The birth of Italian fashion  (Part two)

The father of Italian fashion
Giovanni Battista (Bista) Giorgini was a man that looked more like a great orchestra conductor than the impresario of Italian fashion, that took the emerging talents by the hand and lead them to the new fashion world. "He was a great gentleman, very elegant." Recalls Roberto Capucci. "A man of taste and culture. He was extremely familiar with the American market, and with its vulnerabilities, as well. He was not interested in the commercial aspects. He took no advantage of them. He was the father. Without him, perhaps Italian fashion would never have existed." 

A major fashion event

In 1950 Giorgini - a bloodhound of the beautiful and refined, a buyer working on order (that was his profession) - took the bull by the horns and announced to the American stores that he was organizing a major fashion event in Florence and he pointedly added - "after the great Paris shows". The French at that point were struggling to get into the ready-to-wear business as they saw the demand for haute couture fashion melting away before their eyes. What Giorgini did was boldly leap frog ahead of the French to bring the Italians into ready-to-wear before the French, always slow to move into new ways.

Restoring the image of Italy

Italy, after the Second World War, had fallen to the level of Third World country. It would not be an easy task to recover credibility and to sell the charm of Italian linen, Murano glass, Burano embroideries, the ceramics of Bassano, the straw and leather of Florence and, as the Italian pride of Giorgini would have it, restore the image of Italy, through the charm, the poetry, and the style, creating a truth that might be a minor truth, and not a decisive one, but still authentic and not quaint.

Creating the image

What was needed was a powerful idea, an image/product that was capable of attracting the spotlights and the attention of the press, and to hold centre stage with a "fairy tale" that would enchant the media - a locomotive capable of accelerating the noble freight train of Italian craftsmanship.

The remarkable intuition of Bista Giorgini was that the image/product needed, that locomotive, could be fashion, an Italian fashion that had to be invented practically from the ground up, because its whimpering birth cries were extremely faint when compared with the powerful "high C" of the French haute couture, and when compared with that ancient tradition, those well-tested talents, the new names of the post-war period, headed up by Christian Dior and Jacques Fath.

Giovanni Battista Giorgini triumphed due to his enthusiasm, talent, graceful ways, and elegance, but also due to a determination that was even willing to avail itself of bluffs. The resulting absolute and courageous recklessness made him take a leap into the void, guided only by the optimism of will.

The Protagonists
When at the end of the Forties, Giorgini began to develop the idea of an “Italian look” to be invented, reinforced, and offered to America as a way of regenerating the image of a discredited Italian craftsmanship, the “Pucci case”, if it had not exploded, was certainly bubbling away in the United States. It was the first signal of a market mechanism that could be exploited. And he already identified the right "team" to do so.

Simonetta Visconti

The war had shaken up life considerably. For the great names of nobility, and for women in general, working was no longer taboo. On the contrary. It was a fascinating new idea. Simonetta Visconti was working and she was designing a handsome fashion, by quite simply reproducing that which she herself, a woman of taste and determination, wore or would be willing to wear.

The Italian designers

For the first Italian fashion presentation, held at Giorgini's house on February 1951, there were nine names in the field of high fashion – Simonetta, Fabiani, Fontana, Schubert, and Carosa, from Rome; Marucelli, Veneziani, Noberasco, and Vanna from Milan. There were four in the area of boutique fashion: Emilio Pucci, who agreed to participate, Mirsa, Bertoli and, Tessitrice dell’Isola.

Pure Italian inspiration

On 12 February 1951, day wear, sportswear, boutique fashion and accessories would be presented; the 13th would be a day of relaxation and leisure; and the 14th, between a cocktail party and a grand ball, the evening wear would be presented. Giorgini had invited to the ball, along with his guests and buyers, and the fashion journalists, all of the Florentine aristocracy. In the invitation, the following phrase appeared: “The purpose of the evening is to promote Italian fashion. The ladies are therefore sincerely requested to wear clothing of pure Italian inspiration”.

