Bellissima, Italy and High Fashion 1945-1968
by Maria Rossi
photography Giulia Venanzi
28 April 2015
Bellissima, Italy and High fashion 1945-1968—curated by Maria Luisa Frisa, Anna Mattirolo and Stefano Tonchi—isn't merely a historical narration of Italian high fashion. This illuminating show is, rather, an attempt to trace in retrospect a very particular moment in time: when the city of Rome was the creative incubator that lead to the establishment of an Italian voice in fashion design. Between 1945 and 1968, Italy was undergoing post-war reconstruction and under the sway of a radical shift in the classic value system of pre-war times.
Bellissima offers a visual account of precisely this extraordinary cultural milieu, teeming with creative exchange across all mediums of the arts and across all sections (social as well as geographic) of Rome. Indeed, artists dropped their sacred ateliers in favor of art galleries—Obelisco, Tartaruga and Salita, among the most important ones—and bars like Café Rosati in Piazza del Popolo. Those places became the new creative hubs where “conversations” would spark among fashion designers, the intellectual elite, collectors, beautiful women, dreamers and time-wasters. The language of fashion served as a common platform where cinema, art, literature and design intertwined. Fashion, more than any other creative discipline, captured the spirit of the times with an immediacy that has arguably no equal in other arts.
Bellissima shows 80 designer creations—ranging from the high fashion gowns which have graced the grand balls and theatre foyers of the last century, to the low-key elegance of cocktail dresses, to the chromatic explosion of exotic oriental and arabesque prints or the graphism of black and white experimentations derived from fruitful collaborations between artists and dressmakers. The latter phenomenon is particularly prolific in the sixties when art became a pivotal inspiration for fashion designers like Mila Schön—inspired by Lucio Fontana’s cut canvases—and Germana Marucelli, who would use kinetic prints created with artist Getulio Alviani to add dimension to her plissed silk gowns.
In the exhibition, the gowns are shown with the jewelry pieces from the 1950s Bulgari archive, and with shoes, bags and other accessories from Ferragamo, Gucci, Fragiacomo and Roberta di Camerino, among others. In addition, the pages of the fashion magazines of the times—like “Bellezza” and “Novità”—and the work of photographers Mulas, De Antonis and Garolla testify to the evolution in image-making, where women are no longer portrayed in dreamy ateliers, but are shown engaging directly with the city, almost in a reportage manner.
The post-war years saw a new desire for clothes that would mirror the sense of freedom and independence that women were experiencing in everyday life. The Italian high fashion production is the first to channel this spirit. In contrast with French couturiers, who advocated a return to Ancient Regime shapes and were involved in a creative research set aside from social reality, Italian dressmakers' creations are much more engaged with the real world. Thus even the most high fashion pieces—like the mink chevron Fendi coat from the Winter 1960 collection, below right—appear comfortable and functional.
The precious fabrics and the detailed embroideries in the couture pieces always resulted in simple and elegantly discreet styles. The cocktail pieces were shorter and easy to wear, and the daywear pieces—perfectly cut skirt-suits and coats completed with gloves and bags—conjure up the same kind of understated luxury that will soon define the characteristic of Italian prêt-à-porter.
The graphic rhythm of black and white is the creative staple of some of the creations on show, as in the Capucci coat below—an homage to Victor Vasarely. Indeed, the Pop and Op suggestions are among the most original experimentations of Italian fashion in the fifties and sixties, where the evolution of cut and silhouette is mainly derived from variations in prints and color, lengths and unusual fabric juxtapositions.
The collaborations between creatives like fashion designer Germana Marucelli and artist Paolo Scheggi—shown below, second left—exemplify how dresses were, in some instances, seen as downright canvases for artists’ research or as an occasion to experiment with new materials in fashion like plexiglass, as in the first Capucci gown, first left.
Bellissima, Italy and High Fashion 1945-1968 is at Maxxi, Via Guido Reni 4a in Rome, until May 3rd 2015.