The Birth of Italian Fashion (Part one)
The Florentine fashion presentations
In the early years of the Florentine fashion presentations, the press spoke about an Italian style, rather than of a true Italian fashion. The collections, even though they were extremely rich in ideas, did not really seem to have all the strength required in order to impose a specific line of their own. They have style though: a very personal and modern style, which immediately ensured their success.
Italian style was a product of instinct, a quality that can be described as a second nature to the Italians, and which perhaps derived from the long-term exposure to art and culture, a prerogative that the Americans envied. Italian fashion was also free of the conditioning from major names of the past, and therefore appeared to be agile, youthful and midway between American standardization and the “very complicated” appearance of French fashion.
Made in Italy
The desire to surprise, to break away from the traditional approaches imposed by French haute couture, merged with the long-term experience using alternative materials. The need to provide a quality product, at the same time original and possibly difficult to copy, stimulated the Italian designers to try out all of the decorative techniques available, emphasising the techniques of manufacture and the arrays of designs – which were meant in some manner to make reference to an Italian tradition, or to hearken back to historical references, features of Italian art, and landscape.
Sports and informal apparel
The predilection of sports and informal apparel played another point in favor of Italian fashion, at the expense of the excessively sophisticated French fashion.
Raincoats, corduroy, and suede jackets, trousers, pullovers with carefully designed and simplified shapes, imposed themselves as products that were typically and successfully Italian.
The Italian cut
In the opinions of the buyers and the press, the practicality of Italian fashion was based on the simplicity of the cut, which made it possible to mass produce the outfits that were presented in Florence. This consideration, which may be applied to the boutique line of certain names and certain items of high fashion – in which the exclusivity was provided by the fabric used or the special workmanship – cannot be generalized. Season after season, with increasing maturity and confidence, the Italian designers perfected the cut so as to make it extremely functional to the construction of the outfit.
The factors of success
Craftsmanship, imagination, good taste, and artistic sense were the decisive factors in the success of Italian fashion. But perhaps the first and foremost in the scale of values, at least during the first years of the Fifties, was the relationship of price to quality of Italian products, linked to the low cost of labor and the crafts structure of individual companies, with a limited number of employees.
Brioni - for men and women
In January 1952, at the Grand Hotel, Brioni of Rome presented a smoking jacket made of shantung silk which accompanied the wedding dress by Jole Veneziani. The originality of the item, made at Giorgini’s suggestion with a fabric that was unprecedented for this type of outfit, was very popular. On the same occasion, the Roman dressmaker presented boutique items for man and woman with the same cut, anticipating the future of unisex.
In the wake of the now consolidated men’s fashion, which involved an entire vast sector of accessories, in November 1969, ready-to-wear fashion was presented in the Sala Bianca with twelve labels: Baratta, Caraceni, Datti, Litrico, Ken Scott, Nativo, Rosati, Siviglia, Valentini, Bazzarrini, Barbaro, Pucci (with fabrics by Ermenegildo Zegna).
The runway also served to present these various less well known sectors, but equally followed by buyers, because they were linked to Italy’s finest craftsmen. That is why it was necessary to create, alongside the fashion events, a specific exhibition for the accessories, which in 1955 became the most important event in the sector in Italy and Europe, with the participation of fifty dedicated companies.
With time, also Italian hats became an increasingly sought after product in terms of materials , colors, originality of style, competing for first place with France. The creations of Gigi of Florence, Biancalani, Canessa, Cerrato, Export-Zacco, Gallia Peter, Romagnoli, Cartoni, Lea Livoli, and Monsieur Gilles were no longer just accessories, but a necessary part of the line of the suit
The leading point or cutting edge of Italian style was constituted by shoes, which - in part by virtue of the promotion of the Houses of high fashion present at the Sala Bianca - had rapidly invaded all levels of the market, from the lowest to the luxe production. From the industrial production of Calzaturificio di Varese and the semi-industrial products of Magli di Bologna, to the shoes made by hand by Ferragamo. All of the shoe manufacturing sector of Italy was known throughout the world for the modern design, the excellent workmanship, and the quality of the leather.
“There are three exciting things about Italian fashion today: The first is in the fact that Italy is capable of producing a kind of clothes which suit America exactly – and producing them in a manner unequalled by any other European country. Namely: clothes for outdoors, for resorts, for travel, for skiing; separates, fads, looks, airs, tricks-all the gay things, all the boutique articles and accessories." (Continues)
(Continues) "The second is the fabrics – anything and everything pertaining to Italian fabrics is newsworthy. The third is the evening dresses, marvelously made in marvelous silks at a relatively low cost. […] These are the three things in which the Italians need to be encouraged: they should be given wings to develop their native specialists, and urgently discouraged from French adaptations – a tendency fast becoming a trend, and only because it is hoped that this will attract the American buying public”.
Italian Collection Notebook, "Vogue USA", 5 September 1952
“Italian fashions – with the aid of Italian fashionables – invaded the U.S. this spring to make a bid for a large share of the American market. On these pages, Look shows how six contessas and two marchesas – wearing the latest creations of major Italian designers – patriotically partied their way across the ocean to New York." (Continues)
(Continues) "In a dizzy, three-week whirl on this side, they appeared in Washington, and Hollywood. If the noble fireworks came off, Italy will see a record influx of American buyers at its fashion shows in July. The aristocratic ladies were highly optimistic, ‘Even the cloackroom girl at El Morocco‘, reports Countess Maria Brandolini, ‘asked me where I got my dress‘.
Fashions form Italy, "Look", 1 May 1956
“Early this year, under the low-hanging chandeliers of Florence’s Pitti Palace ballroom, beams of light played on the svelte fashion models, white-coated waiters passed drinks and sandwiches, and cable companies stood by to telegraph the buyer’s orders. American buyers were there in force; in fact, Italy’s fashion industry is now second only to tourism as a dollar earner." (Continues)
(Continues) "The rise of Italian fashion is in good part the work of Giovanni Battista Giorgini, known as ‘Il Papa‘ of fashion. Giorgini represents a long list of top U.S. firms, including Lord & Taylor, I. Magnin, B. Altman, Bergdorf Goodman, and Nieman-Marcus. He is also first president of Italy’s official fashion association and he has given the industry the prestige of Dior and the efficiency of Macy’s. […]”
The Italian Look, "Fortune", March 1959
All the images are part of the "The Sala Bianca. The Birth of Italian Fashion" book, curated by Giannino Malossi (1992, Electa, Milano) on the occasion of the exhibition realized by Pitti Immagine in palazzo Strozzi from 25th June to 25th September 1992.