|Behind the Scenes at a fifties fashion show|
As is its want, fashion is determined by both political and social changes. From the twelfth century, right through until the early twentieth century, Italy thrived as an exporter of luxury fashion items, textiles and small leather goods. However, an insecure government structure resulted in the absence of a unified Italian fashion centre and so estranged the country's fashion artists from competing in the global market.
For the first part of the twentieth century, France monopolised the world of fashion, with Paris recognised as both the epicentre of chic and the global leader in couture culture. Italy, like much of the world, looked abroad for the latest fashions; wealthy women travelled to Paris to buy their clothes; wealthy men had their suits and shoes custom-made in London. The Italian middle classes employed dressmakers and tailors to produce copies of the latest Paris and London styles.
A crucial step in bringing Italian Fashion to an international platform was the first multi-designer Italian fashion show held in Florence in 1951. Florentine business man Giovan Battista successfully organised a fashion show of Italy's most promising designers including the pioneering works of Sorelle Fontana, Contessa Visconti, Emilio Pucci, Baroness Gallotti and Bertoli. The fashion press were enthused, reporting the show using rapturous phrases such as seductive elegance and aristocratic ease. The American fashion press in particular took notice and observed too that Italian dresses were coming onto the market at prices far lower than those for French creations. High-end American department stores such as Saks Fifth Avenue and Bergdof Goodman, sent representatives to review the collection and consequently the designs of Capucci, Fabiani and Sorelle Fontana were transported back to the States.
|Myrna Loy in That Dangerous Age|
|Sorelle Fontana design in La Dolce Vita|
|Audrey Hepburn in Sorelle Fontana|
Glamorous and sophisticated evening gowns and cocktail dresses designed by Pucci, Contessa Visconit and Sorelle Fontana were worn by both Italian and Hollywood movie stars both on and off-screen, most notably by Audrey Hepburn and Grace Kelly. First ladies soon took their cue and Jackie Kennedy and Mamie Eisenhower continued to display Italian design in the public eye. In addition to breathtaking cocktail dresses, throughout the 1950s, competing fashion shows in Florence and Rome solidified Italy's reputation for Capri pants, 'palazzo pyjamas,' and other youthful, elegant sportswear.
The continuing unity between life and film brought worldwide recognition to Italy and propelled Rome into the running for most glamorous international city. During the fifties, Italy created an empire of post-war fashion, and enjoyed an influential and unforgettable decade of style sovereignty.