The importance of Italian fashion, and its cultural impact both at home and on the international stage, is celebrated in Italiana: Italy Through the Lens of Fashion 1971-2001 at Milan’s Palazzo Reale (until Sunday May 6). The exhibition features 71 legendary designers and brands, such as Armani, Versace, Ferretti, Prada, Gucci, Blumarine, Missoni, Valentino, Hogan, Miu Miu and Etro, alongside oft-overlooked influences including Walter Albini, the innovative designer who revolutionised Italy’s fashion scene and pioneered the event that became Milan Fashion Week.
Telling the story over three seminal decades, the exhibition charts the rise of large-scale luxury fashion production and the now legendary brands that pioneered such changes. It sets these sartorial seismic shifts within the context of the social and economic changes that transformed Italy during the period, and also draws out cultural parallels through displays of art, photography and industrial design objects. Curated by Stefano Tonchi, W editor-in-chief, and professor Maria Luisa Frisa, Italiana is set out over nine rooms, with each space exploring an important theme, such as Italian identity, the democratisation of fashion and 1980s logomania.
The geography of Italian fashion gradually began to change in the late 1960s, but Italiana kicks off in 1971 because, says Tonchi, “Walter Albini moved his show [from Florence] to Milan in 1971 to be close to his means of production. This truly signified the start of Italian ready-to-wear. And it was a success because the Italian postwar economic revival was aimed at small family-run traditional textile and leather firms. These were able to expand while keeping their craft skills, so quality was very high but also achieved on an industrial scale.” The exhibition finishes in 2001 because, as Tonchi concludes, “that was the start of globalisation [for the industry]. It was the year of 9/11, which changed attitudes, and the year Gucci was sold to [French luxury retail group] PPR, becoming a global company”.
A 432-page book (Marsilio, €55) complements the show. Richly illustrated with magazine and art photographs from the period, it sheds further light on this influential era that changed fashion forever. The English version will be published in September.