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Thursday, 10 April 2014

The glamour of Italian Fashion ....Bellissimo!

As you would expect from a siognee fashion plate such as yours truly, I am always interested in the latest collections coming off the catwalk. In the fibreglass world of style I inhabit, many are the hours we models have conversed on the minutae of fashion whilst gazing out serenely along the high street of a high end boutique near you.

Given this mild obsession, I recently visited (with some excitement), the V&A’s newly opened exhibition “The glamour of Italian Fashion” bumping into my good friend Author Jonathan Baker on the steps of that hallowed institution!
Installation image of the Glamour of Italian Fashion 1945 - 2014 at the V&A. Copyright the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. 
 From the moment I glided through the entrance of the show it was apparent that luxury and impeccable detail were the order of the day; Italian fashion being synonymous with elegance, quality and style. Understated opulence marked out the show – set against skyward marble backdrops and images of countless contessas parading in 1950s ballrooms. Jonathan and I spent the morning discussing fascism, the Marshall plan and of course the many merits of the frocks on show. I may be a fibreglass doll, but I’m an intellectual one!
Installation image of the Glamour of Italian Fashion 1945 - 2014 at the V&A. Copyright the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
The Italian fashion industry thrives on a particular reputation which differentiates itself from Paris, London and New York  by virtue of certain subtle attributes. Where one would expect to see sportswear par-excellence in New York, chi-chi ultra feminine looks in Paris and rebellious streetwear in London; Milan exudes a controlled elegance, whether subtle as at Armani or in-your-face as at Versace. Behind it all is a reputation built on a heritage and history that can be traced back hundreds of years.

There is much discussed in this exhibition about Italian fashion that would not be apparent from a mere glide through your local department store taking in the everyday high-end Italian brands on display. Did you know, for instance, that Italian Fashion Week originated in the 1950s as a series of small, exclusive Florentine catwalk shows called Sala Bianca. These soirees were organised by Italian businessman Giovanni Battista Giorgini and panned out over some days, punctuated by balls and cocktail parties. Giorgini saw the potential for rebranding the Italian fashion industry and the possibility of building international export if he could encourage international buyers to visit the country. Hugely successful; his take on luxury and elegance was much adopted by the Hollywood Glitterati of the day, which further fanned the frenzy for Italian style. Who could fail to recall the glamour of 1950s film-making without reference to Fellinis glamorous heroines, most especially the luscious Anita Ekberg in La Dolce Vita; who must surely be the epitome of gorgeous Italian sophistication.

The textile history of Italy is discussed in great detail. Area after area of the country are documented as specialising in different artisinal skills and materials, which when put together make up a formidable powerhouse of high-end manufacture and design. Leather, fur, tailoring, knitwear and workroom skills along with a certain precise styling are shown off with examples of outfits by many designers; both well known and obscure, who make up a lexicon of the county’s most exportable designers.
Image copyright to the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. 
The story comes right up to date with a new modern era which took off in the late 60s, when a new breed of designer stepped forward, becoming the template for international super-brands as they are known today. Included here are Armani, Versace and Missoni and more recently Prada, Gucci and Dolce and Gabbana. Interestingly the only non-defined area of the show, was the thought of what the future holds for this country within the jostling pack of international cities vying for the fashion crown. Apparently of uncertain and confused direction, we wait to see the outcome … but we know it will always be with particular attention to the studied style and glamour that the Italians are known for worldwide.

Italy, I am donning my latest Dolce and Gabbana as I salute you – bellissimo, Dear readers!
Installation image of the Glamour of Italian Fashion 1945 - 2014 at the V&A. Copyright the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
For more on this story and the mannequins displaying the outfits please see the Proportion London website

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