As you may or may not know, Milan is dissected by pretty orange (or green) metal beasts that carry people around town. They’re antiques, having been around since the 1920s, and they look very charming. Their insides are made of wood and they have quaint little chandeliers on the ceiling. These are Milan’s famous trams. The No. 29 tram is one of the best loved in the city, because a) it cuts through town in a ring that goes around the center, b) it’s always filled with very attractive youngsters, as it stops by a few modeling agencies, and c) it’s Il Generale’s preferred mode of transportation. Il Generale is a 50-year-old man whom a lucky tram rider might spot one day dressed as an ancient Egyptian scribe and the next as an infantryman in the Imperial German Army. Sometimes he’s even wrapped in one of those samurai uniforms that make one look like an angry shrimp. And why does he dress this way, you may rightly ask? And we may reply, well, why do you dress the boring way you dress? You think you’re not wearing a costume every day?
We met Michele, aka Il Generale, aka Miguel, aka Michael, while he was taking his dogs—Leo and Anibel—for a walk, and we asked him to model some of his current outfits. Apparently he shifts gears every week—we met with him during a “military” week.
Vice: Hello, Michele. Tell me what you do.
Michele: I’m a dog-sitter and a ragazzo-immagine.
We should probably say, for the benefit of our non-Italian readers, that a ragazzo-immagine is a generally good-looking kid who is paid by events organizers and PR people to go to parties and look awesome. We have an actual specific term for it.
Yes, they pay me to go to parties. I make 30 euros a night, and I have to go dressed in either military or ethnic garb.
How did your passion for these costumes begin?
It began when I was drafted for my obligatory year in the Italian armed forces. I spent the whole time in the navy. I had many discussions with the officers because I couldn’t follow their rules.
What do you mean?
Well, for one, you couldn’t customize the uniforms, and every time I went on leave they shouted at me because I insisted on wearing my civilian clothes. They said I dressed like a hippie because I wanted to use earth-toned camo suits and they wanted me to wear only the navy’s original uniform.
Besides that, when I was a kid I was fixated on cowboys, and in my teenage years I was obsessed with martial arts. I used to wear shirts like Bruce Lee and espadrilles and go out into the street and play-fight with my cousins—like, “AH!” “OOH!” “OH!” I also had a glam period. I dyed my hair red and wore 12-inch platform heels. I was into David Bowie.
Did you like his style or his music more?
The music was cute, but I was always more interested in his clothes.
You were a teenager in the 70s, a period of Italian history during which people would judge you socially and politically by the clothes you wore.
Yes. It was a revolutionary time and I wanted to play my part in it. But I wasn’t into politics. I only liked the outfits—the communist’s Eskimo jackets and the button-down shirts of the rich fascists. My friends didn’t know what to make of me because I used to dress as a fascist one day and as a communist the next. In the end, those were uniforms too. They were more casual, but they were still uniforms.
How do you decide which costume to wear in the morning?
I have periods. Thematic weeks. Maybe Turkish, or SS general, or ancient Egypt, or Pharisee in ancient Jerusalem, or French Brigadier. Sometimes I base my decisions on special dates. On the 25th of April I always dress as a Soviet.
For Elbe Day, I assume. Have people ever picked on you because of your eccentric fashion choices?
I used to date a girl who said that if I wanted to get serious with her I had to change my style. I felt repressed, but I didn’t change. More often, people just take the piss in the street, but just as frequently, I get complimented. People call me the Transformer.
German Antiterrorism Special Forces
How many complete outfits do you have in your collection?
Hundreds. Sometimes I just need to change a few details to have an entirely new look. I buy things at street markets and thrift stores and then I customize them myself. I like to follow the current trends, but never without putting my own spin on things.
And how do you keep yourself informed?
Principally through documentaries on TV and historical documents, like prints.
I noticed that when you change outfits, you also speak a different language. Like, yesterday, you were wearing a German Army uniform and you said “auf Wiedersehen” when we parted ways.
Of course, because I try to interpret the look. My ultimate dream is to be an actor. Once I also tried to sign up as an extra at the opera house, but there was a huge queue and I went back home. They were all disgusting, those people. They didn’t care about the clothes, but just about an easy paycheck.
Who do you think is the most stylish historical group?
I love the knights of the Italian Renaissance, like Ettore Fieramosca and Bartolomeo Colleoni. But the armor is too heavy.
You’d also need a horse.
I also like hussars. All that gold. And ninjas. Even if they were assassins.
Are there any characters that you can’t interpret?
I have trouble with the Japanese. I am a big guy, and they are all tiny. I’m not a very credible samurai.
Why do you have a mohawk these days?
Recently I’ve been into Vietnam vets, like in Taxi Driver. It’s a tactical hairstyle.
Tell me the funniest story that has happened to you recently.
Once I was in this park here and this guy had lost his dog. I tried to get close, to help, but he started shouting, “Get away from me, you fag! I don’t need you!” I was dressed medieval-like. I had a leotard on.
That’s not funny. What a dick.
Yeah. And once I was in another park and a group of Brazilians were fighting. I was dressed like in CHiPs and one of them ran toward me screaming, “Help, policia!” This happens a lot. When I wear my cop outfits the dealers in the parks run away when they see me.
Do you ever wear normal clothes?
Only at home. I wear tracksuits. But I’d never leave the house looking like that!
Swiss Cantonal Police
Spanish Civil Guard
American Highway Patrol
Italian Decima Flottiglia MAS (commando frogman unit of the Italian Royal Navy created during the Fascist regime)
Russian Liberation Army
Commonwealth Air Force (Michele says that this is a mix of Australian and English air force uniforms and that this outfit is “pretty casual.”)
Aviation (another “casual outfit”)