The glamour of Italy’s bella figura fashion style is legendary, and it’s surprising that no one has thought of examining it in an exhibition before. Now that is being put right with the elegant and entertaining The Glamour of Italian Fashion exhibition opening at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum on Saturday April 5 (see our behind-the-scenes story), which features around 100 creations by top Italian designers from 1945 till the present, and a lot more besides. Exhibitions nowadays need headline sponsors and many luxury brands would have loved to help out on this one, but the gig went to archetypal Roman jeweller Bulgari, whose work for the 1960s stars of Cinecittà, such as Sophia Loren and Elizabeth Taylor, helped define the fabled dolce vita as much as these screen divas’ lifestyles.
The collaboration came about through a meeting between Bulgari’s UK managing director Julie Ann Morrison and V&A curator Sonnet Stanfill to discuss their common interest in jewellery heritage, where the museum revealed plans for the Italian fashion exhibition. “We immediately felt a special affinity for an exhibition that would parallel a period of great creativity at Bulgari, so our sponsorship became a mutual project,” says Morrison. The exhibition puts Italy’s unique combination of artisan craftwork and high-quality industrial production into the social and political context of the country’s postwar development, and features designs from the early days of altamoda through the 1960s success of Pucci, Gucci, Valentino and Missoni to modern icons such as Armani, Versace, Dolce & Gabbana and Prada.
A major section is devoted to what Morrison describes as “Hollywood on the Tiber – when the then-youthful third generation of Bulgari was bringing a new exuberance and colour to jewellery that captured the imagination of the Hollywood stars filming in Rome and brought the house to the world’s attention”. Among the jewels was Elizabeth Taylor’s fabled emerald suite, now part of the Bulgari archive and on show in the exhibition.
To celebrate these astonishing pieces the house has created a collection of five high-jewellery items (all prices on request), on show at its London flagship store from April 5. They show that the house has lost none of its ability to source and set magnificent emeralds – one necklace contains a pear-shaped emerald of nearly 38cts (first picture), while the nine perfectly matched stones in the other necklace (second picture) and the 8ct-plus ones in the earrings (third picture) represent a feat of patience, craftsmanship and style.