Nobody ever claimed that the Italians were prone to stinting on style, and you can see ample evidence of the country’s flair for both in Rome’s retail mecca for discount clothing and a recent documentary celebrating the store’s unique status and popularity in the country’s capital city.
Located at Via dello Statuto 11 in Rome, Magazzino allo Statuto is universally referred to as “MAS.” The store has had a colorful history of three broad chapters—punctuated by periods in which the store was literally closed for business—first as a luxury store in the pre-WWII era and then as a symbol of the country’s postwar economic boom in the 1950s.
In 1974 Gianni Pezone re-opened MAS in its third incarnation, as a fashion emporium catering to “everyone,” to people of all income levels—it is this most populist iteration of the store’s history with which Rä Di Martino’s 30-minute documentary “The Show MAS Go On” concerns itself. In 2013 it was announced that MAS would be closing its doors, a fate that it apparently averted, but the scare was enough to spur Di Martino to action, spearheading a loving documentary about the store that started out as a crowdfunding project but was eventually financed by Gucci, of all possible companies (once you watch the movie, the strangeness of the juxtaposition will become clearer) who decided to bankroll the movie. It premiered at the 2014 Venice Film Festival.
In New York City the functioning analog would be Century 21, but even that important store fails to capture the tacky centrality that MAS seems to enjoy in contemporary Roman life. The playfulness of “The Show MAS Go On” is already signaled in the title, and however you may feel about it after 5 minutes, I can say with confidence that you will not foresee where the movie intends to take you. (Among Di Martino’s creative appropriations are the episode of The Twilight Zone titled “The After Hours” and Lou Reed’s “Perfect Day.”)
The viewer will hear a lot from Pezone’s voluble daughter, who makes flamboyant claims of MAS’ importance, as well as get acquainted with the fellow responsible for the store’s distinctive handmade signage. We also learn that MAS was (and probably remains) a favorite of Italy’s many hardworking costume designers working in movies and TV. But one of the documentary’s greatest pleasures is the ample footage of the diverse clientele of MAS wandering through endless aisles and piles of discounted jeans and polo shirts.