‘The only word Elizabeth knows in Italian is Bulgari’ Richard Burton
The Italians have always been the kings of glamour, even when the kings were consuls and the height of fashion was a toga that gave an indiscreet glimpse of leather sandal. Since 1945 Italy’s influential contribution to fashion has seen the country change from a place of fascist dresses to barking-mad creations that push the boundaries of fashion to the limits. The exhibition The Glamour of Italian Fashion at the V&A shows the development of the industry and examines some of the major contributors to Italy’s reputation for quality and style.
Bulgari jewels at the V&A
Before Italy rose to its position of style-arbiter-to-the-world fashion was all about Paris. Anyone with delusions of style hopped on the Eurostar, or the Euro-Steamer as it probably was back then, and headed for the Parisian couturiers. But Italy has always had the necessary traditional industries to create high quality clothes. Many skills such as spinning, dyeing, weaving and stitching have been practised in Italy for hundreds of years. Once an impresario had realised that Italy could offer everything that France could but in an even more beautiful language, the fortunes of the Italian fashion industry were set on their upward trajectory.
Giovanni Battista Giorgini started things off with his landmark ‘Sala Bianca’ catwalk shows held in Florence from the early 1950s. These immediately propelled Italian fashion onto the world stage, presenting the country’s finest designs and offering a viable alternative to Paris. But they were helped by the film industry.
Fellini and Marcello Mastroianni were part of Cinecitta’s influential role in glamourising Italian fashion. Even more so, Hollywood films that were shot on location in Italy during the 1950s and 1960s allowed stars to become style ambassadors for Italian fashion. When Rome became a destination for Hollywood filmmakers from the 1950s onwards, many actors including Elizabeth Taylor, Grace Kelly, Audrey Hepburn and Ingrid Bergman wore Bulgari jewels. Richard Burton is quoted as quipping, ‘the only word Elizabeth knows in Italian is Bulgari’. This is almost certainly an unwarranted calumny as every one knows Ciao and after La Dolce Vita came out she would have known that pesky cameramen were called paparazzi. With such glamorous clients Italy was soon seen to be a vibrant competitor with Paris for high-fashion pounds and dollars.
The show includes around 100 outfits and accessories by leading Italian fashion houses including Dolce & Gabbana, Giorgio Armani, Gucci, Prada and many more. It also showcases work by the new generation of talent including couture by Giambattista Valli, bold ready-to-wear from Fausto Puglisi and work from Valentino’s new designer duo Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pier Paolo Piccioli.
The Glamour of Italian Fashion highlights the exceptional quality of techniques, materials and expertise for which Italy has become renowned. It includes many different outfits and designs, old film clips and even a Vespa!
The exhibition runs until 27th July 2014