From the 5th of April to 27th of July the Victoria and Albert Museum will host the exhibition “The Glamour of Italian Fashion 1945-2014” curated by Sonnet Stanfill and sponsored by Bulgari. The show – which reassumes more than 60 years of Italian fashion industry – will display about 100 garments by leading fashion houses such as Dolce e Gabbana, Giorgio Armani, Missoni, Valentino, Versace and the more recent generation of Giambattista Valli and Fausto Puglisi. It will also include less-known yet important figures of post-war couturiers like Fontana sisters and Mila Shon.
“The Glamour of Italian Fashion” will firstly welcome the visitor with a black and white picture to introduce the context of post-war Italy from which the show starts off. At that time Italy was a country which had to face large reconstruction and it also had to deal with the consequences of a belated industrialization with what remained a largely agriculture-based economy. This naïf image evokes a neo-realist movie set; even though it is also the symbol of a desire for a better quality of life exemplified by the more frivolous attitude of the roman “Dolce Vita” of the following years.
The exhibition aim is to draw a trajectory in the history of Italian fashion from post-war to present and to highlight future challenges posed to it by the global market. It narrates the world of high-end fashion with a special focus on craftsmanship and high-quality manufacturing typical of the made-in-Italy. From one-off pieces or haute couture to off-the-peg or ready-to-wear the show narrates how small local industries all over the country (a digital map will show the location and process of making across valleys and regions in Italy) became synonymous of quality and style worldwide. Few garments by Maria Grimaldi, maker of Margaret Abegg wardrobe show how a small atelier could challenge French couture whereas items like bespoke and ready-to-wear suits from the 50s and 60s, like an example from Rubinacci, will show how these garments were successful abroad.
Nevertheless the show is about more than fashion design; it casts light on a cultural phenomenon and a golden age that incorporates a much broader range of cultural aspects. It frames the success of Italian fashion through major mundane events, movies and interior design to show the real industry of taste present in the country. For instance it highlights how Italian fashion became renown throughout the 50s and 60s thanks to Hollywood productions filmed in Rome such as Anthony and Cleopatra, War and Peace and Roman Holidays. Jewelries from Bulgari collection once owned by actress Elizabeth Taylor will be on display as well as pictures of Hollywood stars such as a shot of Audrey Hepburn visiting the Ferragamo store.
Similarly, the exhibition presents the key events which signed the beginning of commercial fashion in Italy like the Sala Bianca catwalk shows in palazzo Pitti in Florence organized by Giovanni Battista Giorgini (early 50s) or mundane events like the black and white ball in 1966 at Plaza in New York. An evening dress for this party designed by Mila Shon for Princess Lee Radziwill will be on display.
The show will also highlight how brands and big names of the fashion world became, especially from the 80s; as important as celebrities, this cult of the designer had a huge impact on Italian and global culture. Names like Gianni Versace, Giorgio Armani and Dolce & Gabbana will be widely represented always with a focus on those special expertise and attention to details maintained even in ready-to-wear fashion. Examples from Walter Albini’s work (S/S 1973), a pioneer in high-style machine-made clothes, will be showcased as well as one Versace’s suit from collection S/S 1985 where juxtaposition of patterns design and materials was masterly controlled. In other words the show highlights how Italian fashion design initially based on craft and do-it-yourself philosophy has re-invented the industry reaching global success.
The show also addresses the question of the future of Italian fashion through a video with a series of interviews to important names of the market. Questioning how Italian fashion with a tradition of small family businesses can resist global industrial processes and maintain its leadership on the market is one of the open questions raised by this part of the show. Instead of traveling to the Bel Paese the exhibition will be hosted abroad only by the US.
The event is sponsored by Bulgari http://en.bulgari.com/
What can be the lesson of more than 60 years of hegemony of Italian fashion that can still be valid in the future? What can be the answer for this industry to remain competitive?