The True Fashion Influencers: A Retrospect on Italian Fashion

eleganza

The True Fashion Influencers: A Retrospect on Italian Fashion

By Barbara Colacci

One cannot sift through the pages of a fashion magazine, or follow a popular contemporary fashion influencer without acknowledging the impact Italian design has had on the fashion industry in the last century. Names of iconic brands such as Versace, Armani, Prada, Fendi, and Gucci, as well as Missoni and Trussardi, just to name a few, although out of reach for the majority of the population, still represent an integral part of Italian culture and Italian pride.

These are brands synonymous with class, elegance, luxury and the ever-prestigious “made in Italy” quality. Some brands were born in the mid-nineteen-hundreds and were instantly appreciated by the well-to-do, as well as by presidents and first ladies of the world. Others were created a few decades later as family projects, and achieved great heights thanks to perseverance, passion and creativity. A few brands were born of humble beginnings and flourished despite personal hardships and the challenges presented within the industry itself.

Why is Italian fashion still at the forefront of the world’s most prestigious fashion weeks?

Fashionistas know, and true aficionados are familiar with the names of fashion pioneers like, Jole Veneziani, Mario Prada, Dante Trussardi, Valentino Garavani and Simonetta Colonna di Cesarò and can appreciate the impact each have had on the modern fashion industry.  Starting as early as the first decade of the 20th century, these monikers precede the iconic designers we know today. They are leaders in their own right, and in most cases their prominence can still be witnessed in Italy’s most popular high-fashion districts; in Via della Spiga or Via Monte Napoleone in Milan, in Via Condotti in Rome, or in permanent exhibitions honoring the contribution they have made to the industry.

We must acknowledge the legendary Jole Veneziani as one of the founders of the Italian alta-moda, organizer of the first Italian haute-couture fashion show in Florence in 1952. The average fashion connoisseur of today may not know the true impact of Veneziani’s creative genius and the extent to which her designs were in high demand among the world’s rich and famous of the time. Hollywood stars like Marlene Dietrich, operatic artist Maria Callas, and the Duchess of Windsor were among her greatest admirers.

Add image of Jole Veneziani design

Saying Italian fashion has progressed since the mid-nineteen hundreds might be contentious because in truth so much of what we see today is a direct influence of designers like Simonetta Colonna di Cesarò, who was cited in the New York Herald as early as 1951.

Simonetta was at the time primarily admired for her 2-piece suits and her fashionable coats, in fact the site fashionencyclopedia.com describes her work as such, “She could rival Balenciaga in creating coats and suits made in robust materials, cut with precision and minimal detailing to draw attention to one salient feature.” This description immediately brings to mind the minimalist style of Giorgio Armani, or Max Mara (also established around the same time as Simonetta), and their talent for bringing a single important feature to the forefront in their designs. The site adds, “Her fashion recognized the possibility of renewed elegance in postwar Italian and American life as well as the practicality of designing for distinctly modern women.”

When citing Italian iconic designers how can we not mention Roberto Capucci’s unique sculpted dresses, and avant-garde use of materials?  Each detailed piece resolving in unique silk plissés and one-of-a-kind designs inspiring generations to come.

Add image of Capucci dress:

Add image of a coat from simonetta and compare to max mara or Armani:

Fashion-Forward

What is progression in fashion really? Like all art forms, each artist can find inspiration from the other, and whereas each designer’s true creativity comes from within and can derive through personal experiences and teachings, it can also be a sign of the times. In fact, although we see classic design in recent haute-couture and pret-à-porter collections, some creations may be impacted by new technology, and innovative tools like we observed during this year’s Fashion Week in Milan, in the Versace brand’s daring collections. The Versace signature has always been at the forefront of innovation with the use of new materials and colour nuances.  Who can forget Versace’s metallic dress in the 1980s and the influence the Oroton patent has had on the Versace line, as well as on up-and-coming designers since then?

