When Sophia Loren Played the Richest Woman in the World

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The Millionairess, 1960(Film still)

The Italian siren starred alongside Peter Sellers in 1960 rom-com The Millionairess, costumed by Pierre Balmain and still as sumptuous today

It’s a truism that money can’t buy happiness, but in today’s consumer-driven culture it doesn’t hurt to be reminded. In The Millionairess, Italian icon Sophia Loren dazzles as an eccentric heiress on the lookout for love. Based on the 1936 play by George Bernard Shaw, this 1960 hit chronicles the adventures of Epifania, the wealthiest woman in the world, as she attempts to outsmart the terms of her father’s will, which dictates that she is unable to marry unless her suitor can turn £150 into £150,000 pounds within three months.

With costumes by designer Pierre Balmain, it’s no wonder that the film’s aesthetics still captivate, though its dated attitudes will cause problems for a modern audience. Peter Sellers’ portrayal of an Indian doctor drew protests from British Asians even on release, and can make for embarrassing viewing nowadays. Nonetheless, the visual appeal of Loren’s extravagant wardrobe and over-zealous fashion choices during her romantic endeavours remains rich today.

1. Play hard to get

“I don’t want men I can buy,” Epifania bemoans, and within moments she sets her sights on the one man who wants nothing to do with her. When asked if she’s certain that a penniless doctor is worth so much trouble, as she prepares to meet his challenge of surviving on 35 shillings for three months, her answer is simple: “I’m not proving his worth, I’m proving my own.” A person whose affection can’t be bought will help you to find yourself, she reminds us – a lesson worth remembering.

2. Belt up

The belt is among the world’s oldest accessories; they originated from a practical usage – namely sheathing weaponry – but imply dominance even now. It seems fitting then that a woman as powerful as Epifania has a wardrobe which makes full use of this ancient accessory’s aesthetic potential. Cinched-in silhouettes abound in her designer outfits. Her belts give dramatic shapes but also support, both structurally and stylistically, giving her poise in all manner of situations. Take the tip and make a statement: dare to tie your outfit together.

3. Look after yourself and your ideals

“If I do not care for myself – how will I be able to care for others?” Doctor Ahmed asks Epifania when she reproaches him for not accepting her offer of a new hospital she has built for him. “If I am not free myself – how can I make others free?” Don’t let anybody buy your affection – no matter how much they offer.

4. Get ahead with a hat

When she plans to abandon her life of luxury and enter the world of work to win her suitor’s heart, Epifania begins by finding the right hat. Fresh from the shower she investigates her kaleidoscopic wardrobe of fedoras, berets, and buckets, with each hat presenting a different character for the day ahead. Take note and keep your head in the sartorial game – in every sense.

5. Take control of your own destiny

Epifania’s response when she’s rejected by the man she loves is to run away and create a religious order in which all contact with men is revoked. Drastic? Perhaps, but anybody who has been though heartbreak will be able to sympathise with her impulse. Having a plan that helps you take control, rather than passively accepting your circumstances, helps; after all, strength can be a shortcut to a happy ending, as Epifania eventually discovers. Then again, evicting an order of monks to found an all-female community in the Tibetan mountains does sound rather problematic.