Italian fashions of the 1950s parade down the runway inside the Sala Bianca. Credit: Submitted image

Italian fashions of the 1950s parade down the runway inside the Sala Bianca. Credit: Submitted image

Made in Italy

Updated: November 14, 2014 - 1:00 pm

Glamour, celebrity and craftsmanship mix in “Italian Style”; plus, fashion photographers at Weinstein Gallery

WHITTIER — Near the start of 1951, Giovanni Battista Giorgini, an Italian businessman from an aristocratic family, wrote to American department store buyers and fashion editors inviting them to linger another week in Europe after taking in the Paris fashion shows.

It would be decades before decades before today’s New York to London, London to Milan, Milan to Paris circuit of fashion weeks evolved. But what some consider the first true Italian fashion show was held that February in Giorgini’s Florence home, an event repeated the following year in the chandelier-lit Sala Bianca of Florence’s Pitti Palace.

Italy’s first turn on the catwalk sets in motion “Italian Style: Fashion Since 1945,” the story of how artisan traditions, homegrown industry and savvy marketing combined to make “Made in Italy” a global brand. The exhibition comes to Minneapolis from London’s Victoria and Albert Museum and includes about 100 pieces, some drawn from the V&A’s collection and some on loan.

It opens with two World War II-era women’s suits, subtly stylish but simple, both demonstrating refined tailoring but lacking any embellishments (a casualty of wartime restrictions on materials). As post-war Italy rebuilt its tattered infrastructure, the strutting fashion industry became a source of both national pride and economic revitalization.

By the ’50s, a runway show at the Sala Bianca might include a strikingly modern Emilio Schuberth gown in “sfumatura” gradations of rose and magenta taffeta covered in a black lace appliqué, as if silhouetted by the sunset, or a Roberto Capucci cocktail dress in violet with layers of scallop-cut silk. The Mayan hieroglyphic-inspired print makes a 1951 Emilio Pucci tunic — loose, cinched at the waist with a belt — an eye-catcher.

That kind of easy stylishness, combined with Italy’s high craftsmanship, sparked a mutual love affair with Hollywood in the 1950s and ’60s.

In 1953, Audrey Hepburn shot “A Roman Holiday” at Rome’s Cinecittà studio, where Elizabeth Taylor would film “Cleopatra” a decade later, and both women shopped avidly at the capital’s ateliers. Likewise, Marcello Mastroianni’s impeccably tailored suits in 1960’s “La Dolce Vita” were imprinted on the minds of American audiences.

When author Truman Capote threw his Black and White Ball at New York City’s Plaza Hotel in 1966, socialite Marella Agnelli and actress Lee Radziwill came dressed by Italian designer Mila Schön. Both ensembles are here: Agnelli’s a flowing caftan-style dress covered in beaded sunbursts; Radziwill’s a sheath with undulating streams of silver sequins.

These couture creations give way to the manufactured fashion of the ’70s. Regional industrial centers develop their specialties in a way that seems analogous to Italy’s regional foods: Parmigiano-Reggiano from Emilia Romagna, leather from Tuscany. Eat seafood in Liguria; buy wool in Biella.

That model fuels Italy’s ready-to-wear fashion industry, and exports rise 300 percent between 1970 and 1985. It gives rise to the “stilista,” an Italian creature that thrives at the nexus of fashion manufacturing, retail and press.

The exhibition concludes with a section that both celebrates Italian custom-made couture clothing and reveals anxieties about its future in a globalized economy. Icicle-like beads dangle from a witty, children’s wear-inspired Miu Miu summer 2014 printed wool coat and dress ensemble, and a evening dress from a Valentino’s fall/winter 2013 collection is an absolute show-stopper: form-fitting transparent netting and silk panels printed with a rhinoceros, coral, a dragonfly, an octopi and other curious creatures.

It’s a bit of a comedown, then, to watch the short documentary video playing in the next room. It features interviews with designers from Valentino and Italy’s other major fashion houses as they ponder a future of increasing foreign ownership and production.


Italian Style: Fashion Since 1945

When: Through Jan. 4

Where: Minneapolis Institute of Arts, 2400 3rd Ave. S.

Info:, 870-3000

A 1958 Lillian Bassman photo for a Chanel ad. Submitted image

Fashion seen through the lens

EAST HARRIET — It’s just a coincidence that Weinstein Gallery’s exhibition of women fashion photographers coincides with the MIA’s survey of Italian fashion, we’re assured, but it’s a lucky one.

Those who appreciate fashion photography’s giddy mix of art, style and commerce will enjoy watching the field’s evolution: from the relatively demure 1939 swimsuit photo by Louise Dahl-Wolfe, the model’s pose mirroring that of a poolside Aphrodite statue; to Deborah Turbeville’s inspired choice to stage a Vogue shoot inside a gritty, grimy New York City bathhouse; to the artful and contemporary work of South Korean photographer Ina Jang, whose minimalist sets seem to exist in a virtual space.

Lillian Bassman, who worked for Harper’s Bazaar from the 1940s to 1960s, makes moody black-and-white photos with a liquid sensuality. This looks positively avant-garde for 1951: a model tugging the drawstrings on her corset, her pale figure swimming in a pool of black space.

The French photographer Sarah Moon, working with designer Azzedine Alaïa’s fall 2006 collection, makes doubled images of her models in slightly different poses. Combined with Alaïa’s luxurious but slightly surreal surreal clothes, they are a dream of fashion. 

The Fashion Show

When: Through Jan. 17

Where: Weinstein Gallery, 908 W. 46th St.