The second I caught wind that The Glamour of Italian Fashion would be the subject of the V&A’s major fashion exhibition this year I just knew it would be fantastic and that I would utterly adore it. You see, my own love affair with fashion began in Italy. Prior to that I was a die hard, pony obsessed tomboy with a (self inflicted) cropped hair cut the likes of which only a mother who secretly wants her young son to be bullied inflicts, and a penchant for tracksuits of the non fash variety. Then on a fateful family holiday to Rome aged 12, everything changed. My father was working on a TV programme called “Fashion House” at the time which, funnily enough, starred a then unknown Gareth Pugh. Visiting the studio and seeing the young designers at work was fascinating, even for someone (me) who knew basically nada about fashion. And by the time we’d unloaded our suitcases and headed to the nearest café for Capuccinos (this felt so sophisticated at the time) I’d decided that I wanted to grow up to be one of these chic signorinas with their slinky silhouettes, fur trims and exotic handbags thrice the size of their teeny tiny dogs. But ultimately what sold me on all things sartorial was the exquisite, unparalleled glamour I spotted in the boutiques. Visiting the Dolce & Gabbana on the Via Condotti was my lightbulb moment. I didn’t have the foggiest clue about the painstaking hours of hand stitching or the ancient artisanal techniques that went into creating the magical confections I saw before me. I just knew they were part of a magical, glamorous world that I desperately wanted to be a part of too.
Inside the exhibition space…
A decade later, and with a degree in Fashion History and Theory (almost) under my belt, I like to think I’m slightly less clueless now but The Glamour of Italian Fashion 1945 – 2014 still taught me more than just a thing or two. The first major exhibition to explore Italy’s fashion legacy, the show contains an enormous and diverse range of material. It begins with the tale of Italy’s first steps into the international fashion arena during the 1950s, when entrepreneur Giovanni Battista Giorgini began luring the press over to Florence after Paris fashion week with a series of ‘Sala Bianca’ fashion shows displaying the virtually untapped wealth of fashion prowess the country had to offer. From there the show charts Italian fashion’s development, both in terms of image and aesthetic, including ensembles ranging from bespoke Rubinacci men’s tailoring and Maria Grimaldi evening dresses from the 1950s to Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccoli’s latest Valentino creations by way of 70s Missioni, 80s Versace and oodles of divine Dolce & Gabbana confections.
Dolce & Gabbanna ankle boots
Despite the endless supply of glittering eye candy on show, the focus of the exhibition is firmly on craftsmanship. While Paris may play home to haute couture, the exceptional quality of techniques, materials and expertise that Italian fashion has brought to the fore since the 1950s also has a legacy that harks back to the days of yore. While many of us find this kind of thing gripping, in depth information on spinning, dyeing, weaving, cutting and stitching runs the risk of seeming a little dry, especially if you don’t have a particular interest in the subject. The V&A deftly sidestepped this potential pitfall through creating a digital map that visualises the networks of mills, workshops and related industries across the country. So even if traditional hand beading doesn’t float your boat you’ve still got a snazzy bit of technology to content with. On the subject of technology, The Glamour of Italian fashion does not only revere the past. The show also looks forward, considering how a national industry underpinned by tradition is adapting to today’s age of lightening speed fashion, global markets and digital media. This offers a captivating insight into how an industry steeped in history can in fact be perfectly positioned to adapt to the future.
Evening dress of embroidered net and matelesse coat by Mila Schön
Given the wealth of jaw droppingly beautiful examples of Italian design available, it would be easy to simply show them off and still pull the crowds in. It’s a true testament to Curator, Sonnet Stanfill that The Glamour of Italian Fashion exhibition manages to truly convey the depth, intelligence and legacy of the country’s sartorial heritage… Amid, some extremely gorgeous dresses.
The Glamour of Italian Fashion will run at the Victoria & Albert museum until July 27th 2014. Click here for more information.
Love Ella. X