The Cagli Project
About the Project Authors Subjects Cagli Partners Faculty Contact


Telesforo Iacobelli is not ugly. Exotic, perhaps, would be a more appropriate adjective. The strong masculine features that typically distinguish Italian men are missing from his soft, wrinkled face. His close-set almond shaped eyes and tiny round nose create childlike expressions as he describes founding the Club dei Brutti, literally translated as the “ugly faces club.”

The premise of the club is simple: to celebrate ugliness and focus on an individual’s character rather than appearance. The Club dei Brutti was started in 1960 in the town of Piobbico, Italy, where Iacobelli lives.

Originally only a few members met regularly in Iacobelli’s basement. In 2005 there are over 25,000 members worldwide, making the Club dei Brutti, an international phenomenon.

Iacobelli Telesforo, president and founder of Club dei Brutti.

Club members talk outside a Piobbico cafe.

“When I was a young boy, I thought of the problems the ugly must face and their differences are many,” Iacobelli said.

Early on he recognized the undeserved influence that beauty has in the various aspects of life, from work, to love, to everyday interactions. Rather than accepting the human tendency to base judgment on surfaces, Iacobelli took an opposite view, becoming obsessed with compensating for the appearance-based prejudices in life. Eventually he created the club to support and encourage the less attractive people of Piobbico, a town with about 2,000 inhabitants.

He started out small. Meetings with about 20 people were originally held in his cellar, adjacent to a souvenir shop he owns. The club met to discuss ugliness and the psychological problems associated with it.

Today, however, the club is more socially based, coming together for conventions and celebrations.

Prior to the Club dei Brutti, Piobbico — nestled in the breath-taking foothills of green mountains in the Marche region of Italy — had long been associated with promoting and helping those who were not considered to be beautiful. In 1876 Piobbico was home to 128 unmarried women who believed they were too ugly to find a husband. This dilemma prompted the town to open a marriage agency, the first ever created, in order to help the discouraged women of Piobbico find suitable husbands.

Iacobelli’s friends and certain members of the club still meet in his cellar, which is full of collectables that he has acquired throughout his lifetime. A welcome mat adorned with “Club dei Brutti” in red letters marks the beginning of a passage down into his musty, cold cellar. Fascination replaces disorientation, as visitor’s eyes adjust to the dim lighting emitted from dangling glass bulbs. Rusted lanterns, faded photos, broken frames, dusty mirrors, ancient farm tools, bronze trophies, green bottles, club plaques, and innumerable trinkets appear. His collections are cluttered, yet organized, displayed in a way that tempts visitors to examine, touch and explore his lifetime achievements and hobbies.

A member of Club dei Brutti.

Club member Sante Fini.

An enlarged color photo next to Iacobelli’s wooden desk shows members of the club celebrating at their annual event. This is the club’s biggest celebration and is held the first Sunday of every September. It is an occasion that gathers club members in the town square of Piobbico to dance, sing and enjoy each other’s beauty — or lack thereof.

During the annual gathering, Iacobelli is re-elected president and various awards are distributed to members. The “No-bel” award — a clever play on words since non bello means “not beautiful” — is given to the friendliest member. The Vulcano prize, referring to the ugly mythological god, Vulcan, is given to someone of great importance. Previously the Vulcano has been awarded to the author of the book on Iacobelli and to the director of the movie based on Iacobelli’s ideologies that was filmed in Piobbico.

Iacobelli stays in touch with the various international branches of the club through email and letters. Those interested in becoming members must simply fill out cards with their names and addresses to join. Iacobelli willingly gives out cards to anyone, the ugly, the beautiful and anyone in between.

“It is important to say that we are not against the beautiful,” Iacobelli said. “We instead come together to speak of the problems the ugly face.”

Those unable to visit Piobbico can request a card online at

A club member bikes through town.

Click image for Club dei Brutti video.

Iacobelli adamantly stated that this is not a second job for him to make money.

“I would rather be considered crazy than be thought a dishonest man,” he said.

Instead, the club’s financial support is provided in part by city hall and in part through revenues from the club’s musical band. The band plays at various events throughout Italy.

The club focuses on other causes beyond physical appearance. Members are currently raising money for children with heart defects. In 2004, the club raised €5,000 for Parkinson’s disease research.

There are mixed feelings about the organization among the inhabitants of Piobbico. While some are pleased with the attention, others are not as amused.

“No one likes to be known as living in the Mecca for ugly people,” said Patrizio Silvi, a bus driver from Piobbico with gelled hair who wears a tight, muscle-revealing oxford shirt. He answered questions regarding the club. His lack of enthusiasm was evident even behind a pair of designer sunglasses.

Following an interview on a popular television show by the well-known Italian entertainer Enzo Tortora, the Club dei Brutti quickly gained recognition and became a popular subject for television interviews.

Iacobelli has earned celebrity status due largely to the numerous articles, newscasts, books and the film created about his positive view towards those who are not beautiful.

“I could not believe the attention I began to receive because of this simple idea,” Iacobelli said smiling proudly. “It was overwhelming.”

Today there are members worldwide, with club branches in Italy, Poland, France, Spain, the United States, England, and Argentina.

Despite what people think, Iacobelli plans to continue the club. He encourages members to join and aims at alleviating the modern obsession with beauty. Even if he is unable to change other’s attitudes, Iacobelli is confident of his place in society.

“We, the ugly, say that we are more fortunate,” Iacobelli said, “but, as you can see, it is difficult to demonstrate to others.”

A local bartender who is a member of the club.

Story by Philly Petronis

Photography by Megan Franich

Video by Claire Hoffman

Web Design by Brady Fitzgerald