From June 5 to September 7, 2015, explore the history of Italian couture at The Frist Center for the Visual Arts’ latest exhibition, Italian Style: Fashion since 1945. Originally curated at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, Italian Style is on the third and final stop of its U.S. tour, previously having graced the Minneapolis Institute of Arts and the Portland Art Museum. The exhibit features more than 90 gorgeous garments and accessories by Armani, Gucci, Prada, Valentino, Versace, and many more prolific fashion houses.
From the Frist Center’s website:
“Based on new archival research, this elegant and comprehensive exhibition explores the development of both womens- and menswear and highlights key designers and the outstanding techniques, materials and expertise for which Italy has become renowned.”
Italian Style takes visitors through several decades of fashion evolution, beginning with the overthrow of the Fascist Party, a time when Italy was wracked physically and economically by the effects of the Second World War. As the Frist Center’s release explains:
“The exhibition begins in the recovery years following World War II, when Italy’s government aimed to reinvigorate a country weakened in spirit and in physical and financial ruin. The swift retooling of Italian factories alongside efforts by the country’s many entrepreneurs helped fashion become a cornerstone of Italy’s postwar recovery.”
Walking through the exhibit, visitors will notice the drastic changes in Italian style that occurred following the country’s efforts to reinvigorate the economy through fashion: in the 1950s, designers began to create unique, stunning pieces out of high-quality materials, setting the prevailing Italian standard of luxury, craftsmanship, and a trace of the handmade; a “glamorous explosion” had indeed begun to take place throughout the country.
Italian fashion in the 1960s owes much of its success to the media spotlight on Hollywood’s “glitterati,” as American filmmakers frequently shot movies on location in Italy because of the low cost and other incentives. Stars such as Audrey Hepburn, Ava Gardner, and Gregory Peck were frequently photographed by the paparazzi both on and off set wearing Italian designs, which only added to the growing popularity of Italian fashion. Italian Style features dresses and suits worn by these stars and more, and yes, Audrey Hepburn was, in fact, as tiny as she appears on screen.
Eventually, manufactured fashion overtook the popularity of custom-made couture, and the “Made in Italy” phenomenon caused Italian ready-to-wear fashion to go international in the 1970s to mid-1980s. At this time, textile factories worked closely with designers, and each region in the country became famous for its specialized industry. Big-name designers began to emerge, many of whom have pieces on display in Italian Style. Visitors of the exhibit will be dazzled by intricately made knitwear, as well as unique leather and fur garments.
The exhibit comes to a close by focusing on the last ten years of Italian fashion, which as been deemed the “cult of the fashion designer.” Italian designers no longer simply create fashion–they have become celebrities in their own right. Many designers have become household names — Versace, Armani, Prada and Tom Ford for Gucci among them — and the legacy of their artistry will live on long after they are gone.