Fashion, Italian style
Italian fashion-which encompasses designers and companies from Armani to Aegna-has become a
dominant force in the fashion world. This stunning book discusses the rise of Italian fashion since
1945. the development of the Italian Look from the late 1970s to the present, and the many great
designers who have contributed to Italy‘s fashion triumphs.
Valerie Steele describes how Florence, Rome, and later Milan all became important fashion
centers and how other Italian cities play specific roles within the country‘s fashion system. She explains the tradition of ―classic‖ men‘s tailoring, the importance of accessories, the special
connection between textile production and fashion, and the reasons why different fabrics or goods.
And she analyzed the integration of the various sectors of the fashion industry, a uniquely Italian
model quite different from those found in France, Britain, or the US. Written in Steele‘s lively
style and lavishly illustrated with photographs of fashion ensembles, runway shots, advertising
images, and more, this book is the first to celebrate Italian fashion in its many guises.
This book is the catalogue for an exhibition, sponsored by the Italian Trade Commission, at the
museum at the fashion institute of technology in New York City.
The concept for the exhibit Fashion ,Italian Style, which is organized by the Fashion Institute of
Technology in partnership with the Italian Trade Commission（ICE）, arose from a desire to celebrate Italian creativity and expertise as manifested in the field of fashion design and
production. The aim is to highlight the wide range of products, from clothing to accessories that
makes Italian style the ultimate trend in contemporary fashion.
This exhibit is an important part of the marketing campaign“Italia－Life in I Style”recently
launched to promote Italian products and the Italian lifestyle on the U.S. market. This long－range
program not only celebrates a beautiful product, whether it be a scarf, a purse, a pair of glasses , or
an evening gown, it is also a wonderful opportunity to discover and celebrate the Italian flair for
sophistication, exquisite craftsmanship, and technology.
It is also a cross－marketing experiment with two other important examples of Italian creativity：
interior design and film. Each of these three sectors has influenced the other, each doing its part to
define what is now known as the Italian lifestyle.
This exhibition will reveal the whole process of Italian fashion, illustrating what we create and
who is behind the production process, a process that incorporates the Italian tradition of fine
craftsmanship with state―of―the―art technology that has put the Italian fashion industry in the
vanguard. It will also illustrate how an idea, a “look”, or a simple feeling has been given shape in silk, leather ,or even plastic. Thanks to the contributions of each of these crafts, the sense of Italian
style is appreciated and emulated worldwide.
But most of all, Fashion, Italian Style is an invitation to share and bring into your everyday life a
feeling of beauty and a particular way of life：Italian Life in I Style .
Fashion, Italian Style
Today Italy ranks with Paris and New York as one of the top three players in the world of fashion.
Yet before 1945, Italy was primarily an agricultural country with an illustrious cultural history.
There was essentially no industrial production of fashionable clothing in Italy, and Italian
couturiers produced little that was innovative or influential. After the Second World War, Italy was
in economic ruins. The rise of Italian fashion since 1945 has been nothing short of astonishing.
How and why did Italian fashion become to so successful so fast？ Ｔhe development of a recognizable “Italian Look”is generally thought to have taken place in the late 1970s, spearheaded by designers such as Armani and Versace. However, the foundation for
Italy‘s success began much earlier. Accessories have always played an important part in the Italian
fashion system, along with a strong tradition of tailoring and textile production. Even before the
Second World War, accessories by Ferragamo and Gucci were internationally famous. Italian
textiles were also highly prized. But Italian fashion took a quantum leap forward in the postwar
ear with the reconstruction of the Italian textile industry and the rise of Italian ready-to –wear
production. The commercial and cultural relationship between America and Italy played an
especially important role in the development of Italian fashion.
Deeply ambivalent about French high fashion, Americans ardently embraced the casual elegance
of Italian fashion. By the 1950s, Emilio Pucci‘s brightly colored silk fashions were icons of
modern style, along with Vespa motor scooters and Olivetti typewriters. Capri pants, sandals, gold
jewelry, and chic sunglasses completed the contemporary ―Italian Look‖. Nor was it only a
‗question of women‘s fashion. Long before Armani revolutionized menswear, Italian tailors such
as Brioni created jackets that were as comfortable as sweaters. By the early 1960s, it was already
clear that Italy had changed the way the world looked. And this was only the beginning.
