In the Piazzetta below us, the beautiful people are out in full force, exchanging air kisses, shouting into tiny celiphones and lounging about generally looking fabulous. Although it?s 7:30 p.m., some of the women are still wearing string bikinis and sarongs, having dallied too long at the beach; others are in diamonds and designer gowns on their way to the glamorous parties that are part of daily life here in the summer. Most of them, though, are wearing cute little tops and capri pants - just like women the world over, from Paris to Grande Prairie, except that here it?s particularly fitting, since the fashionable cropped pant was first designed exactly three floors down from the rooftop patio where we are standing.
We?re watching the action from the top floor of La Parisienne, the 95-year-old boutique where half a century ago Adriana DiFiore transformed the traditional trousers worn by local fishermen into an international fashion must-have.
“Of course, I have tailors who make the capri pants,” says Adriana, flipping through the pages of a scrapbook filled with clips of her clothes as featured in 1950s fashion magazines. “It was a typical thing of that age so everyone wants it.”
She pauses to reminisce: “Jackie was one of my best customers,” she says, and of course she means the late Jackie Kennedy Onassis, who used to buy her famous capris from Adriana - six pairs at a time, one for each house she lived in, always white, size 6 or occasionally 8. Plenty of celebrities still shop here, though no one?s naming names for the sake of their customers? privacy.
Adriana and her three daughters, Francesca, Luciana and Christina, still run the store that Adriana?s mother opened in 1906. “All the ladies passing through Capri who wanted a dress came to my mother,” says Adriana, adding, “All the world pass through here.”
“When my grandmother started the store she looked at French fashion because there was no Italian fashion,” says Francesca, who notes that her grandmother?s seamstresses would copy designs from Parisian catalogues and patterns. “It didn?t even exist then, the Italian fashion.”
Since those early days, the family has seen a lot of change come to their tiny island. “You?re telling me,” says Adriana, laughing.
They watched Capri evolve from a favoured holiday destination of intellectuals and wealthy Italian families to an international celebrity hot spot in the ?50s, ?60s and ?70s. By the ?80s it had become a stopping-off spot for daytrippers on package tours. Now this island off the coast of Naples, where the Sirens tried to tempt Odysseus to his doom and Emperor Tiberius held wild orgies in the Blue Grotto, is trendy again, the streets more crowded than they?ve ever been with celebs and jet-setting tourists.
The Caprese, whose livelihood has always depended on tourism, welcome their visitors warmly. But this latest influx has brought another change: Designer boutiques such as Gucci, Tod?s, Dolce & Gabbana, Ferragamo and Fendi now line the streets where local shops once operated. Just today, a new Prada mega-store has opened right where visitors spill out of the funicular that brings them up to Capri Town from the Marina Grande.
“This year, three, four new [designer boutiques],” Adriana acknowledges. Her tailors still custom-make her famous capris, but, she says, “We are almost the last in Capri that do that.”
The new boutiques have also taken a toll on Capri?s traditional sandal makers. Back when Jackie and her sister Lee Radziwill roamed the island, there were dozens of little shops where you could walk in and have chic sandals custommade while you waited.
Now only a handful are left, and Costanzo Ruocco?s is one of them. His tiny store is right across the street from the huge new Prada boutique, where this fall?s fashionable “spat” boot sells for hundreds of dollars. Costanzo?s sandals retail for much less.
“When I come here I don?t bring any shoes. I just come to Costanzo,” says an American customer who is buying three pairs of sandals - one in basic brown, one adorned with diamanté starfish and a third in bright orange.
Costanzo?s son Antonio takes care of the sales, and says he will eventually take over from his father. “It?s a tradition, by son by son by son,” he says. Their family has made sandals for generations. They have shod everyone from Clark Gable in the 1950s (they proudly display a picture of Costanzo with Gable and Sophia Loren, who were on the island making The Bay of Naples), to Jackie Kennedy in the ?60s and ?70s, and more recently Tommy Hilfiger, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, Elizabeth Hurleyand plenty of ordinarytourists.
A customer comes in and asks for a pair of the classic Romanstyle sandals, just like the ones Liz Hurley bought, except in bronze instead of blue. Antonio finds a leather sole that fits her foot and hands it to his father. Costanzo takes it, slices into it with a sharp knife, deftly weaves the narrow bronze leather strips through the incisions and hands it back to his son. Antonio gently takes the customer?s foot and adjusts the sandal to fit perfectly. He hands it back to his father who briskly tap-taps it together with a couple of sure blows of the hammer. Allora, seven minutes and about $40 later, she has a sexy new pair of shoes.
?This as an old, very old kind of job,” says Antonio. ?In the ?60s everybody in Capri makes everything by hand. We are one of the last of this old kind of shop.”
While Antonio clings to his family tradition, Francesca believes her family?s business has to change with the times if it is to survive. She has studied design at university in Rome and fashion in the United States. She visits Milan, where they buy all their material, probably 10 times a year and is also involved with the Fendi boutique on Capri Town?s Via Camerelle.
?We offer different service, we offer different fashion,” she says. “Even if you?re dressing Gucci all year round, but you want something different, you come to me.
“The thing is that in Capri you don?t have to dress as in the city. I always say, don?t bring any clothes. You don?t have to dress here, it?s very simple??
Life on Capri may be simple, but it?s not sloppy. La Parisienne bursts with elegant resort fashions in brilliant, sun-drenched colours: summer dresses in cotton and linen, canvas beach bags, painted pants by Neapolitan designer Livio de Simone, and spectacular sheer silk evening gowns spangled with sequins.
They have the machines to handle everything from silk georgette to cotton gabardine, as well as the staff trained to work in all types of fabric. They design many of their own clothes and will do major alterations on a moment?s notice, especially for visitors on the many yachts that stop for only a day or two before moving on to Portofino or the Côte d?Azur.
They still make their famous capri pants just as they always did, in cotton gabardine, with a side zip, belt loops and small slit up the side of of each calf. The pants come in every colour and if La Parisienne doesn?t have what you want in stock, Adriana?s tailors will whip it right up for you.
Even when it comes to a classic, though, Francesca is looking ahead. She recently introduced a ?new style” capri pant from Milan in stretch fabric, with jeans detailing and silver rivets.
Meanwhile, her mother is dreaming about the past. “Clark Gable liked to talk to me because not so many people speak English then and I speak English,” she remembers, with a smile. “I made for him a pair of shorts and a jacket.” But for some reason, Gable forgot to pick up his outfit so Adriana held on to it until he returned to Capri some years later. When he tried on the outfit, he was thrilled to find it still fit. ?He put it on and he was so happy” Adriana claps her hands gleefully -”like a little kid!”
Francesca looks at her mother with a fond smile. Then she turns away with a shrug.
“That time, it was very beautiful,” she says. “But it was history.”

By Joanne Sasvari in Capri, Italy