The Glamour of Italian Fashion at the V&A
The V&A’s ambitious and spectacular new exhibition focuses on the rise of Italian fashion, starting from the period that followed World War II, tracing its development from periphery producer of quality clothing after the French style, to international leader of style according to the irresistible gusto italiano.
After fighting left the country in ruins, Count Giovanni Battista Giorgini’s initiative to launch Italian fashion on the international catwalk began a surge of worldwide interest in the exceptional craftsmanship and vivacious, yet classic, character of Italian fashion. The exhibition opens with a long series of sumptuous crinolined evening dresses that date from Giorgini’s legendary 1951 presentation at his palazzo in Florence – a dream for those of us who like to gorge on pretty “princess” dresses. Names that are famous in Italy but perhaps unknown elsewhere are all included – the Fontana sisters, Carosa, Vanna, Simonetta, Fabiani, etc.
The curators have succeeded relatively well in relating the history, as well as the technical finesse that distinguishes Italian fashion production, with rooms dedicated to tailoring (where you can see among other pieces an Italian suit by the stilista Angelo Litrico, worn by John F Kennedy), and to Italy and Hollywood – where there is displayed the heavy-looking diamond and emerald Bulgari jewellery bought by Richard Burton for Elizabeth Taylor while on the set of Cleopatra. Audrey Hepburn’s beautiful Gattinoni costume for the film War and Peace is also displayed.
A gallery of Italian textiles and knitwear follow, featuring pieces from the 80s and beyond by Armani, Missoni, and Gianfranco Ferré that leads you to the show’s grand finale – a spectacular sfilata (or parade) of fashion, mainly from recent collections. Among others, there is a Dolce & Gabbana evening dress inspired by byzantine mosaics from their 2013/14 collection. Also on display is Roberto Capucci’s jaw-dropping sculptured evening dress from 1987/88.
On the walls are hung examples of Italian fashion publicity and photography, such as Benetton’s often shocking, fashion-free adverts for their brand, and a beautiful photo by photographer Paolo Roversi from 1988 – model Kirstin Owen, seen in profile, her beautiful features accentuated against the black background, like a Lippi Madonna.
The exhibition as a whole plays a bit like an advert for Italian fashion – of which all the major brands are exemplified – but who’s complaining when the products are of such quality and beauty?
Photos: Victoria and Albert Museum, London
The Glamour of Italian Fashion is at the V&A until 27th July 2014. For further information visit the museum’s website here.