Italian Fashion & The V&A Exhibit

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In a spirited memo dated February 20, 1969, Diana Vreeland surmised, “no American knows Italian history of legend of any kind – I believe we need a short Editor’s note at the beginning”. Vreeland was referring to a feature in Vogue on literary luminary Gabriele D’Annuzio, but one wonders how the great editor might have anticipated the V&A’s upcoming exhibition, “The Glamour of Italian Fashion 1945-2014”, the first comprehensive overview of Italian Fashion. The effect of Italian design and manufacturing on fashion has been so elemental, it is astonishing that such a show has taken so long to produce.

Curator Sonnet Stanfill spent five years amassing the museum’s collection of Italian wares. In the process, a rich narrative emerged, “Italian fashion is a story of rags to riches almost, as the post-war country recovers and becomes a key place for manufacture, design and entrepreneurial risk taking that cut right across businesses.” In the aftermath of the devastation of World War II, the newly formed modern state took stock of its resources and turned back to the industry that most perfectly merged a history of design with a tradition of craftsmanship. * The ability of fashion to promulgate a promising Italian identity for the 20th century was found in the success of Giovanni Battista Giorgini’s Florentine “Sala Bianca” and the “Made in Italy” marketing campaign. Suddenly, the salons of Paris were facing stiff competition from their southern neighbors.

It was hand in hand with another industry that fashion entered an Italian Renaissance of sorts. The cradle of civilization was renamed “Hollywood on the Tiber” as powerhouse studios and glamorous movie stars besieged Rome. Elizabeth Taylor and Ava Gardner requested bespoke Sorelle Fontana trousseaus for their wardrobes, catapulting the three sisters on the international stage. But it was the Italian school of homegrown directors who truly harnessed the power of dress – after all, only an Italian could understand tailoring so detailed and exquisite it was as distinguishable as regional dialects. Vittorio di Sica and Sophia Loren, Michelangelo Antonioni and Monica Vitti, Federico Fellini and Anita Ekberg; each star was dressed as cleverly as she was lit. The hodgepodge of Italian neorealism and the haut monde that descended on the boot-shaped peninsula blurred the line between designer, client and movie star. Marchese Emilio Pucci’s prints took resort wear by storm, and Princess Irene Galitzine’s “palazzo pyjamas” were adopted early on by her jet set friends. In 1950, designer Ferdinando Sarmi (a count in his own right) not only designed the millinery for the film for a Story of a Love Affair, but was then cast as the wealthy industrial husband of star Lucia Bosè. In the spirit of the exhibition, the film is worth watching. No one frames a leopard print coat quite like Antonioni.


(L) Ferragamo, 1946. (R) Count Sarmi and Baroness de Reutern dining outdoors at Cafe Doney, Photo by Alfred Eisenstaedt, Rome, Italy, 1947.


(L) Count Sarmi, Baroness de Reutern, Princess Caracciolo-Ginnetti and Contessa Angelini-Rota dining outdoors at Cafe Doney, Photo by Alfred Eisenstaedt, Rome, Italy, 1947. (R) Ventura fashion show, Photograph by Alfred Eisenstaedt, Milan, Italy, 1947.


(L) Simonetta Dress, 1950s. (R) Donna Simonetta Colonna di Cesaro wearing her own design, Photo by Clifford Coffin, New York, 1951.


(L) First Runway show at Villa Torragiani which includes designs by The Fontana Sisters, Jole Veneziani, Fabiani, Pucci, Noverasco, Caros and Schuberth, Photo by Archivio Giorgini, February 12, 1951. (R) Irene Galitzine & Audrey Hepburn.


(L) Elizabeth Taylor and Sorelle Fontana, 1953. (R) Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck in Roman Holiday, 1953.


(L) Carosa, 1956. (R) Giovanni Battista Giorgini with models, 1956.


Roberto Capucci & Ester Williams.


(L) Fabiani Simonetta Coat. (R) Fabiani Simonetta Peplum Dress.


(L) Fabiani Simonetta Gown. (R) Fabiani Simonetta Wedding Dress.


(L) Roberto Capucci’s “Nine Skirts” design, 1956. (R) Sophia Loren at her home, Photograph by Loomis Dean, Rome, Italy, 1957.


(L) Micol Fontana & Ava Gardener. (R) Sala Bianca Pitti.


(L) Sala Bianca Pitti. (R) Story of a Love Affair, 1950.


(L) Ava Gardner in Sorelle fontana. (R) Capucci with models.


(L) The Florentine fashion designer, Emilio Pucci, lunching with his wife Christina, Capri, Italy, 1959. (R) Anita Ekberg, Rome, 1959.


(L) Anita Ekberg in La dolce vita, 1960. (R) Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton in Rome, 1960s.


(L) Nina and Simone, Piazza di Spagna (Rome), 1960. (R) Sophia Loren laughing while exchanging jokes during lunch break on a movie set, Photograph by Alfred Eisenstaedt, Rome, Italy, June 1961.


(L) Nena wearing Sarmi silk dress and Trifari necklace, Photo by John Rawlings, 1961. (R) Roger Moore and Luisa Mattioli, Rome, 1961.


(L) Alain Delon with Monica Vitti and Michaelangelo Antonioni, possibly at the L’eclisse premiere. (R) Atelier Sorelle Fontana Roma.


(L) Irene Galitzine & Diana Vreeland. (R) Irene Galitzine & Jacqueline Kennedy.


(L) Irene Galitzine & Sophia Loren. (R) Irene Galitzine & Bob Kennedy.


(L) Irene Galitzine. (R) Marella Agnelli in Mila Schon.


