London’s Victoria and Albert Museum take an in-depth look at The Glamour of Italian Fashion. Three years in the making, the retrospective runs from April 5th to July 27th, 2014.
The exhibition explores the historic transition from the end of World War II to the extravagance of the 50s “Sala Bianca” catwalk shows in Florence with organizer, Giovanni Battista Giorgini.
In the 1940s, there was no actual Italian fashion manufacturing. Dressmakers and tailors in the war-stricken cities made clothes to order. Then, Florence became a key destination for English and American tourists and merchants. As the country recovered from post-war, it became a “key place for manufacture, design and entrepreneurial risk taking.”
It began in 1951, at the villa of Giorgini that the first Italian designers, Jole Veneziani, Pucci, the Fontana Sisters and other creators showed their designs to American buyers and journalists. The story of Italian fashion is like a fairy tale with a successful conclusion. Exhibit curator, Sonnet Stanfill said that it is almost a “rags to riches” tale. The show was a sensation.
The runway shows in Sala Bianca, with the vision of Giorgini marked the beginning of Italy’s international success. It was a pivotal moment when Italian fashion was unleashed onto the world stage. Accordingly, this fascinating chronicle is defined in the retrospective.
For the period of the 1950s and 60s, many Hollywood films were shot on location in Italy. Italian fashion had an enormous impact on celebrities like Audrey Hepburn and especially Elizabeth Taylor. During the filming of Cleopatra in Rome, Elizabeth’s then husband, Richard Burton quipped that the only word in Italian that Taylor knew was “Bulgari,” the luxury jewelry brand.
These leading ladies, in conjunction with “clever use of the city’s historical locations,” helped advance Italian fashion to new heights. Stanfill noted that it was a perfect method of advertising the “glamour of Italian fashion,” because celebrities were being photographed shopping and dressing in Italian fashion while on location, and “the rest is history.” It powered a profound international desire for luxurious Italian clothing that soon began to rival Paris.
According to Stanfill, Walter Albini, also known as Lo Stylista, had a key role in Italian fashion. He was skillful at producing “high style machine-made clothing.” Having teamed up with Italian companies such as Trell and Cadette, Albini is probably the first designer to the stars like Prada, Versace and Giorgio Armani are today.
Highlighting both women’s and menswear, the retrospective centers on these important designers and corporations that helped influence Italy’s rising fashion status. Visitors can view photographs, films and over 100 ensembles and accessories by leading Italian fashion houses including Valentino, Giorgio Armani, Prada, Versace, Dolce & Gabbana among others.
However, the exhibit does not just highlight Gucci and Prada. Lesser-known post-war couturiers such as Mila Schon and Sorelle Fontana made an unforgettable impression on the industry during the Hollywood years of the 1950s and 60s.
While the London retrospective explores the ever-changing fashion scene, it also looks to the future with works by the next generation of designers like Fausto Puglisi, Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pier Paolo Piccioli.
The retrospective, sponsored by Bulgari, arrives at a time of transformation for Italy’s fashion arena. Milan fashion week is presently going through a resurgence from “Prada’s Patrizio Bertelli to Tod’s chief Diego Della Valle.” Italian fashion has dragged their feet in relation to London and Paris. Stanfill feels that this fusion of distinguished, overlooked and forgotten designers showcased in The Glamour of Italian Fashion retrospective is something visitors will be excited to see.
by Dawn Levesque