Italian style occupies a special place in the international fashion system. Yet the precise nature of
the Italian contribution to international style remains elusive. Is it simply that Italian craftsmanship
is superior? Is there something unique about Italian culture with which people around the world
want to identify? Is it that the ―Italian Look‖ of easy elegance has become the quintessential
modern style? As Luigi Settembrini has observed, Italian style is ―a difficult and intriguing
problem……which is constantly in danger of foundering on the stereotypical reefs of ‗national
characteristics of peoples.‘‖
According to Gianino Malossi, many Italians believe that ―Italian is the country of elegance‖.
Italians are fascinated by the idea of la bella figura, which they associate with ―the aptitude for seduction and the pleasure taken in living‖. As Malossi writes, ―The very idea of belong to an
elegant and seductive nation …whose success is based on elegance, arouses a feeling of
satisfaction and confidence in the average Italian. This positive attitude toward the question of
elegance has made a far from insignificant contribution to the development of the commercial
myth of Italian fashion. And the success of this myth, in turn, has strengthened its grip on the
But the success of Italian fashion is no myth. The significance of Italian cultural history－
including perhaps, a special feeling for elegance and sensuality－should not be minimized; but the
triumph of Italian style derives in large part from a uniquely Italian model of the fashion industry, quite different from that in other countries. It is immediately apparent, for example, that the family unit remains an important feature of the Italian fashion system. Craft traditions also remain strong. At the same time, the most up-to-date technology is readily available. Cities such as Florence, Rome, and later Milan have all been important fashion centers, but the geography of Italian fashion covers a large area, and different regions of Italy specialize in different materials and good. In addition to the regional segmentation of production in specific geographic areas known as ―the
Districts‖, the Italian fashion system is characterized by the vertical integration of production from fiber to finished item. Other countries have tried to replicate the Italian model, but, for reasons that will become apparent, it remains inimitable.
Form the Roman Empire to the Venetian Republic
The history of Italian fashion reflects the long and complicated history of Italy itself. Whereas Paris has been the political, economic, and cultural capital of France for centuries, the same can not be said about the role of Rome in Italy. In the ancient world, of course, Rome was the capital of an enormous empire, and the toga became standard male attire for members of the ruling class. Luxury goods such as silk were imported into Rome from as for away as China. But with the collapse of the Roman Empire, the Italian peninsula ceased to have a unified political structure. Rome itself experienced innumerable vicissitudes, although it remained the center of the Roman Catholic Church. Moreover, while classical dress continued to provide a certain prototype for ecclesiastical and legal dress, it differed in significant respects from the regular pattern of stylistic change that characterizes modern fashion, a phenomenon that most historians agree developed in Europe during the late Middle Ages and the Renaissance.
Can we then say that Italian fashion began in the Renaissance? Certainly, Italian city-states, such as Florence and Venice, played a vital role in the emergence of modern fashion during the Renaissance. Fashion requires a particular social and economic structure within which it can flourish, and a type of proto-capitalism conducive to the rise of fashion developed very early in several of the Italian city-states. In addition, textile trade and production form the material foundation for fashion, and textiles were one of the chief commodities traded by Italian merchants in the Middle Ages.
Italy‘s geographic position placed it at an advantage for trade. By the twelfth century, Venice,
gateway to the Orient, was one of Europe‘s most fashionable cities. The Venetian merchant Marco Polo traveled as far away as China, but most Italian trade in silk was with Byzantium and Persia. Sicily was among the earliest centers of artistic weaving and sericulture in Italy, both under the period of Arab domination and after the Norman conquest of Sicily in the twelfth century. The merchants of Lucca and Venice also began manufacturing silk textiles based on imported Eastern models. When Pisa conquered Lucca, many silk weavers moved to Florence, Venice, and Bologna. By the fourteenth century, Florence was producing some of the world‘s best woolen cloth, with fleece purchased from England and Portugal. By the fifteenth century, Italian weavers had
mastered the technology required to produce patterned velvets. Italian textiles were highly sought after throughout Europe. Renaissance art testifies to the creativity and technical skill of Italian weavers and other artisans. The Medicis, art patrons and rulers of Florence, began as wool merchants and money lenders. Some important names in contemporary Italian fashion also date from Renaissance. For example, in 1586, the Boselli family were silk merchants, and today Mario Boselli is head of the Camera Nazionale della Moda Italian.
