In Italy, Ghali is everywhere. It’s impossible not to hear him: he’s the country’s most famous rapper. And it’s impossible not to see him, since he’s six-foot-five and lanky, with a Gumby-like silhouette and a head full of dip-dyed dreads. Over the phone, the 26-year-old tells me that his classmates in school used to tease him by calling him “spilungone.” At first, I think this term is a type of spaghetti—and why not? Like a noodle, Ghali is thin and bendy—but it’s actually slang for “tall man.” Ghali’s face is also easy to spot; it’s almost cartoonish: His eyes are big, deep, and permanently set in a puppy gaze. The combination is hard to resist.
Born Ghali Amdouni to Tunisian parents outside of Milan, the Italian trap rapper also has an unusually appealing sense of style. Earlier this month at the Venice Film Festival, he wore a full Dior Men’s look, and in lieu of a tie, he fastened his collar with a piece of Alyx hardware; a clasp. He was both clean cut and endearingly awkward with a funky train of black fabric sprouting from his hip. The ensemble was put together by his stylist of three years, Ramona Tabita. The first time Tabita met him, she thought of Ghali as a “genius,” adding: “When you talk to him, he does not listen to you because he is on another planet. As he says in his music: ‘[he’s] in his bubble.’”
Ghali’s above-it-all persona may explain why it’s so easy for him to take risks with his fashion. His Instagram is a trove of outré outfits that fit him like a glove, like an oversize Spring 2019 Margiela look (with white Tabi boots!) that he wore to a festival in Germany. Yet his biggest breakout look so far was when he made a red carpet cameo with legendary Italian model Mariacarla Boscono at the Gucci Cruise 2020 show back in May. The two were both dressed in white and smooched on the red carpet. Someone should have called Michelangelo: He needed his angels back.
Ghali’s style is rooted in his music, which in turn is rooted in his biography. Some of his songs counter Italian stereotypes about migrants; others deal with his background as a child of North African immigrants. His family moved around a lot when Ghali was a kid. In 2003, they finally settled in Baggio, one of the roughest suburbs of Milan. “There was art in Milan but not so much in Baggio, except for graffiti.” The street art was one inspiration. Another was an Italian teacher, who encouraged his budding writing talent. “She made me understand that I could write well, so I started to write and freestyle on the street and [at] my school,” he says. A major influence was Eminem. “I grew up with 8 Mile,” he says. “Then, when I discovered that there was a real underground Italian rap scene, I said, ‘I can do it in Italian as well.’ I was 12 years old.”
Ghali’s music doesn’t shy away from controversy. His 2018 hit song “Cara Italia,” or “Dear Italy”—its music video has been viewed more than 112 million times on YouTube—picks apart the “us versus them” mentality that many Italians have adopted toward immigrants and refugees. “Newspapers overdo it / They talk about the foreigners as if they’re aliens / With no passport, looking for money,” he raps. The music video ends with Ghali and several children escaping to a mythical mountaintop where the rapper, who resembles a spindly giant, plants a flag that reads “TVN,” short for “Ti Voglio Bene,” or “I love you.” This abbreviation has become his slogan and his logo.
Ghali attributes his style to the interplay between his North African heritage and his love of Italian culture. “My people are Italian people and they are Tunisian people. I am both and between them,” he says. He loves his mother dearly and credits her for jumpstarting his interest in fashion. “She used to dress me always to have fun,” he says. “I have a lot of pictures of me posing.” (Back in October, he celebrated 100 million views of “Cara Italia” by posting baby photos of himself and images of his mother on Instagram.) Today, he infuses his Tunisian roots into his wardrobe. Ghali will wear his grandmother’s silver Berber-style jewelry mixed in with contemporary designers. “I was born in Milan but I always had the Tunisian culture at home,” he says. “I wear a lot of clothes like my father’s tracksuit, my mother’s jeans, and my grandma’s jewelry. I love to do that.” A few summers ago, he took a photo of himself in Ibiza, Spain, wearing a traditional Tunisian tunic and an embroidered coat—all sourced from a local Tunisian market.
While he salutes North African fashion, there is no doubt that Ghali also loves contemporary European labels, such as Gucci. He’s become a bit of a brand darling, wearing Gucci on his tours, whether that is a pair of monogrammed sweatpants, a sweatshirt with glitzy interlocking Gs or a Gucci suit emblazoned with the New York Yankees logo. “I love and really appreciate [Gucci creative director] Alessandro Michele. He brings his life in his designs, the things that he loves, the things about his childhood, and so I feel so close to him.” But Ghali’s list of beloved labels does not stop at Gucci; he also enjoys Thom Browne. “I feel like the Japanese school kid,” he says about wearing Browne’s twee cropped suits. He also respects the work of Kim Jones, creative director of Dior Men’s. “I love what he is doing,” he says.
As for the future of Ghali’s music and personal style, he plans to explore more of his Tunisian roots. “I’m discovering my culture more. I am doing it in the new album and in fashion as well. I’m a mix for real between European culture and North African culture, and you can see that in my style,” he says.
Photographer: Adriano Cisani Stylist: Ramona Tabita
Originally Appeared on Vogue