(L) Warren Beatty with Natalie Wood, Rome, 1961. (R) Wool dress and jacket, 1962.


Monica Vitti with film-maker Michelangelo Antonioni, Venice International Film Festival, September 1964.


(L) The legendary designer Emilio Pucci on a photo shoot styling the model himself, Florence Italy, 1964. (R) Black woolen sweater with floral designs and woolen pants by Ilaria Gentucca fashion house in Lucca, 1965.


(L) Sophia Loren had a stunning choice of hat in Stanley Donen's "Arabesque," in 1966. (R) Veruschka wearing an evening gown by Sarmi, 1966.


(L) Audrey-Hepburn in the studio of Sorelle Fontana. (R) Eveningwear by Roberto Capucci, modeled on the Spanish Steps in Rome during the "Donna sotto le stelle" ("Women Under the Stars") fashion gala.


(L) Emilio Pucci and his wife, the Baronessa Cristina Nannini, 1967. (R) Pitti Donna, 1967.


(L) Dresses by Farsoni fashion house in Rome, 1967. (R) Pitti Donna, 1968.


(L) Sarmi Fashions, Photo by Irving Penn, Vogue US - September 1 1967. (R) Benedetta Barzini, photo by Ugo Mulas for a Mila Schön ad campaign, Spring/Summer 1969.


(L) Ferragamo, 1978. (R) Ferragamo, 1931.


(L) Salvatore Ferragamo. (R) Simonetta dress.


(L) Ottavio Missoni. (R) Emilio Pucci Fashions.


The second wave of Italian designers were born and bred in this era where reality and fiction were muddled into a hazy world of beautiful clothes: Valentino, Armani, Versace, Cavalli, Dolce & Gabbana, Cavalli, Prada. These powerhouse brands carry on the tradition of the golden era of Italian style in both the explicit (see Dolce & Gabbana S/S 1992 campaign) and the inconspicuous (the pervasive Gucci G’s mimic the trellis of R’s on Roberta di Camerino’s patterned handbags, debuted in 1946). It was many of the Italian brands that most poignantly symbolized the explosion of conspicuous consumption in the 90s and early 2000s. In the face of the subsequent global economic collapse, these companies fell back on the tradition that has always upheld Italian fashion: exceptional quality, an adventurous spirit, and effortless, instinctive style.


Young Miuccia Prada.


(L) Armani, 1970s. (R) Giorgio Armani with a model, 1979.


(L) Krizia, Vogue Italia, April 1971. (R) Mila Schon, 1975.


Ottavio and Rosita Missoni.


Krizia, Vogue Italia, February 1983.


(L) Jenny Howarth for Krizia,1988. (R) Krizia, Fall 1988.


Vintage Versace.


Helena Christensen for Prada, Fall 1990.


Helena Christensen for Prada, Fall 1990.


Carla Bruni in Versace, 1990s.


Dolce & Gabbana, 1990s.


(L) Dolce & Gabbana, 1990s. (R) Dolce & Gabbana, S/S 1992.


(L) Krizia, 1991. (R) Dolce & Gabbana, S/S 1992.


Dolce & Gabbana, S/S 1992.


“The Glamour of Italian Fashion” is sure to shed a more duteous light on themes that populate the Italian tradition. Can a high incidence of lively prints be traced to a flamboyant landscape, or a tradition of tactile materiality (Missoni chevron, Pucci psychedelic, Roberta di Camerino trompe l’oeil)? Does the familial structure of so many brands mimic a societal preoccupation with lineage, or natural proclivity for design? (Alberto Fabiani and Simonetta, Otto and Rosita Missoni, Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana, Gianni and Donatella Versace, Zoe, Micol and Giovanna Fontana, the Fendi sisters, the Ferragamo family). And as ever, a mix of the old and the new, the exalted and forgotten designers, serves as inspiration for the fertile imaginations of a new generation. For those of us who won’t make the show, we will keep a hopeful eye out for revivals Mila Schön, Krizia and Roberto Capucci.

The exhibition runs through July 27th - for more information click here.


(L) Cocktail dress of sari fabric (detail), Simonetta, 1950s. (R) Evening dress of embroidered net and matelasse coat, designed by Mila Schön, 1966. Courtesy Maison Mila Schön. 


(L) Ankle boots, black leather stiletto heels with gold, white and pink embroidery, designed by Dolce & Gabbana, Spring/Summer 2001. (R) Metallic finish handbag, Versace, Spring/Summer 2007.


(L) Elizabeth Taylor wearing Bulgari Jewels. (R) Aly Dunne for Gianfranco Ferre, Photo by Gian Paolo Barbieri, 1991.


(L) Evening dress of silk, designed by Roberto Capucci, 1987-1988. (R) Pink palazzo pyjamas (detail), Irene Galitzine, 1963.


(L) Man’s cardigan, Missoni, 1974. (R) Man’s ensemble, Giorgio Armani, Spring/Summer 1994.


Gown from Valentino's couture Autumn/Winter 2013 collection arrived at the V&A in January.


(L) Tods. The distinctive rubber soles are called 'gommini' in Italian, literally meaning 'rubber nipples'. They will join other examples of fine shoe craftsmanship in the forthcoming The Glamour of Italian Fashion 1945-2014. (R) Sala Bianca, 1955.


(L) Pucci Bikini. (R) Woman’s houndstooth suit, Gianni Versace, Autumn/Winter 1983/4.


(L) Woman's coat and dress, André Laug, 1960s. (R) Woman's striped suit, Alberto Fabiani, 1967.

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