Among the fashion trades in Venice between the thirteenth and the eighteenth centuries were the shoemakers and cobblers, tanners and other leather workers, silk weavers, wool spinners, cotton and linen weavers, dyers, tailors, furriers, haberdashers, embroiderers, ribbon and braid makers, button makers, and makers of spectacles. Until the fall of the Venetian Republic－the Serenissima
－these trades were organized into guilds. Although the guild system worked well for centuries, by the Napoleonic period it was no longer economically competitive. However, the persistence of craft traditions would later play an important role in the rise of Italian fashion. Historical forces delayed the subsequent development of a unified nation state in the Italian peninsula. As a result, other nations, especially England and France, moved ahead of a still-divided Italy. One of the consequences was that by the eighteenth century, Italian fashion had become derivative of French fashion (for women) and of English tailoring (for men). Beautiful clothes were still produced in Italy, as can be seen in eighteenth-century paintings produced in Venice and Rome, as well as in surviving examples of clothing; but the dominant trends in fashion were set elsewhere. Regional costume enjoyed a revival throughout Western Europe in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and Italian folk dress, in particular, was much appreciated by artists, but folk costume was marginal to the course of fashion history, which was essentially the history of urban dress.
Art and Industry in the Early Twentieth Century
With the rise of the haute couture in nineteenth-century France, Italian fashion fell further into a subordinate position vis-à-vis Pairs, the international capital of fashion. It is true that Italy continued to be recognized for its textiles and elegant craftsmanship. Italian artisans were, in fact, often employed by French couture houses to do fine handwork, such as embroidery, and to create a accessories, such as shoes and lingerie. Indeed, by the beginning of the twentieth century, Italian accessories were world famous. But a pair of shoes and an elegant handbag have always been regarded as secondary to the dress, and the dominant aesthetic of Italian fashion was for many years derived from the French couture.
There were a handful of exceptions. Mariano Fortuny (1871-1949), a Spanish-born creator of textiles and clothing, established a business in Venice in the late nineteenth century, producing a unique type of avant-grade fashion. His choice of Venice as a residence seems to have influenced his work, for Venice is the most ―Oriental‖ city in Italy, and Fortuny‘s fabrics frequently utilize Ottoman-style motifs. But although much admired by fashion connoisseurs like Marcel Proust, Fortuny‘s elegant pleated dresses and sumptuous mantles were essentially only an artistic alternative to fashionable dress. The same conclusion applies to the artistic textiles and clothing created by Maria Monaci Gallenga (1880-1944).
More significant historically was the steady evolution of quality as the leitmotif of Italian textiles and accessories during the period of transition from purely artisanal production to a modern industrial system. Silk weaving in Como began to be industrialized at the end of the nineteenth century. Mechanical looms and a factory system steadily replaced preindustrial workshops, but an emphasis on artistic design maintained a high standard of quality. Italian silks by companies such as Boselli and Ratti were highly prized throughout Europe, and were often utilized by Paris couturiers.
Menswear fabrics were also important. In 1836, Luigi Marzotto fouded a textile company in Valdagno, a town near Venice with a tradition of wool-making that dated back to the Middle Ages. Over the next century and a half, Marzotto expanded from one small mill to become a major industrial group of companies producing yarn, fabric, and apparel. In 1912, Ermenegildo Zegna started a company in Trivero, a village in the Alpine foothills, with the aim of producing the world‘s best menswear fabrics, superior even to the legendary English woolens. He selected the best raw material, invested in modern technology, and developed an internal creative design group, with the result that by the 1930s Zegna fabrics were internationally recognized. Many such examples could be given.
