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The Glamour of Italian Fashion 1945–2014

Start Date 05 April 2014
End Date 27 November 2014
Venue V&A
Location London, UK
Curator Sonnet Stanfill
Exhibition display of dressed mannequins

The V&A’s spring exhibition, The Glamour of Italian Fashion 1945-2014, will be the first major show to examine Italy’s rich and influential contribution to fashion from the end of the Second World War to the present. It will draw out the defining factors unique to the Italian fashion industry – the use of luxurious materials; expert textile production; specialist, regional manufacturing; and its strength as a source of both dynamic menswear and glamorous womenswear.

The exhibition draws upon original research undertaken within Italian archives. The story of Italian fashion will be explored through the pivotal individuals and organisations that have contributed to its reputation for quality and style, within the prevailing social and political context. On display will be around 100 ensembles and accessories by leading Italian fashion houses including Dolce & Gabbana, Giorgio Armani, Fendi, Gianfranco Ferré, Gucci, Missoni, Prada, Pucci and Versace, through to the next generation of talent including couture by Giambattista Valli, bold ready-to-wear from Fausto Puglisi and work from Valentino’s new designers duo Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pier Paolo Piccioli. It will also highlight the creativity of influential but less remembered figures such as post-war couturiers Sorelle Fontana (Fontana sisters) and Mila Schön and design innovators such as Walter Albini.

The exhibition will chart the shifting international perception of Italian style from the landmark ‘Sala Bianca’ catwalk shows held in Florence from the early 1950s, which propelled Italian fashion onto the world stage. Organised by Giovanni Battista Giorgini, these events presented the country’s finest designs, which offered a viable alternative to Paris. It will also examine the impact of the many Hollywood films that were shot on location in Italy during the 1950s and 1960s. During this period, stars like Audrey Hepburn and Elizabeth Taylor became style ambassadors for Italian fashion, fuelling a keen international appetite for luxurious clothing made in Italy.

The Glamour of Italian Fashion will highlight the exceptional quality of techniques, materials and expertise for which Italy has become renowned. Its status as manufacturer and exporter of some of the world’s most stylish and well-made fashion and textiles is linked to the strength of its traditional industries including spinning, dyeing, weaving, cutting and stitching; some of these traditions have been practised in regions around Italy for hundreds of years. A digital map will visualise the networks of mills, workshops and the clusters of related industries seen across the Italian landscape.

The exhibition will consider how Italy’s fashion designers, manufacturers, press and related industries are navigating the current shift towards overseas production, fast-fashion, internet retail and digital communication. It will conclude with a series of filmed interviews with key protagonists across the design, manufacturing and media sectors discussing the challenges and trends that will impact on and shape the future of Italian fashion.

Martin Roth, Director of the V&A said: “I am thrilled to be celebrating Italy’s immense contribution to the international fashion world in this first major exhibition on the subject. The V&A has a long tradition of working with Italian designers and this comprehensive exhibition will chronicle the development of the legendary Italian style, not only focusing on the familiar but, importantly casting light on the less well known designers and stories as well as considering the significant contribution made to the economy by its fashion and textile industries.”

The objects will be drawn from the V&A’s leading Italian fashion collections and from international lenders. These include private foundations, fashion houses and archives such as the Fondazione Emilio Pucci, Foto Locchi, Missoni Archive and Museums including the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York) and Galleria del Costume (Florence).

Images © Victoria & Albert Museum, London