Italian Fashion: Contemporary History

Bulgaria-Italy Survey » BUSINESS | Author: Lubomir Stoykov |May 30, 2011, Monday // 07:29
Bulgaria: Italian Fashion: Contemporary History Polish model Anja Rubik presents a creation by Gucci during the Milano Moda Donna Fashion Week in Milan, Italy, 23 February 2011. EPA/BGNES

Article on the Contemporary History of Italian Fashion by Professor Lubomir Stoykov for the "International Survey: Bulgaria-Italy" of (Sofia News Agency.

The wonder and phenomenon of Italian fashion have already currently conquered the world so much that many are right, when they talk about Italy as the "new Everest" in world design. Both ladieswear and menswear attract the attention with freshness of forms and contemporaneity of silhouette, with the specific, graceful kind of elegance, with the splendid mixture of eroticism, sex appeal, aesthetics and culture of behaviour.

The emancipation, sport style and minimalism unite artists as Giorgio Armani, Nino Cerruti and Luciano Benetton. The ones, who show enviable reflex regarding new technologies, textile innovations, advertising and communications.

Flamboyancy, rich picturesqueness and spirit are the signatures of the works of Emilio Pucci, Gianni Versace, Dolce and Gabbana and Roberto Cavalli. Fashion is interpreted as artistic phenomenon and impressive art in the works of bright artists such as Elsa Schiaparelli and Anna Molinari. Chic, exquisiteness and magic sculpturing are typical for two of the most fascinating Italian stylists such as Valentino and Gianfranco Ferre.

Lots of femininity, lightness and conceptuality characterize the works of Miuccia Prada and Alberta Ferretti. Cultural tradition, innovativeness and non-commerciality are particularly impressive in the views and designer works of Franco Moschino and Romeo Gigli. Skillfulness and dedication mark the work of Salvatore Ferragamo, Angela Missoni and a great number of other influential Italian fashion designers.

Why February 12, 1951, is pointed out as the birth date of the modern Italian fashion? In what is expressed the competition between the three serious centres of Italian style – Rome, Milan and Florence? Why is Milan among the most influential capitals of world fashion? To what extent do industry and commercial approach determine this success? Who are the most vivid representatives of the modern Italian fashion design? By what does the Italian style enrich the world fashion and why is it so popular today?...

After the end of the World War II, gradually but securely Italy overcame its backwardness and only after a few years started to demonstrate its serious fashion ambitions. The USA, which have rendered Italy serious economic assistance, have a contribution and played a role in its reconstruction and industrial recovery.

In her book Fashion, Italian Style Valerie Steele reveals some very interesting aspects of the fashion relation between the USA and Italy. This relation is outlined as well, mainly in the way, into which Cerruti, Armani, Valentino, Versace and others conquer Hollywood, as well as in the breakthroughs of Pucci, Benetton and others on the American market.

The birth of the contemporary, post-war Italian fashion, although symbolically, happened at the first more serious public presentation of collections of Italian designers on February 12, 1951 in Florence. It was organized by Giovanni Battista Giorgini, who decided to carry it out in his own villa.

Only a few months later, he repeated the fashion show in Florence, this time in the Grand Hotel, in more luxurious environment and with the more impressive participation of designers from Rome, Milan, Florence and Turin.  At that time already, experts and journalists see the advantages of the Italian design of clothing – the production of practical and at the same time elegant clothes, comfort, functionality and high quality.

The significance of these points is confirmed by a US Vogue report of September 1952: "There are three exciting things about Italian fashion today: the first is that Italy is capable of producing a kind of clothes which suit America exactly... Namely: clothes for outdoors, for resorts... separates, fads - all the gay things, all the boutique articles and accessories.

The second is the fabrics - anything and everything pertaining to Italian fabrics is newsworthy. The third is the evening dresses, marvellously made in marvellous silks at a relatively low cost. These are the three things in which the Italians need to be encouraged; they should be given wings to develop their native specialties and urgently discouraged from French adaptations".

Florence gave only the first push to the organized presentation of the Italian fashion. A few years later, a group of the most famous fashion artists from Rome decided to start presenting their collections first in Rome rather than in Florence. Not long after that the time of Milan came, where in 1958, the Week of Italian Fashion was carried out for the first time.

The big migration to Milan of a significant part of the greatest Italian fashion artists has started. Walter Albini and Ken Scott were the first ones, and in 1974 many designers from Florence also decided to set up their headquarters in Milan. The National Chamber of Fashion established in Rome works under the model of the Syndicate Chamber of Parisian Couture.

However, the authority and the power of the Italian style of clothing cannot be understood if at least four of its specific features are not taken into consideration. The first one is the profound tradition in art and sculpture, whose roots could be traced to the Renaissance and to the perception of man as a measure of all things. Some centuries later, the vital and beautiful, strong and captivating images in the pictures of Botticelli and Raphael, Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci render influence over the works of Emilio Pucci and Gianni Versace, of Valentino, Armani, Ferre and Cavalli.