Accessories also flourished. Some of the most famous names in Italian fashion can trace their heritage to the beginning of the twentieth century. Gucci, for example, was founded as a saddlery shop in 1906 by Guccio Gucci. In 1923, he opened an accessory shop in Florence which quickly became known for handbags and other leather accessories.
Salvatore Ferragamo(1898-1960) was born in Bonito, near Naples, and learned the basic skills of shoe production while apprenticed to a local cobbler. In 1914, he emigrated to the United States, where he pursued his studies of shoe design and construction, establishing a business in California that attracted the attention of numerous celebrated clients. He returned to Italy in 1927 and set up a workshop in Florence which was soon to become one of Italy‘s most important fashion cities. There he created many innovative and influential shoe styles.
The cultural significance of fashion was certainly recognized by Italian artists and intellectuals. Fashion was made the central part of the Futurists‘ plan to remake not only art but life. The celebrated Futurist manifesto of 1914, Anti-Neutral Clothing, was intended to ―color Italy with
Futurist daring and risk, at last giving Italians combative and playful clothing.‖ Clothing was to be ―aggressive, so as to increase the courage of the strong and to upset the sensibilities of the cowardly, lending agility…..to add impetus in struggle, in the running or charging stride, strong
willed…like orders on the battlefield…Futurist shoes will be dynamic, different one from the other, in shape and in color, suitable for cheerful kicking …‖ As early as 1912, Giacomo Balla had created Futurist men‘s clothing in bright colors and bold patterns, designed to overthrow bourgeois
propriety. ―One thinks and acts as one is dressed‖, declared Balla. A year later, in the manifesto
Futurist Reconstruction of the Universe, Balla proposed transformable garments with mechanical additions.
Some of the same themes recur in the Manifesto of Futurist Women‘s Fashion of 1920, which argued that ―Women‘s fashion has always been more or less Futurist. Fashion is the feminine equivalent of Futurism. Speed, innovation, courage in creation…Futurist women will need to have,
in wearing the new styles of clothing, the same courage as we had in freely declaring our words, in the teeth of the recalcitrant ignorance of the public in Italy and abroad. Women‘s fashion will
never be extravagant enough…We shall create illusionistic sarcastic sonorous noisy deadly explosive outfits: spring outfits jack-in-the-box outfits changeable outfits, equipped with springs, strings, photographic lenses, electric currents, reflectors, perfumed, fountains, fireworks, a thousand gadgets capable of playing the dirtiest tricks and puling the most disconcerting pranks on clumsy suitors and sentimental lovers.‖ In 1919, the Futurist illustrator Ernesto Thayaht designed unisex overalls for men and women. A decade later, he called for clothing that would be ―simpler
and more practical than the current style.‖ Thayaht worte, ―Let new Italian fashion…be courageous and be a Futurist fashion, a simplified, adventuresome, and colorful fashion.‖
The first internationally famous Italian fashion designer was Elsa Schiaparelli (1890-1973), who was born in Rome in the Palazzo Corsini to a family of intellectuals. Significantly, however, Schiaparelli became famous only after she established a couture house in Paris, form which cith she achieved the international recognition denied to designers based in other countries. Believing fashion to be an art form, Schiaparelli often collaborated with other artists, such as Salvator Dali and Jean Cocteau. Together, they created striking Surrealist fashions such as the Shoe Hat and the Tear Dress. During the Second World War, Schiaparelli fled to the United States, but she continued to insist that ―It is not possible for New York or any other city to take the place of
The Fascist regime insisted, to the contrary, that Italian fashion should be national in character, drawing inspiration from ancient Rome, regional folk costumes, and the fashions of the Italian Renaissance. (The Nazi regime in Germany made similar claims, denouncing international, cosmopolitan fashion.) Mussolini‘s government established a National Fashion Office in Turin, advocating an Italian style. In 1942, the magazine Bellezza echoed the official line, arguing that ―Many people…thought that real elegance could only reach the Italian woman from across the
Alps(France) or across the ocean(the United States)…To continue on this path would not have been useful to Italy‘s economy. The War put up barriers between Italy and those who considered themselves to be the center of international fashion. These barriers acted like a green house and gave Italian fashion the strength to blossom.‖ Despite nationalist propaganda, however, fashion in Italy continued to be derivative. The autarchical economic policies of the Fascist government and the outbreak of war severely crippled the Italian fashion industry. Raw materials became increasingly difficult to obtain, while production and exports plummeted. The American market for Italian goods disappeared.
