The Legacy of Italian Fashion

Italy is one of the leading countries in the fashion industry, alongside France, the US, the UK, and Japan. Italians believe fashion to be an aspect of la dolce vita (the gay life / the good life). Italians have always been known for their attention of dressing well, or la bella figura.

From the time of the 11th century to the 16th, Italy reached its artistic peak in cities such as Milan, Naples, Florence, and Venice when they began producing luxury fabrics, cosmetics, jewelry, and well-tailored articles of clothing. From the 17th century to the 20th, French fashion took over the talk of the town. Or in this case, the talk of the world.

However, the night of the 12th febbraio 1951, fashion connoisseur Giovanni Battista Giorgini held an event that was invite only and took place in Florence. The invite explicitly stated “the aim of the evening is to give emphasis to the value of our fashion. Ladies are keenly invited to wear clothes of purely Italian inspiration.” Giorgini is thus credited with having created the first documented fashion show. As a result, Italian fashion began competing with the iconic French haute-couture labels such as Chanel and Dior.

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Giovanni Battista Giorgini

At the time, the strengthening of the international markets in the 50s allowed Giorgini to take on a more ambitious enterprise: that is, proposing an Italian spring-summer collection to the buyers of department stores that have just recently became mainstream at the time.

The first Italian fashion show included designs by Fabiani, Simonetta, Marucelli, and Venziani. The accessories were brought from Milan, Rome, and Florence. Finally, main buyers that were invited were Stella Hanania from San Francisco, John Nixon from Montreal, and Gertrude Ziminshy from New York.

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Designs by Fabiani, Simonetta, Marucelli, and Venziani of pure Italian inspiration

Vogue fashion press editor Bettina Ballard was also invited to cover the evening — at first, the event took place in a more domestic setting called the Grand Hotel in Florence. However, Florentine authorities decided to make this event an annual occasion that which would take place in a setting of prestige called the Sala Bianca at Palazzo Pitti.

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Italian Runway at the Palazzo Pitti

The annual event also began to evolve into initiatives of textile creations. This was of course promoted by Giorgini himself. Brocade specifically became a textile of evolution. Giorgini was also one of, if not the most understanding of the importance of ready-to-wear fashion.

In 2009, according to the acclaimed Global Language Monitor (GLM) that which analyzes, tracks, and ranks trends from an array of subjects. Milan and Rome are ranked in the top 5 fashion capitals of the world alongside NYC, London, and Paris. Milan being #1 and Rome #5.

Like that of the concept “Made in China” for any mass-produced good, “Made in Italy” is just as well-known of a merchandising mark for luxury goods. Specifically speaking, these luxury goods are known as the 4As — abbigliamento (clothing), agroalimentare (food), arredamento (furniture), and automobili (cars). Overall, these  4 Italian products have notably been associated with high-quality and audacious elegance.

Italian apparel and accessory companies are beyond influential that many French, British, and American high-regarded luxury brands like Chanel, Balmain, Ralph Lauren, and more refer to these Italian craft factories in Milan as their main suppliers or parts of their designs like the textile, leather appliqués, or accessory additions.

The Camera Nazionale della Moda Italiana is the Roman nonprofit association that promotes the development and knowledge of the Italian Fashion perspective by means of organizational support needed for certain events. In other words, this association coordinates all of the Italian Fashion Industry AND teaches the up-and-coming set of Italian designers. Currently, the Chamber is based in Milan and represents more than 200 companies operating in sectors from clothing to accessories to leather to footwear to distribution. The Chamber also directs key events, among the most famous is the Milan fashion week that was first established during the year the Chamber was created — 1958.

Now, I have reached my favorite part — luxury brand legacies. Firstly, the audacious Giuseppe Zanotti who is an Italian shoe designer born in, none other than the shoemaking capital of Italy, the town of Rimini. He first began his fashion career in 1962 working locally as freelance. Then, took over the shoe company Vicini. In 2000, he opened his first boutique in Milan and expanded to 50 stores globally thereafter. As a result, he has became a shoe-making God, even Nicki Minaj refers to his work as “monster.”

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Monster Giuseppe Heel that’s a Monster Shoe

Secondly, I would like to discuss the well-distinguished Giorgio Armani who is an Italian menswear designer acclaimed to be the most successful fashion icon that Italy has ever produced due to his talents of tailoring and manipulating clean lines. At first, he desired a career in medicine but then went into the army. During of which, he became a seller for a menswear department store, which resulted in his inevitable path to success. Apart of his legacy, he was the first to turn away models with the body mass index of 18 because of the shocking anorexic-inducing death of Ana Carolina Reston. Also apart of his legacy, he was the first haute couture designer to broadcast his fashion show via the Internet.