The second specific feature ensues from the lifestyle of the Italians themselves – lively, explosive, adventurous, satiated with lots of emotions. Music is an essential part of it – the Italian canzonetta, the masterpieces of Verdi and Puccini, Adriano Celentano and Gianni Morandi, Andrea Bocelli and Eros Ramazzotti. And if the first two features are more or less related to the Mediterranean culture and its beautiful, flamboyant and picturesque style of expression, the third specific feature has a purely designer's origin.

This concerns the newest wave of talented and brilliant generations of fashion artists, who raised the Italian style to the heights of its world achievements and managed to overshadow to a great extent the French, English and US fashion schools. Walter Albini, Emilio Pucci, Valentino, Nino Cerruti and Giorgio Armani are among the most stable pillars of Italian fashion design. It is unavoidable not to assign here such giants of taste and elegance as Krizia, Prada, Gucci and Ferragamo.

Worthy place in the list of positive characteristics of the Italian designers take also their sense for the market and their lack of compromise regarding fabrics. Specialists have been talking with a huge respect about the Armani fabrics, Cerruti stuffs, Zegna and Valentino materials among others. The designer's approach to textile privileges the Italian style as unrivaled regarding beauty, aesthetics, charm and adequacy with post-modern criteria.

The fourth specific feature is the rich family tradition and succession in some of the biggest fashion and textile companies in Italy. According to certain statements in media, such as the French Figaro, more than 80 per cent of the luxurious Italian industry is concentrated in the hands of fifteen Italian families. These include: Armani, Versace, Gucci, Prada, Cerutti 1881, Max Mara, Ferragamo, Zegna, Missoni, Brioni, among others.

Family business had proved its advantages for a long time but there are opponents to such a thesis. According to them, in cases where two generations take turns in the company management, it becomes more complicated further up and grandchildren or great grandchildren do not manage to deal so well with the many economic, investment, reinvestment, competition and market challenges. Delimitation of functions of „owners", „managers" and „designers" is probably a means to overcome risks undertaken in the development of a family business in the sphere of fashion.

The influence of the Italian fashion has been increasing and growing since the 1980s not only on European but also on world scale. Italy took the first position in clothing exports among the other European countries more than a quarter of a century ago. By what did some of the greatest Italian designers contribute most to the consecration of their motherland as a centre of aesthetic and elegant fashion on a planetary scale?

The art of Elsa Schiaparelli should be studied even more thoroughly as she is among the few world designers of the 20th century who ardently interpret fashion as style, aesthetics and culture of equal standing with the other arts activities. Her brilliant spirit of innovation and experiment result in many novelties in the fashion design that are widely in use even at present.

Her perfume Shocking is currently an object of inspiration and a stimulus for the modern art of fragrances and bottle design. During this period of time between the end of the 1920s when she opened her first boutique in Vandom square in Paris and the last presentation of a collection of hers in 1954, she worked energetically and with inspiration, emancipating fashion as art that is worth respect in the direction of her creative apotheosis.

Summarizing the amazing creative achievements of Valentino, the "Rolls-Royce among designers", we should take into consideration the fact that he is a creator of highest rank in the spirit of the great tradition of haute couture fashion designers from the second half of 20th century. His contribution to refinement of shape and cleaning the silhouette in fashion design is doubtless. As a whole, the Valentino style is focused on the most attractive in the Italian manner of dressing – tenderness, romanticism and substance.

The art of one of the fashion geniuses of the 20th century, Gianni Versace, cannot be understood, if both the perfection and the virtuosity of its works, as well as the richness and the splendour of his hand are not taken into account. In times of minimalism and cold chic, he creates bravely in the spirit of Emilio Pucci and Christian Lacroix.

The baroque dose of beauty and elegance, with which he covers generously his fans, makes him privileged designer of luxury, colour feast and non-bashful sex appeal. This could be categorically seen in his large-scale projects for the cinema, theatre, opera and ballet rather than only in his season collections. His eroticism, similar to the eroticism in ancient times, is vibrant and vital as life itself, as he draws his power from history as well, being aware that real beauty is impossible without it. Gianni Versace will always remain the designer of colours, motley patterns and youthful emancipation. And this means a creator of the change, a creator of the future!

Gianfranco Ferr?'s fashion is of great impact because it is full of life and provokes feelings. It really proclaims joy from life, admiration and respect before the beauty of the woman, modern, liberated, full of love. It is absolutely rightfully to call Ferr? a magician, a poet, a dreamer, a sculptor. His works provoke admiration from the mastered form and wake of the most sincere feelings of exaltation from the contact with the world of insane and spontaneous rather than only wise and perceived beauty.

The world of fashion should be extremely grateful to Giorgio Armani, because thanks to his style the apparel has moved closer to people's real life, it became more practical, while its elegance has acquired dimensions, different from the values, which had been imposed until mid-1970s.

On the one hand, Giorgio Armani managed to form a radically new type of moderate, reserved and sample elegance in women's style, thanks to its creative adaptation to men's wardrobe. On the other hand, Armani has contributed to a more adequate evaluation of youth lifestyle and has a serious contribution to launching the sport cuts and silhouettes in formal apparel, he even outdistanced the rest in the world of fashion at a rather early stage at that. Third, the great Italian has reformed the suit (both man's and woman's) in the direction of being inadvertent, by succeeding to free it from boredom and sternness, making it a more attractive apparel for the representative of the creative, artistic and entertaining business. Fourth, in communication and advertising aspect Armani showed how fashion design could begin to be heard through the Hollywood star system and through the resourceful partnership with celebrities from the big picture and the show business.