Reconstructing Italian Fashion
The development of an authentic Italian style and a modern fashion system occurred only after the Second World War, within the context of a new international fashion system. Moreover, fashion played a cathartic (and highly visible) role in Italy‘s economic Reconstruction. ―Italian fashion
regained its economic and cultural strength as early as 1946, and it went on to achieve a series of
successes in the atmosphere of active transformation that characterized the period just after the war,‖ observes Ornella Morelli. Although Italian clothing and accessories had been exported to the United States since the 1920s, there now developed a much more extensive commercial and cultural relationship between the two countries.
In her book, Reconstructing Italian Fashion: America and the Development of the Italian Fashion Industry, Nicola White describes the ―vital role‖ played by America. The Marshall Plan, of course, had a significant impact on Italy‘s Reconstruction, by providing financial assistance, but,
according to White, there were many aspects to American influence on the regeneration of the Italian textile and clothing industries. ―Firstly, through initial financial support and close involvement with the industrial organization of Italy; secondly, as a supplier of progressive manufacturing methods; thirdly as a cultural model; and fourthly, as a keen market.‖ Economic relations between America and Italy were facilitated by the existence of a substantial Italian-American community in New York.
Many Italian companies actively pursued the American market. Their initial emphasis was on prewar Italian export items, such as textiles, shoes, and handbags; but this soon expanded to clothing fashions as well. Within Italy, leading textile manufacturers and financial groups based in central and northern Italy invested heavily in the revival –and modernization – of the clothing
industries. For example, modern dress forms (―dummies‖) with collapsible shoulders and precise measurement marks were imported from the United States to facilitate international trade. Italian textile producers also actively promoted Italian fashion and often created innovative and exclusive fabrics for individual designers and clothing manufacturers. Although Italian designers and manufacturers did not pay for advertising in the American press, they found other ways to promote their country‘s sense of style.
The Nazi Occupation of Paris during the war had disrupted the centuries-long tradition of French fashion dominance. With Paris temporarily out of the picture, the United States made rapid progress in developing its own style of sportswear, which became an important influence on postwar Italian fashion. After Liberation, Paris regained its dominant position in the world of fashion. Yet beneath the surface, the French were struggling with the historic transition away from the couture towards ready-to-wear fashion. The buyers for American department stores initially promoted Italian-made goods as an inexpensive alternative to French fashion, but the triumph of ―Made in Italy‖ rapidly developed from a synonym for ―cheap‖ into an exploration of uniquely Italian contributions to fashion.
One way that Italian fashion designers and entrepreneurs sold the idea of Italian fashion was by emphasizing its aristocratic associations. American journalists responded by enthusiastically promoting the ―Italian Look‖, albeit through a veil of stereotypes. Vogue ,for example, identified Italian fashion with the seductive and aristocratic Italian woman: ―The sophisticated Italian
woman has, at the outset, two great advantages: Wonderful materials and an apparently inexhaustible pool of hand labor. The Italian woman of breeding also has a certain quality of relaxation (not unnatural since she seldom works) which endows her clothes with an easy grace, a free, uninhibited movement. Her thronged sandals help too, for her legs and feet are possibly the best in Europe.‖
Imagination, however, was still seen as an attribute of the French couturier. ―Italian clothes are
inclined to be as extrovert as the people who wear them…gay, charming, sometimes dramatic, but
seldom highly imaginative or arresting,‖ continued Vogue. On the other hand, Gucci‘s prestigious
bucket bag and Ferragamo‘s shoes were praised, as were sexy Italian playsuits; ―little-girlish but
in no way innocent.‖ And the prices(about $100 for a day dress and $200 for an evening dress)
―are far lower than in Paris.‖
Not only did American perceive the Italians as sexy and elegant, they also envisioned Italy itself
as a desirable tourist destination, thus enhancing the ―souvenir effect‖ of Italian fashion. Another
article in Vogue entitled ―Italian Ideas for Any South‖ promoted Italian ―sun clothes‖ as chic and
stylish. The allure of the Italian woman was again emphasized: ―It‘s a game they play in the European resorts- guessing how many well-dressed women are Italians.‖
The visual spectacle of the fashion show provided another means of promoting Italian design.
