Glamour is Made in Italy


Gianfranco Ferre advert 1991

Gianfranco Ferre advert 1991

2014 promises to be a good year for the Italian fashion industry. According to the Camera Nazionale della Moda Italiana (CNMI) it should see turnover from clothing and accessories rise 5.4 percent to 62.5 billion euros (51.85 billion pounds). The Victoria and Albert Museum has therefore chosen an excellent time to celebrate The Glamour of Italian Fashion 1945 – 2014.

The exhibition starts in 1945 and for good reason: fashion has been pivotal in Italy’s post-war recovery. At a social level, years of deprivation may also explain a hunger for glamour. The ancestor of the coveted Milan Fashion Week was born in Florence in 1951 in the Sala Bianca where Emilio Pucci was already showing his work.

Evening dress of silk designed by Roberto Capucci in 1987-1988

Evening dress of silk designed by Roberto Capucci in 1987-1988

Aside from that historical fact, is there anything to learn out of the exhibition? The exhibition revolves around three main facts that surely are not ground-breaking. ‘

  • ‘Made in Italy’ has become over the years a mark of style and a pledge of quality,
  • the Italian craftsmanship is stellar from leather to fur via textiles and is regionally specialised,
  • the cult of the designer that started in the 1970’s had shifted the focus from luxury handmade couture to designer ready-to-wear (with export increasing by 300% between 1970 to 1985).
Installation view of The Glamour of Italian Fashion 1945 - 2014

Installation view of The Glamour of Italian Fashion 1945 – 2014

Going from one dress to the next, it is almost disturbing to see how the designers have become households names from TV sets to the high street, from magazines to tabloids, from billboards to American Psycho: Prada, Miu Miu, Dolce & Gabanna, Versace, Valentino, Armani, Gucci… and it seems like this well-established trend started in the 1950-60’s’s Hollywood teams would come to the Cinecittà to film on site allowing for images of celebrities shopping in Florence and vacationing in the Amalfi Coast to be seen around the world.

Anita Ekberg in La Dolce Vita

Anita Ekberg in La Dolce Vita

What is glamour? The Oxford Dictionnary defines glamour as

An attractive or exciting quality that makes certain people or things seem appealing.

In this respect, what is at the end of the day what is Italian glamour? Even before stepping into the V&A, some cult images popped into my mind: Anita Ekberg in the fountain in La Dolce Vita, Marcello Mastroianni in his impeccable suits, Sophia Lauren getting married Italian style or Audrey Hepburn enjoying a Roman Holiday. Once insie and because I link Italian glamour to this era the two dresses that caught my attention are those Mila Schon designed for Marella Agnelli and Lee Radziwill for the Truman Capote Ball in 1966. How could it get more glamorous?

Lee Radziwill with Truman Capote at his ball in 1966

Lee Radziwill with Truman Capote at his ball in 1966

The rest of the exhibition focuses however on the Italian savoir-faire. If its making is interesting, what is, ultimately, the quality that makes this Bottega Venetta bag so appealing? Should you believe the curators of the exhibition you would be made to believe that it is his impeccable craftsmanship. But by and large isn’t it an accessible piece of an Italian dream? What has this dream become since the 1970’s? What are the images in color that have replaced the black and white ones in our imaginary world? Has Italy become sexy with the porno chic wave that hit glossy magazines? Many questions that the exhibition leaves unanswered despite its very glamorous opening night.

The Glamour of Italian Fashion 1945 – 2014, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, until July 27th, 2014.

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