The Glamour of Italian Fashion
An overview of seven decades of any country’s fashion output would be dizzying, but the mix of Italian flair in this exhibition is so flamboyant that it attains a gyroscopic stability: Elizabeth Taylor wearing a jeweled Bulgari headdress at a masked ball in Venice; black leather ankle boots with gold, white, and pink embroidery and stiletto heels; Valentino posing with a bevy of models by the Trevi Fountain; a fashion presentation at the Sala Bianca in the Medici residence Palazzo Pitti. There are hidden connections: Valentino Garavani, the haute couturieur, once sued Mario Valentino, the Neapolitan shoemaker who is said to have invented the stiletto heel. The Sala Bianca hosted the first Italian fashion shows in the early Fifties, the cunning invention of a Florentine promoter named Giovanni Battista Giorgini. The founding act of Italian fashion was to hijack the American buyers attending the real fashion shows of 1951 in Paris, and bring them down for an Italian fashion show—something no one had ever heard of.
The idea of nations hijacking each other’s fashion industries has become sadly au courant, as Italy has lately learned. The process was described with elegiac power in Edoardo Nesi’s book Story of My People (winner of Italy’s most prominent literary award, the Strega Prize, in 2011). Whether or not Italy’s fashion industry becomes a museum exhibit and little more remains to be seen.
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