Although the Italian might not yet be able to challenge the creative authority of Paris, they were
―as good as anyone at putting on a ‗show‘.‖ Several important postwar fashion shows strategically
emphasized the connections between Italian fashion and Italy‘s heritage of art and culture. At one
show, held in Milan in 1949, the couturier Germana Marucelli presented dresses inspired by
Renaissance art. At another, even more famous fashion show in May 1950 at the Teatro della
Pergola in Florence, mannequins emerged from reproductions of famous Renaissance paintings.
The “Birth” of Italian Fashion at the Sala Bianca in Florence
The commercial ―invention‖ of Italian fashion is usually credited to Giovan Battista Giorgini, who
organized a fashion show on 12 February 1951 at his residence at the Villa Torrigiani in Florence.
A businessman, Giorgini had considerable experience in selecting Italian-made products for
American department stores, and he decided to showcase the designs of a few Italian firms.
Featured were the Roman couturiers Maria Antonelli, Carosa(Princess Giovanna Caracciolo),
Alberto Fabiani, the Fontana Sisters, Emilio Schuberth, and Contessa Simonetta Visconti, along
with Jole Veneziani, Marucelli, Noberasco, and Wanna from Milan, and four designers in the
boutique sector: Emilio Pucci, Baroness Gallotti(known as ―the weaver of Capri‖), Avolio, and Bertoli. Together they showed 180 creations.
Only eight American department store buyers and one journalist attended the fashion show, but the
trade publication Women‘s Wear Daily published a front-page article: ―Italian Styles Gain
Approval of U.S. Buyers.‖ When Giorgini organized another big fashion show in July 1951,
featuring designers from Rome, Milan, Turin, and Florence, almost two hundred American buyers
and journalists attended the event at the Grand Hotel in Florence, along with another hundred from
Italy and elsewhere in Europe. Afterwards a grand ball was held at which important guests from
around the world were asked to wear garments of pure Italian inspiration.
Soon afterwards Life published a major article entitled ―Italy Gets Dressed Up,‖which reported
rhapsodically on how Italy‘s ―amazing postwar recovery‖ had resulted in the development of a
―fledgling fashion industry‖ that attracted American buyers and was even said to ―pose a challenge
to Paris.‖ American fashion leaders were said to have ―descended on the little museum city of
Florence,‖ like a ―friendly invasion.‖ The fashion show was crowded and disorganized , ―but the
eager-to-please Italians‖ did their best and ended by ―scoring‖ a real success. According to the
American journalist, ―Italy…made a good beginning in its upstart attempt to enter fashion‘s big
leagues.‖ The French press warned that ―the bomb‖ exploding in Florence menaced the
―monopoly‖ of the Parisian haute couture.
The next ―Italian High Fashion Show‖ was held in July 1952 at one of Florence‘s most beautiful
settings, the Sala Bianca of the Palazzo Pitti. This event is widely regarded as the ―birth‖ of Italian
fashion. Nine high fashion houses participated, along with sixteen houses presenting sportswear
and boutique styles. The nineteen-year-old Roman couturier Roberto Capucci made his debut. As
the press observed, ―The white and crystal splendour of the Pitti Palace‖ provided an appropriately
impressive setting for Italy‘s fashion shows. Florence quickly became a regular venue for fashion shows, and the Pitti Palace was regularly ―jam-ful for buyers and the press for the Italian
Even Francophiles like the American fashion editor Bettina Ballard succumbed to the charm of
Italian fashion, ―because it was so manifestly attractive to discover fashion in a country so full of
treasures to see and eat, and people who were so polite and open-armed.‖ In addition to the
fashion shows, there were glamorous social events. Fashion buyers and journalists were delighted
to mingle with Italian aristocrats at grand balls held in historic settings. Unfortunately, no sooner
had Florence emerged as the center of Italian fashion than eight Roman designers defected from
the fashion show at the Sala Bianca, preferring to show their clothes two days earlier in Rome.