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Giorgio Armani

Lastly that I would like to include is the glorious luxury Italian fashion house Dolce & Gabbana founded in 1985 Legnano by designers Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana. Ironically, the two met in 1980 Milan. Within the next five years, the pair presented their very first collection of womenswear. After that, leotard-wear. The tandem is said to be the most successful duet in the world of fashion. The pair’s everlasting perspective on fashion has influenced the industry drastically by heightening the opinion and cost of eclectic thrift stop designs and colored animal prints. The power house also did this with underwear-as-outerwear looks, such as corsets and bra fastenings, which ultimately and positively affected the sexual revolution.

Many people credit D&G for the underwear-as-outerwear theme that has been adopted by many since, such as the drag community. However, when I was in Venice at the Scuola Grande di San Rocco, I debunked this claim. A mural painted by Jacopo Tintoretto in 1519 showcases a Renaissance woman wearing a low-shoulder cut, silk patterned gown with an outer, jew-embellished corset.

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Travel Journal: a Tintoretto

Other well-known Italian luxury labels that have their own legacies include Fendi the fur specialist (in 2015, Karl Lagerfeld said Fendi will begin showing ready-to-wear, ‘funny’ furs opposed to their authentic furs), Guccio Gucci the leather hand-bag specialist, Gianni Versace the apparel specialist, etc..

In addition to these luxury labels, Italy is the home to many fashion editorial magazines. The most prominent is Vogue Italia, which is the least commercial of all vogues and has been referred to as the top fashion magazine in the world by the GLM.

The year of Barack Obama’s presidential campaign was the year Franca Sozzani, the second editor-in-chief of the publication, produced an issue featuring only black models. This magazine issue claimed to showcase black models in response to anger caused by the lack of black representation on magazine covers — models included icons such as the one-and-only Naomi Campbell, the fabulous Tyra Banks, and the stunning Toccara Jones whom I might add was the first black plus-sized model to slay on the pages of the high fashion magazine. This issue was actually the first to sell out of print twice and tag-lined as “the Most Wanted Issue Ever” on the cover of the reprints. It was a huge stepping stone for the black community indubitably, especially in the fashion industry.

Other prominent Italian magazines include, but are not limited to GQ Insider Italia, Vanity Fair Italia, Glamour, and Grazia. MOST of all of them cover suppressing, relevant, and problematic topics such as racism, transphobia, xenophobia, discrimination against body types, and most prominently the sexual revolution.

Italy is also the home to many iconic photoshoot hot spots. One of the most interesting is the Bomarzo Gardens in Terni, also known as the Park of Monsters. Valentino’s Red 2013 autumn/winter ad campaign captured by Tim Walker took place here to showcase the ‘beauty and darkness of fairytales.’ From the use of props to the contrast between her romantic floral looks and the sinister setting, it is easy to tell this was Walker himself. Salvador Dalì (painter of the Persistence of Memory) produced a short film at the park. From the 19th to the 20th century, the garden was quite neglected, but Dalì brought more attention to the garden with his film that showcased Korean, Kim Chi-esque fashion. Vogue Japan‘s 2014 spring/summer issue was also taken here to showcase Eleonora Bruno’s primitive tribal aesthetic. Polish fashion model Magdalena Frackowiak posed for the “Ancient Songs of Paradise” editorial.

Overall, Italian fashion became the most fashionable in Europe during the 11th century, and reached its peak during the Renaissance. By then only royalty wore lux, specifically expensive furs, large hoop dresses made of unique brocade, tight corsets, exaggerated shoulder appliqués and collars, and flashy accessories from crowns to begemmed necklaces. An abundance of layers back then was necessary due to the Little Ice Age. Classic Renaissance looks like Bernardo Daddi’s Santa Caterina d’Alessandria currently showcased at the Museo Dell’Opera Delduomo,

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Travel Journal: Bernardo Daddi’s Santa Caterina d’Alessandria

Masaccio and Masolino’s 1400s one-point perspective currently showcased at the Santa Maria Del Carmine,

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Travel Journal: the Masaccio and Masolino

Francesco Traini’s Sainted Bishop,

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Travel Journal: Francesco Traini’s Sainted Bishop

and Luca Signorelli’s 1492 court gesture looks exhibit this fashion peak by being rich, colorful, embroidered, begemmed, and gracefully draped.

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Travel Journal: the Signorelli

Like Renaissance fashion, general Italian fashion has constantly been designed for the rich and famous. Until the 70s however, design labels began to place more of an emphasis on ready-to-wear. Throughout the long history of Italy’s fashion, legacies are shown to be built by playing with textiles based on their cuts, shapes, and textures. In addition, legacies are built by remaining up-to-date and defying conventional methods. It is important nowadays to introduce change in social and gender norms since that is the new status quo.

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