The buyers

The buyers who agreed to be present at the Florence event, coming directly form the Paris’ winter fashion défilés, were Stella Hanania for I. Magnin, of San Francisco; Gertrude Ziminsky of B. Altman & Co., of New York; Ethel Francau, Jessica Daves and Julia Trissel of Bergdorf Goodman, of New York; John Nixon of Henry Morgan, of Montreal – only a few persons, but extremely important ones.

The journalists

Only five journalists were invited to that baptism of Italian fashion – Elisa Massai, the correspondent for “Women’s Wear Daily”, Elsa Robiola from “Bellezza”, Vera Rossi from “Novità”, Misia Armani from the periodical “I Tessili Nuovi”, and Sandra Bartolomei Corsi for “Secolo XIX”.

What the American market needed – and what Italian women soon needed as well – was a less sophisticated and complicated fashion product than what was being offered by Paris.

A successful event

On 14 February 1951, the last day of the Italian fashion event, after the last outfit, came the applause. But it could have been an applause of respect, as is customary in the theatre. When asked by Giorgini “How did it go? What was your impression?”, Stella Hanania, answered: “The thrill we had here we did not have in Paris”; while Gertrude Ziminsky said: “It was worth the trip”.

It had worked. Italian fashion had been born.

The escalation of Italian Fashion
For the summer event, held in July 1951 through some hot and sticky days, the event had to be moved to the Grand Hotel, due to an over-request of accreditations from press and buyers. The most important fashion journalists in the world (including Carmel Snow from “Harper’s Bazaar”, and Bettina Ballard form “Vogue”) sat in the front chairs, and the almost totality of the American commercial network was present. There was an applause for every House that presented, and approval and smiles.

Roberta Orsi Landini writes:
“At least Giorgini’s intention, was to be established as different from and not competition with Paris’s, since the image of Parisian fashion was too elevated to be touched. It was much more advantageous, instead, occupy all of the market sectors that had been left untouched by the French, presenting a more modern type of production, attentive to future demands. If we add to this the fact that prices were far lower than those of the French – half as high, in the early years – the sales pitch became more than persuasive.”

Moving to the Sala Bianca
Florence decided to give over to fashion, to the runway presentations of the fourth “Italian High Fashion Show”, the Sala Bianca of Palazzo Pitti. It all begun on Tuesday, 22nd of July, on an afternoon when the temperature hit the 42°C in the shade and thunderstorms were looming.

La Sala Bianca

It was not easy to get the permits to use Pitti’s ballroom, but it represented the most natural and fitting environment - with its elegance, Bohemian crystal chandeliers, the spaces, and the adjacent Giardino di Boboli - for the fourth Italian fashion show, one that attracted an unprecedented number of attenders amongst journalists, buyers, aristocrats and relevant personalities.
The capacity of the Sala Bianca, to be honest, was not huge, but it allowed Giorgini to also maintain the event intact, and to remain faithful to a fundamental principle of his strategy – that of a single runway.

The epicenter of Italian Fashion

From 1952 to 1982, the Sala Bianca in Palazzo Pitti was the stage for memorable fashion shows thanks to which Italian fashion became a worldwide phenomenon in terms of business and image. Palazzo Pitti became synonymous with contemporary culture and fashion.

Biggest fashion trade fair in Europe

In 1954 the Centro di Firenze per la Moda Italiana (CFMI) was established. From that time on, this organization would promote all the fashion events. There were 500 buyers and 200 journalists at the 1955 shows, making “Pitti” the biggest fashion trade fair in Europe.

By 1963, showing in the Sala Bianca was sign of total prestige: the ranks were joined by Galitzine, Ken Scott, Mila Schon, Krizia and Valentino. 1963 also marked the first presentation of men’s fashions. The center opened new offices and began to move outside Florence.

After having supported the birth of Italian High Fashion, and having contributed to the establishment of CFMI, Giorgini resigned from the organization in 1965.

La Sala Bianca, Fondazione Pitti Discovery

Credits: Story

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.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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