The Glamour of Italian Fashion at the V&A – Exhibition Review

After a long hiatus from blogging, a year and a Master’s degree later, I am slowly settling into ‘real life,’ i.e. a full-time job. After a couple of interesting internships, I was lucky to snatch a great opportunity.

Gianfranco_Ferre_advert_1991
Gianfranco Ferre advert, Fall Winter 1991, (c) Gian Paolo Barberi

 

As part of my job, I attended the press view for the new exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum The Glamour of Italian Fashion.’ Without further ado, please find my review of the exhibition below (admittedly more a collection of my thoughts on the show) .

Maria Grimaldi, Evening Ensemble, 1950s
Maria Grimaldi, Evening Ensemble, 1950s

The exhibition is sponsored by Italian Fashion brand Bulgari, a fact that can’t be missed, as the visitor is informed of this through a highly visible branding on the wall opposite the entrance. My feelings about this corporate sponsorship are twofold – on the one hand, it attains to the increasing entanglement between the cultural and the consumer world (the latter is where the money is, isn’t it?). On the other hand, it is ultimately emblematic of the ‘glamour’ of fashion. This is, after all, a world of luxury and abundance, a ‘see and be seen’ display of wealth and beauty.

Two models in dresses designed by Jole Veneziani, 1956, Courtesy The Art Archive, Mondadori Portfolio, Electa
Two models in dresses designed by Jole Veneziani, 1956, Courtesy The Art Archive, Mondadori Portfolio, Electa

Keeping this in mind, I entered the exhibition, ready to suspend my disbelief in the necessity of glamour and prepared to be blown away by all its exuberance. Maybe this mindset was the reason why the exhibition eventually left me the slightest bit dissatisfied? Don’t get me wrong, the dresses and their presentation are beautiful!

The exhibition is arranged chronologically. The first room presents the beginning of the Italian fashion industry starting with the post-World War II establishment of the Sala Bianca, a fashion show and brand headed by Giovan Battista Giorgini in the 1950’s and still operating today. The evening gowns of the 1950’s and 60’s are stunning and I found myself staring at some of them for ages, having this indescribable feeling of experiencing something sublime.

Jumpsuit, 1981,Krizia, (c) Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Jumpsuit, 1981,Krizia, (c) Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Maybe this is the very problem, not only of the exhibition at the V&A, but more so of Italian fashion as such – moving along, the next rooms outline the history of the Italian dressmaker, the fashion of the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s. Great brands of the time, such as Emilio Pucci, Valentino Couture and Elio Fiorucci are introduced, but the styles never really change. The next room is decorated with a canopy of flowing white fabric and a catwalk that presents the Italian dress creations of the present. However, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I had encountered all this before, and that the highlight of the show for me really had been the ‘Red Dress with Flaring Waist Panels’ designed by Germana Maruceli in 1950, that I had seen in the first room.

Red Dress with Flaring Waist Panels,'Germana Maruceli, 1950
Red Dress with Flaring Waist Panels, Germana Maruceli, 1950 (for the lack of a photograph my sketch will have to do)

As a result, I couldn’t help but feel that there is a slight stuffiness about the Italian fashion of the famous brands displayed. This aspect is reflected by the V&A’s focus on history and chronological build-up. The dresses themselves are visually stunning and beautiful to look at and the exhibition comes as a great historical insight into what once must have been incredibly glamorous. However, one does sense a thin layer of dust settling on this very glamour.

Giambattista Valli Haute Couture Fall-Winter 2013-2014
Giambattista Valli Haute Couture Fall-Winter 2013-2014

The last room shows a film dedicated to the future. One of the interviewees alludes to what seems to be one of the reasons why Italian fashion has remained inherently conservative, while more innovative styles are presently created in Paris, New York, London and Berlin. He points out that several of the established brands are headed by patriarchs in their 70s who do not want to give up their position to fresher minds.

FENDI mink coat sketch by Karl Lagerfeld, Fall/Winter 2000
FENDI mink coat sketch by Karl Lagerfeld, Fall/Winter 2000

In this context, for me the title of the exhibition speaks of a certain nostalgia, and seems reminiscent of the brighter days of this industry. Nevertheless, the V&A did succeed in selecting the most astonishing relics of the Italian fashion’s history and united them to a most beautiful display that is well worth seeing.

The Glamour of Italian Fashion, 1945-2014
5 April – 27 July 2014 at the Victoria and Albert Museum
Saturday to Thursday 10.00 – 17.45 and until 22.00 every Friday
Tickets £12 (concessions available)

 

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