Laudomia Pucci posed in front of a turquoise Lurex dress designed by her father, Emilio Pucci, in the Sixties.
On the other side of the undulating set at the Maxxi museum in Rome, Anna Zegna stood by a Mila Schön suit that is a legacy from her late mother’s closet.
But many other names are almost unknown in Bellissima, Italy and High Fashion 1945-68 (from December 2 to May 3). The show covers a post-war period when cinema, art and fashion in Italy were all being re-built from the ruins.
The filmstars from what was known as “Hollywood on the Tiber” — Ava Gardner, Anita Ekberg or Lana Turner, for example — are probably better known than the designers who dressed them.
But by presenting this intriguing exhibition in Rome’s modern art museum and exploring unfamiliar territory, the result has fulfilled the desire of Giovanna Melandri, president of the Fondazione Maxxi, to bring fashion into the realm of art.
“There was modernity in this period because of the fertile interaction between art and fashion,” she said of the post-war decade.
At the opening event there was a stellar turnout of those who rose to fame in a later period, including Carla Fendi, Frida Giannini, current designer at Gucci, and Rosita and Angela Missoni.
Carla Accardi Composizione Galleria nazionale d’arte moderna © Silvio Scafoletti 1950
Irene Galitzine, left, and right, outfits by Renato Balestra
Where London’s Victoria & Albert museum’s exhibition of Italian fashion last year focused on Italy’s fashion industry, Bellissima is about those earlier footsteps. (There are, of course, graceful and decorative shoes from Ferragamo to complete the picture).
An intelligent and visually appealing exhibition has emerged from the trio of curators: Maria Luisa Frisa, Anna Mattirolo and Stefano Tonchi. They have succeeded in making relevant a fashion that grew in Italy in the shadow of haute-couture’s glory years in Paris.
So while Balenciaga was sculpting noble silhouettes and Christian Dior was creating gowns in the caged corsets of his mother’s past, Italy was building a new modernity. Stefano Tonchi pointed to a Roberto Capucci coat with a similar minimalist spirit as a Lucio Fontana artwork; and a 1962 shantung dress by Germana Marucelli (whose work I don’t know at all) hand-painted by Paolo Scheggi. I though the result was rather Nineties Prada but I did not have the courage to ask Miuccia at dinner!
The exhibition, on a long undulating platform, is divided into eight categories from “arty” to “exotic”. In the “black and white” section it includes a stunning Sixties Fendi fur in chevron mink that I would bet was created by a young and unknown Karl Lagerfeld.
The sections are interspersed with accessories — especially the striking and colourful jewellery of Bulgari, the show’s main sponsor. I coveted a 1967 necklace in gold with ruby, emeralds, sapphires and diamonds that looked so contemporary. I was also drawn to a collection of madcap jewels in crystal on silver-plated aluminium from Coppola & Toppo. I also admired the silver disc jewellery Carla Fendi was wearing, so suited to that Sixties period.
Mini screens with clips from movies and fashion shows are both entertaining and modern. With them go the clothes of Rome’s Cinecittà years: swishing gowns from Sorelle Botti, cocktail dresses from Simonetta and the birth of Valentino’s style
I loved seeing the juicy red plastic roses from artist Alberto Burri in 1961 setting off a Valentino red dress with appliquéd roses; and the visual shock of two almost identical grass-green outfits from Irene Galitzine and Renato Balestra, the vibrant colours played off with Carla Accardi’s 1950 abstract composition.
Galitzine, like Pucci, was the start of something new: relaxed clothes with a casual glamour. That style includes Galitzine’s palazzo pyjamas and minidresses from Pino Lancetti and Tiziani, where Karl Lagerfeld was the designer.
Then came the more familiar Sixties: geometric minidresses. Tonchi explained the juxtaposition of Paolo Scheggi’s red and blue cubes in 1969 with Roberto Capucci’s red, black and white plastic dress from two years earlier.
Let’s hope that fashion-lovers can make Rome and Maxxi a destination, although such an imaginative and informative collection deserves to travel. For, as Tonchi says, these are the missing pieces in the jigsaw of how twentieth century fashion happened.