Eleganza exhibit makes fashion history a page in everyone’s book
Displaying beautifully crafted clothing and accessories is easy—the real challenge is telling a story that resonates with everyone, regardless of their interest in fashion.
Eleganza: Italian Fashion from 1945 to Today, presented by the McCord Museum, is an inspiring journey that transports viewers from the post-World War II birth of Italian fashion to the nation’s contemporary haute couture. Organized by the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, Eleganza demonstrates every component of Italy’s multi-faceted fashion history. Milanese silk, Florentine leather, Biella wool and diverse sewing techniques passed down from dressmaker to apprentice come together in fantastically constructed garments, shoes and accessories.
The exhibit also documents the pivotal moments in which the work of Italian dressmakers, textile workers and designers made waves around the world. Dresses displayed at the country’s first international fashion atelier, held in Florence’s Salla Bianca (White Hall) at Palazzo Pitti in July of 1952, are nothing short of a vintage fashion dream. Their hand-constructed full skirts and expertly cinched waists embody the 1950s, but they are still wearable—even in today’s age of crop tops and boyfriend jeans.
Eleganza pays tribute to the Hollywood films shot on location in Rome’s Cinecittà studios during the 1960s, featuring garments from movies like War and Peace. Other pieces from the fashion industry’s major events, including the 1967 New York Black and White Ball, are exactly as elegant as you would imagine: flowy, floor-length ensembles covered in stylish beading and precious diamanté.
The Italy-meets-America space also exhibits a noticeable shift from costume to casual, or better yet, from couture to ready-to-wear. Minimalist, sporty pieces like a 1969 black and white jumpsuit as well as a bold-patterned legging and tunic combo capture modern elements of Italian fashion that are still seen on today’s runways.
Ambling from room to room, admiring the variety of clothing from the feminine silhouettes of the 1950s to the wild, shoulder-padded 1980s and the familiar haute couture of the 2000s, it’s easy to picture yourself wearing the garments out of the exhibit to your next party. That’s the ultimate allure of Eleganza and its story of Italian fashion— nothing is truly ‘out of style,’ especially when it’s been handcrafted. The timelessness of each article, along with the sheer time and effort put into constructing the garment, entices everyone from fashionistas who adore making a statement, to minimalists who prefer a simple, clean-cut look.
The final room features a runway packed with couture ensembles. A fantastically embroidered floral gown by Giambattista Valli is poised beside a luminous Sicilian mosaic-like midi dress by Dolce & Gabbana. Viewers are surrounded by opulence, but can appreciate the various ways in which the craftsmanship of the earliest Italian dressmakers has continued to influence the country’s contemporary brands.
There is a looming issue that the exhibition rightly addresses. As the globalized world continues to outsource work, the fashion industry finds itself doing the same. Soon, ‘Made in Italy’ labels will be a rarity. Amidst the rooms of gorgeous gown, shoes and accessories, viewers are forced to consider the future of Italian fashion as its roots in handmade craftsmanship slowly disappear.
Eleganza: Italian Fashion from 1945 to Today is open to the public until Sept. 25, 2016. For more information visit the McCord Museum website.