my journal. No editing, just a free write warm up. Espresso. A long walk or a gym work out which may end up at an espresso or a juice bar. I find getting out and about around people, activity, relatively fresh air (I live in NYC) energizes and inspires me. I try to write, first by hand, then on the computer, until early afternoon when I switch hats and work on my boutique travel business, and book marketing plans.

At night I unwind with a cup of tea and a good book. I find the more I read the better I write, and the more fun I have doing it. I’m also addicted to Netflix.

4. What is your writing inspiration?

Settings, people, dogs, flowers, a chance encounter, a setback. I believe that once a writer has a story she’s passionate about telling everything is material.

With Sass Smarts and Stilettos I started with a draft for the back cover copy (thank you to my publisher Julie Salisbury for helping me define the reader experience I wanted to create), and an outline. From there when influences were around me I could spot them; a lecture on sustainability at FIT, an exhibit on the Plains Indians, a childhood memory. My research came to me in the form of activities and experiences. I seized on every one. Research in motion as I call it. What was fascinating was how these events intertwined with the narrative of the story in ways I hadn’t anticipated.

5. Based on the above what advice would you give a new writer?

Writing can be isolating. Don’t let it be. A writer needs to get out as much as possible, walk for hours at a time, go to art exhibits, interact, take up a sport, a language, a new hobby. Inspiration is all around you so if the muse takes a vacation don’t stress until she comes back. Get up from your computer and get moving. And while you’re out when you least expect it you will see or experience something that sparks an idea, takes your story in a new direction, or helps you finally craft those critical lines of dialogue for an important scene.

Didn't I tell you? Her writing is delicious! Just her answers to this interview made me glow! ­čśŹ


  1. Dear RT, Teabags and Happenstance
    Thank you so much for the delicious review. I feel like I'm in England, probably Blackpool where I once visited a friend, over a pot of fragrant tea with tiny cakes and scones and clotted cream in front of me. I'm thrilled that you enjoyed the snippets of scenes that re-surface from the past when one least expects and I sincerely hope you return to Italy and continue writing this delightful blog. All the best! Gabriella