The V&A celebrates high-end Italian luxury, glamour and luxury

What comes to mind when Italian fashion is discussed? Versace’s Medusa head logo in shiny gold? Armani’s unstructured, sleek tailoring? Prada’s ladylike, textural sportswear? Jeremy Scott’s reinvention of Moschino – all colourful, kitsch, and surreal? Italian fashion is a combination of colour, fabric, and detail, and a touch of luxury.

All these elements will be explored in the new V&A Museum exhibition The glamour of Italian fashion, 1945-2014. The show, which has “glamour” as its title and Bulgari as its major sponsor, highlights Italy’s importance in the luxury market and the high status that many of its leading brands enjoy, whether they are in fashion clothing or leather goods.

 The exhibition is a continuation of previous shows, such as New York Fashion Now 2007, but expands on the idea of a fashion city to include an entire culture.

Luxury and glamour Victoria and Albert Museum (c).

Sonnet Stanfill is the curator of this New York show. She aims to bring together different aspects of fashion, from ready-to-wear to couture, with a broader understanding of production and craftsmanship. The curator, Sonnet Stanfill, who was also behind the New York exhibition, clearly aims to integrate discussion of different aspects of fashion design – from tailoring to ready-to-wear and couture – with an understanding wider issues such as production and craftsmanship.

Fashion’s deeper meaning and significance as a material and visual symbol of national identities is revealed. Fashion is a major contributor to national economies, both by itself and also through attracting tourists and connections with other aspects of culture, such as cinema and interior design.

This grounded perspective opens up the world of fashion. The show features almost 100 mannequins wearing outfits from 1960s Pucci bikinis printed with the label’s trademark swirling colours of the sea to Dolce & Gabbana designs based on Byzantine church frescoes. The exhibition also includes film clips and sketches by designers that allow visitors to examine the creative process and its relation to political, social and economic contexts. The exhibition is more than just a chance to admire the breadth and scope Italian high-end style, which is impressive.

Silk Roberto Capucci gown Victoria and Albert Museum

The exhibition begins in the postwar period and immediately addresses Italy’s weak position following the conflict, and America’s role as a financial and practical supporter via the Marshall Plan. The exhibition tells a story about fashion history, which is strongly connected to emerging and recovered national identities. It spans Roman opulence, Florentine historical influences, and workmanship, up to the push for industrialized but quality-focused production in Milanese Ready-to-Wear by the end of the 20th century.

It also shows how important textiles are to Italian fashion. All fashion is based on fabric. The range and quality textile production in Italy has a long-standing tradition and an unrivalled reputation. Italy’s fabric factories are able to meet designers’ exact demands and produce high quality materials. This has been the key to its success.

Elizabeth Taylor is wearing Bulgari jewellery. Victoria and Albert Museum

This expansive exhibition highlights the influence of a few individuals who have shaped Italy’s fashion image. Designers such as Giorgio Armani, Miuccia, and icons such as Marcello, Mastroianni, and Elizabeth Taylor who wear the clothing, are all part of this exhibition. The importance of family-run business is also shown, as with the Fendi sisters and their fur label.

It is a clear indication of the direction Italian style is heading in. In recent years, Italy has been marked by political scandals, economic problems and social unrest, all of which have affected its fashion. China is a good example of how new markets and production centres are emerging. The global tastes have been influenced by large conglomerates that own multiple brands such as Gucci.

The emergence of newer brands like MSGM is perhaps the most exciting. We can only hope that Italy’s style will be re-energized. Italy’s new brands are continuing to showcase the importance of Italian heritage. MSGM, for instance, is known for its signature style that focuses on innovative prints, interesting color combinations, and sportswear worn alongside tailoring.

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