―Civil war has broken out in Italian fashion,‖ reported La Nazione.
Ultimately, a compromise was worked out, whereby Florence showed accessories and boutique
fashions, while Rome became the center of the couture or alta moda. Meanwhile, Italian designers
began to tour American, organizing fashion shows at department stores and social events
(including parties at the Italian embassy) and even on American television shows. By the end of
the 1950‘s, Italian fashion was being exported in significant quantities to the American market,
where there was considerable enthusiasm for the casual elegance associated with Italian style.
Italy Changes the Way the World Looks
―Just Like the Chianti, Italy‘s fashions are becoming as well known as its table wine,‖ reported
Life in 1952, adding that Italian fashion was no longer seen primarily ―in terms of handbags and
umbrellas.‖ The comparison is telling. If the French haute couture was still the fashion equivalent
of a fine bottle of Chateau Margaux, then Italian fashion was young and fun, relatively
inexpensive but also sophisticated and European. Like Italian design in general, from Vespa
motorscooters to Olivetti typewriters, Italian fashion was characterized by a ―pared-down, modern
look.‖ However, as Nicola White astutely observes, ―the reputation of Italian fashion was [also]
firmly rooted in high quality and traditional associations; casual sportswear became casual
Italian designers excelled in casual, but elegant, sportswear separates, which suited a postwar
lifestyle that was less formal, less stratified by class, and more international. ―There are three
exciting things about Italian fashion today,‖ declared American Vogue in 1952.
The first is that Italy is capable of producing a kind of clothes which suit America exactly…Namely: clothes for
outdoors, for resorts…[and] separates, fads…all the gay things, all the boutique articles and accessories.
The second is the fabrics – anything and everything pertaining to Italian fabrics is newsworthy. native specialties, and urgently discouraged from French adaptations.
Despite a somewhat patronizing tone, this analysis was accurate. Italian textiles were consistently
outstanding. The quality of Italian products was high, and the cost relatively low. And Italian
designers were indeed strong in sportswear separates, such as Capri pants and knitwear, as well as
Almost a decade later, in 1961, Life celebrated ―The Bold Italian Look that Changed Fashion.‖
The past ten years had been a ―Dramatic Decade,‖ full of ―Knockout Clothes,‖ declared the
American journalist, adding that Italy had achieved great things in all areas of design, not only
fashion: ―Italy in a few brief years has changed the way the world looks – the cars, buildings,
furniture and, most universally, the women.‖ The Italian collections were now a major stop on the
fashion circuit; Italy exported more clothes than any other country. ―But Italy‘s fantastic fashion
record does not rest on volume alone. Her designers have contributed an outstanding list of style
changes,‖ including ―the most striking color combinations, the tightest pants, [and] the wildest
The success of Emilio Pucci, one of the first international stars of Italian fashion, was inseparable
from his kaleidoscopic textile designs, which were made up into scarves, shirts, and other
separates. A Pucci scarf might be printed in more than a dozen colors, in a swirling abstract design.
He also paired Capri pants with silk shirts in bold scarf-print designs, helping to establish one of
the classic styles of the twentieth century. Like many Italian designers of this period, Pucci was an
aristocrat, whose palazzo in Florence was an impressive Renaissance structure. He entered the fashion business almost by accident, when a ski outfit he had designed was featured in Harper‘s
Bazaar in 1948. After the show the Sala Bianca in 1952, he began collaborating with all of the big
American department stores, visiting America often.
Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, Pucci‘s brightly colored ―featherweight‖ silk jersey separates
were symbols of the international ―jet set.‖ He also experimented with synthetic materials, such as
Emilioform (a mixture of silk and nylon), and with stretch fabrics. The better to minimize weight
and volume, he eliminated linings and paddings from his clothes. An opponent of the restrictive
girdle and underwire brassiere, Pucci developed soft, unstructured undergarments – made also in
his signature prints. In its liberation of the body, Italian fashion was in the forefront of cultural
developments. Flaunting bare feet and legs in sandals and no stocking, and wearing dresses