Sorelle Fontana: Illustrating the Glamour of Italian Fashion

Discover more than 40 sketches from the Sorelle Fontana Foundation

Figurine Wedding Dress Margaret Truman (1956)Fondazione Micol Fontana

Sorelle Fontana: Illustrating the Glamour of Italian Fashion

How has Italian style changed from the 1940s to the 1990s? From the 1930s military style with simple, straight lines, following the United Nations' austerity and sanctions in 1935, through to the refined lines of the 1960s and the minimalist, high-tech fashion of the 1990s. This is a journey through the sketches of the Fontana sisters (founders of Sorelle Fontana); an immortal testimony of a style that has evolved over the decades.

Tea dress (1948)Fondazione Micol Fontana

The 1940s and 1950s Stylistic Period

Autarkic fashion emerging from the United Nations' war crises and sanctions in 1935.The regime promoted domestic production, which was a major stimulus for the Italian textile industry and the clothing industry in general.By the end of the 1930s, women dressed in military style with square, padded shoulders, and a straight and simple line. The period saw refined elegance with assembled fabrics, including jersey, tricot, all kinds of cotton, faille and velvet for evening-wear, and artificial silk (rayon); orthopedic shoes (cork soles); and the production of raincoats to protect jackets, with raglan sleeves that led to the name "waterproof."

The Female Silhouette in the 1940s

The appearance of the tulip skirt, and puffed, soft lines with draping and bold prints.

Christian Dior defined the success of French fashion with his "New Look" style: a narrow waist with a bell-shaped or corolla skirt, 30 cm off the floor. The slender waist was achieved using a corset, a rounded bust and sleeves, and gently sloping shoulders ("flower woman"). It saw the use of large quantities of rich, precious fabric in the detail, which gave the textile industry a new economic impetus following the world conflict. It also involved vibrant accessories—gloves, foulards, umbrellas, velvet hats, high-heeled shoes—and the use of starch for support.
Evening dresses were long and generally romantic in style with bare shoulders, tight-waisted bustiers, and large skirts with tulle crinoline petticoats.

Late 1940s
The "Hollywood on the Tiber" phenomenon was born: international directors and actresses visit Rome and choose Italian fashion houses.

Sketch wedding gown (1949)Fondazione Micol Fontana


Linda Christian's marriage to Tyron Power in Rome. All the world's press publishes images of the bride's wedding dress, created by Sorelle Fontana, and the event marks the international launch of the "Made in ltaly" phenomenon.

Full cocktail of sheath dress (1949) by Antonio PascaliFondazione Micol Fontana

Stunning evening dress (1949) by Renato BalestraFondazione Micol Fontana

Tea dress (1949) by Antonio PascaliFondazione Micol Fontana

Cocktail dress (1950) by Antonio PascaliFondazione Micol Fontana

Full in black silk velvet evening (1950) by Antonio PascaliFondazione Micol Fontana

Dress in black velvet cocktail, (1950) by Antonio PascaliFondazione Micol Fontana


Marquis Giorgini of Florence invites already famous Italian fashion houses such as
Sorelle Fontana, Schubert, Fabiani, Carosa, etc. to model in front of the specialized press and international buyers for the first time. It was an incredible success and marked the beginning of Italian fashion.
The legendary "plus" size was born, also inspired by cinema.
Short, rolled-up jackets, pleated petticoats, knee-length dresses with underlined waists, stiffened busts with stitching and embroidery, full bodied bodices, the "8-shape," flax fabrics, shantung, mikado, trimmings, lavish embroidery based on various sources of inspiration, and the use of chenille.
Dior, Baleniciaga, Schiaparelli, and others launch new geometric silhouettes such as H-, A-, Y-, tulip-, and balloon-lines, using beautiful Italian fabrics.
Famous celebrities, actors, and singers such as Marlon Brando, Elvis Presley, and James Dean create styles that are imitated by countless fans.
The "USA College" style is born with blouses, poodle skirts, minuscule patterns, and twin-sets.
Italian designers have great success in the United States, spreading "the Italian look."

Figurine of the wedding dress and the wedding photography studios with Ava Gardner and Rossano Brazzi (1953)Fondazione Micol Fontana

Cocktail dress (1955) by Lino PellizzoniFondazione Micol Fontana

Fashion Sketch of dress 'Nodi d'Amore' (1955) by Antonio PascaliFondazione Micol Fontana

The Love-Knot Dress

This dress was used in at least two movies: originally for Antonioni's "Le Amiche" (The Girlfriends) and in the 1990s, in the movie "Facciamo Paradiso" (Looking for Paradise).

Figurine Wedding Dress Margaret Truman (1956)Fondazione Micol Fontana

Long dress evening gowns, Lino Pellizzoni, 1956, From the collection of: Fondazione Micol Fontana
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Ballgown for the Soraya Princess of Persia (1956)Fondazione Micol Fontana