Add image of Versace fashion week + oroton 1997 design

Eccentric Yet Timeless Wear

We then also bear witness to brands that have stood the test of time, despite or perhaps thanks to, the audacious and juxtaposed creations, like Emilio Pucci’s unique patterns, for instance. The brand’s ever-recognizable prints have not only been perennial on the catwalks, but we have also noticed the inspiration in designers like Dolce & Gabbana, and the eccentric Moschino through the years. We see this both in the men’s and women’s collections, as well as in accessory design. Pucci, D&G, and Moschino creations would rival works of Dali, Monet, and Van Gogh in any museum.

Add d&g pics of boots

Moschino pics

Pucci’s official website explains the reason behind the fluid and colourful creations, “Pucci was driven by the desire to liberate women, granting them unprecedented freedom of movement.” Emilio Pucci’s iconic designs of the 50s and 60s lead to many a Hollywood star falling in love with their unique flare and brilliance, including the stunning Marylin Monroe who was ultimately buried in one of Pucci’s designs.  

 

And Then Came Man

Although Italian men’s fashion has always been, like women’s fashion, symbolic of class and elegance, it is only in more recent years that it has received the attention it deserves. In fact, the rise of the men’s fashion industry can be directly tied to the Italian post war era, with words like dapper or sprezzatura becoming part of the common lexicon when describing the fashionable gentleman.

Originally, the term sprezza dates back to an etiquette book written in the 14th Century by Renaissance author Baldassare Castiglione, and its definition as described in the book itself, is right on point, “a certain nonchalance, so as to conceal all art and make whatever one does or says appear to be without effort…”

Who might the classic Italian symbol of such sprezzatura be but the one and only Gianni Agnelli. Dressed often by the historical Sartoria A. Caraceni of Milan, Agnelli’s style continues to influence men’s fashion today. Although his iconic personal tastes sometimes tended to divert from the stuffy business suits of the boardroom, he knew how to dress for the occasion. His out-of-the-boardroom style paved the way for a more classic-casual work style which he wore exceptionally well. In fact, “the Gianni Agnelli look” is apparently still in high demand in sartorial boutiques.

Eternal Beauty and Style

Although the window displays in Via Condotti or Via Montenapoleone might be intimidating for some passers-by, the sense of pride one feels when acknowledging the influence names like Fendi, Schon, Gucci, Prada, Trussardi, and Zegna have brought to the world stage is nothing short of extraordinary. There is something for everyone in the displays: classic styles, ground-breaking designs, brilliant colours and monotone fashions, but most of all there is an Italianità (a sense of feeling Italian) not found elsewhere.

Understanding why Italian fashion, regardless of the changes it has gone through over the century, is still a symbol of refined taste and elegance is like trying to comprehend why art connoisseurs still appreciate work of arts created by the likes of Da Vinci, Monet or Vermeer. We each might appreciate a different style, colour, or material, but we all understand the quality, passion, and expertise that goes behind the creation of each great masterpiece.

 

Side bar:

Italian Fashion Houses Place & Year of Establishment

Nicola Trussardi Bergamo 1911

Mario Prada Milan 1913

Guccio Gucci Florence 1921

Edoardo Fendi Rome 1925

Salvatore Ferragamo Florence 1927

Simonetta Colonna di Cesarò Milan 1946

Jole Veneziani Milan 1950

Roberto Capucci Rome 1950

Max Mara Reggio Emilia 1951

Emilio Pucci Florence 1951

Ottavio Missoni Gallarate 1953

Mila Schon Milan 1958

Valentino Rome 1960

Bottega Veneta Vicenza 1966

Elio Fiorucci Milan 1967

Alberta Ferretti Cattolica 1968

Laura Biaggiotti Rome 1971

Giorgio Armani Milan 1975

Roberto Cavalli Florence 1975

Gianfranco Ferre Milan 1978

Gianni Versace Milan 1978

Romeo Gigli Milan 1981

Luciano Soprani Milan 1982

Franco Moschino Milan 1983

Dolce & Gabbana Milan 1985