Nestled in a Tuscan valley, the ancient terracotta cityscape of Florence boasts a rich history as the birthplace of Renaissance art, literature and architecture, yet its starring role in the evolution of Italian fashion has long been overlooked and disregarded. Following the success of the V&A Museum’s 2014 exhibition The Glamour of Italian Fashion, the spotlight has once again fallen upon this national school’s distinctive blend of luxury craftsmanship and often family-run tradition. Florence has begun to emerge from the dominant shadow of Italian fashion capitals such as Milan.
As the birthplace of some of Italian fashion’s most prestigious designers, including Emilio Pucci, Roberto Cavalli and Guccio Gucci, Florence formed the backdrop to Giovanni Battista Giorgini’s landmark fashion show in 1951. This fashion show is widely credited as Italian fashion’s first introduction to an international stage, and continued annually until Giorgini’s retirement in 1965. Driven by the prevailing appetite for post-war reconstruction, Giorgini invited an audience of primarily American department store buyers to his spectacular Florentine villa in order to showcase haute couture, knitwear and textiles that could equal and, occasionally surpass, the quality of their celebrated Parisian counterparts. In 1952, Giorgini also became the first designer to send a male model down the runway. Carmel Snow, the influential editor of Harper’s Bazaar, encapsulated the spirit of Giorgini’s shows when, writing in 1953, she stated:
If there were no other reason to go to Florence…just when spring begins to whisper, Italian fashion would fully justify our going.
Six decades later, Florence is still at the forefront of Italian fashion design, manufacturing and curation, with 2014 shaping up to be an exciting and prolific year for its industry. This year, the prestigious Florentine Centre for Italian Fashion, chaired by designer Stefano Ricci, celebrates 60 years of nurturing and supporting Italian tailoring traditions and emerging avant-garde talents, while the Costume Gallery of the city’s historic Palazzo Pitti continues to boast an important collection of dress to rival those of its international counterparts, including the first exhibition dedicated entirely to hats. The Museo Salvatore Ferragamo, a museum devoted to the work of the prominent Florentine shoe designer, who is widely credited with the invention of the wedge heel, and whose loyal clients ranged from royalty to Hollywood stars Marilyn Monroe and Audrey Hepburn, has just launched its latest exhibition Equilibrium, which runs until Spring 2015. Innovative and dynamic, the exhibition seeks to explore Ferragamo’s dedication to the scientific craft of shoemaking, through close links to art, dance and history, and investigates the designer’s desire to achieve a symbiotic harmony between balance, movement and style.
Described by Dolce & Gabbana designer Stefano Gabbana as an ‘open air museum’ rather than a city, Florence’s dense concentration of museums, galleries and cultural institutions forms the historic setting for one of fashion’s forgotten capitals, one that is only just beginning to reassert itself as a nucleus of Italian luxury, craftsmanship and steadfast style.
The Costume Gallery, Palazzo Pitti, Florence: http://www.polomuseale.firenze.it/
Museo Salvatore Ferragamo, Florence: http://www.ferragamo.com/museo/it/ita
Ciulli, M. I. (2014), ‘Dolce & Gabbana: One mind in two bodies’ in Firenze No. 30, Florence: FM Publishing.
Stanfill, S. ed. (2014), The Glamour of Italian Fashion Since 1945, London: V&A Publishing.