Cocktail Dress (1958) by Renato BalestraFondazione Micol Fontana

Dress evening gowns (1959) by Antonio PascaliFondazione Micol Fontana

Day Suit (1959) by Antonio PascaliFondazione Micol Fontana

Evening suit (1959) by Renato BalestraFondazione Micol Fontana

Fashion sketch: full-length jacket (1960)Fondazione Micol Fontana

The 1960s Stylistic Period

This period sees the gradual disappearance of the 8-shape, body shaping, petite and slender silhouettes, and agile skirts cut to just below the knee.The beginning of the period sees beautiful, refined fashion with various silhouettes: redingote, sack, and blended.The second period is more turbulent, with a range of trends.Geometric Fashion, (Optical Art)Mary Quant launches the miniskirt on an international scale. Tights with lace and embroidery are worn with boots of varying lengths.Cold geometry, even in prints;The use of metalic materials by Paco Rabanne;Silver tones by Courreges;The use of plastic materials by Cardin;Selenium shades and astronaut helmets for a spatial linearity inspired by the lunar landing.Missoni invents the "Nude Look" and Irene Galitzine creates the "Palazzo Pyjamas."The boldness and clarity of these silhouettes contrast with a new look derived from the emerging hippie movement.Remote Indo-European roots are revisited, with strong, blurred colors, imperfect handmade prints, long, navy skirts with cotton or patchwork crimps, bandeaus, folk blouses, ruffled scarves, flowers, chains, etc.At the end of the 1960s, youthful controversy and rebellion influenced designers.Alongside the fashion of the "flower-power generation," there are jeans and metal vests, while miniskirts continue to be worn with thick stockings or bare legs.

Fashion sketch: long dress (1960) by Antonio PascaliFondazione Micol Fontana

Fashion sketch: purple coat in wool (1960) by Antonio PascaliFondazione Micol Fontana

Little coat (1961)Fondazione Micol Fontana

Evening dress (1961) by Antonio PascaliFondazione Micol Fontana

Dress, model "Garden of my dreams" (1962)Fondazione Micol Fontana

Fashion sketch: complete in tweed (1963)Fondazione Micol Fontana

Princess dress (1964)Fondazione Micol Fontana

Sleeveless sheat dress (1964)Fondazione Micol Fontana

Cocktail dress (1965)Fondazione Micol Fontana

Sleeveless dress (1965)Fondazione Micol Fontana

Suit (1967)Fondazione Micol Fontana

Evening trousers dress (1968)Fondazione Micol Fontana

Mini coat "A" line (1969)Fondazione Micol Fontana

Long dress (1969)Fondazione Micol Fontana

The 1970s Stylistic Period

A Revival of Stylistic Concepts.A return to the fashion of the early 20th century with an elongated, soft silhouette.Unisex clothing and the casual style are born.Comfortable, layered garments, trousers and a choice of skirts: mini, midi, and maxi.Masculine jackets with hot pants, boots, large scarves, and chamois.Trends are varied, with folklore, romantic, oriental, and colonial inspirations, and colors ranging from pastel to vivid shades (post-modern fashion).The use of suede and tassels in the Italian style.Ready-to-wear clothing spreads, thanks to collaborations between major designers and textile industries.A great revival of Italian style and sartorial techniques.There is no single prototype of beauty: a person's image can change according to inspiration and is not limited by the time of day.There is a whirlwind of possible excesses.Trends are taken to extremes and "pop fashion" is born.The "Nude Look" moves from the bodice to the skirt, cut with overwhelming slits.

Suit (1984)Fondazione Micol Fontana

The 1980s Stylistic Period

The concept of beauty is enriched with sensuality.Elegance is divided, although no longer rigidly, into different times of the day: morning, afternoon, and evening.Clothes must reflect your social status.Return to the classics.Geometric lines with robust shoulders, designed to slim your hips and trim the appearance of your figure.A futuristic silhouette in search of volume and geometry.The length of dresses varies, with complete freedom of choice.Varied interpretations of the skirt, with plissè, waves, and draping(Poiret) on a bodice, which becomes increasingly important (reminiscent of the 1950s)High fashion flaunts wealth with the use of precious and sophisticated fabrics.Next, comes a democratization of ready-to-wear clothing, which becomes extremely casual and formal, while still bearing the signature of great stylists.Italian textiles continue to be the industry leader.Arrangements are made to produce clothing abroad to the "Made in Italy" taste.On the international scene, Japanese designers are working on original solutions with indigenous influences.

Evening dress (1984)Fondazione Micol Fontana

Evening dress (1984)Fondazione Micol Fontana

Long dress (1984)Fondazione Micol Fontana

Midi dress (1984)Fondazione Micol Fontana

Suit made of dress and bolero (1985)Fondazione Micol Fontana

Full evening wear (1985)Fondazione Micol Fontana

Dress in green oil silk crepe (1990)Fondazione Micol Fontana

The 1990s Stylistic Period

Reminiscent of the 1940s, 1960s, and 1970s. Varying skirt lengths, smaller proportions and volumes, and less gaudy colors compared to the 1980s. A generalized picture of "poor fashion." Globalization has caught up with the fashion industry, not only in terms of models styled by fashion designers, but also what is to be found in large warehouses and boutiques. High fashion and ready-to-wear clothing create models of apparent poverty, although with precious, refined fabrics and sought-after details. Shapes and styles change rapidly. New fibers (techno-fibers) with technological features and special properties are explored, made from combinations of yarns from different origins. Minimalist fashion made up of matching pieces of clothing is born, rejecting any formal desire for silhouette, cut, and detail, with colors that are deliberately black or off-black. High-tech clothing (a combination of sport and city wear, with agility as its main purpose), "retro," "grunge," and "girly" styles are in fashion. This eclecticism characterizes young fashion.

Cliffs fringed dress (1990)Fondazione Micol Fontana

Suit in red wool (1990)Fondazione Micol Fontana

Black velvet dress (1990)Fondazione Micol Fontana

Evening gown in fantasy chiffon (1993)Fondazione Micol Fontana

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Editing by Massimo Bevilacqua

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