All of this, together with the originality of Armani's character, his certain enigmatism and reserve in public appearances, place him very high in the hierarchy of  best fashion designers of the 20th century.

The creative and business success of the Italian designer duo Dolce and Gabbana is due to at least four important reasons. First, it is their original desire to be different, special and individual in their art. Second, their organic link with folklore and ethnic richness, thanks to which their designs are colourful, vital and impressive. Third, their unwaning interest in real life and the whims of the street and youth culture leads to the creation of comfortable, fresh, charged with sporty spirit clothes in which sex appeal is interwoven with the romantic and the eclectic. Fourth, their full-blooded communication with cinema and pop music brings forth the new masterpieces of fashion design, charged with a new, out-of-standard vision, eccentricity and challenge.

Dolce and Gabbana enriched Italian fashion tradition precisely with the bold entry into the new generation's system of values. Not only through their clothes and accessories, but also with their memorable perfumes they also gave a fresh impetus to world fashion. One should merit most highly their new constructive solutions, an original mixture of forms and colours and aesthetic otherness, artistic difference in respect to notions like elegance, style and post-modernism.

Robero Cavalli is among the most interesting and influential Italian designers today. Thanks to his artistism, emancipation and rich imagination he really manages to seduce the contemporary woman and to give her as a present generous portions of sensuality and eroticism, charm and sex appeal, splendour and picturesqueness. Unflinching in his desire to be both a dreamer and realist, he is a part of the contemporary Italian visual culture and an example of vitality, spiritual wealth and Florentine temper.

The life and abundant art of Franco Moschino are symptomatic of the career of every original and innovatively thinking designer. They are indicative of the limitless opportunities offered by the territory of fashion in respect to ingeniousness, provocativeness and sense of humour.

Thanks to artists like Moschino, contemporary fashion design is among the leading cultural factors, a wonderful chance and instrument to uphold individual identity, as well as a powerful "vitamin" for social variety. His style is a real anti-venom against super-consumer attitudes and manipulative extremes of commercial fashion.

At the beginning of its existence, Gucci Empire of fashion was producing leather articles for horses and horse riding. It was established by Guccio Gucci in 1906 in Florence. Throughout the decades it imposed itself as a producer of quality accessories and additions – bags and sacks of military type, belts, shoes including the famous gilt crocodile leather moccasins and others.

Today Gucci is a well established brand of approximate annual turnover of 2 billion euro that attracts clients, fans and true followers with the well set up balance between provocative and intelligent, club and casual, erotic and reserved clothing. This strange mix of minimalism and a little bit of eclecticism, mastered aggressiveness and uncovered postmodernism, is the secret of the unusual effect of the clothes, the accessories and the perfumes of Gucci fashion house.

It gains admiration and customers through the expensive accessories of exclusive quality as well as through the well-maintained and developed mythology. The artist who left the most sustainable trace in the famous fashion house is Tom Ford, who started his work with it in 1990 and became its chief designer in 1994.

A generally trifle fact of his youth years should be interpreted symptomatically and probably as a sign of fate: at the age of twelve, he was given by his mother shoes made by a company with which the future great designer still has a special karma relation and this is Gucci. Most probably many other American boys also had Gucci moccasins on, but in this case it is a matter of a symbol that was materialized in an unbelievable manner.

And even after the resignation of Ford in 2004, Gucci retained its image of an emblem of the new generations, of an axiom of luxury, style and elegance of imperious nature. In the first two years that happened under the successful management of Alessandra Facchinetti and after that under the management of the current designer of Gucci, Frida Giannini.

The prototype of the current Ermenegildo Zegna holding company was established by Ermenegildo Zegna in 1910 in Tivero, a small town in the Alps. The young entrepreneur devoted himself to his ambition to create fabrics of high quality for men's clothing and his strategy was to focus on the selection of the best raw materials directly from the producer; on innovations both in product and in production process and promotion of the brand.

Parallel to his industry arrangements, the creator of the famous brand was dreaming to improve the mountainous terrain of his textile mills location. In 1930s, Ermenegildo Zegna planted more than 500 000 pine trees and rhododendrons on the barest mountain slopes. At that time, he also started the construction of a panoramic road named after him.

The sons of the founder, Angelo Zegna, an honourary chairman of the holding company and Aldo Zegna (who passed away in 2000), took over the management of the company from their father in the 1960s. Their company launched a menswear line that occupied the luxury goods niche on the ready-to-wear market.

It was gradually followed by knitwear, accessories and sports wear. Today Ermenegildo Zegna is a world leader in the luxurious menswear. Its annual production of fabrics stands 2.3 million metres, 600,000 over clothes, more than 1.6 million sports articles and 1.75 million textile accessories. The employees of the holding across the world number 7,000. Sales turnover in 2007 was 843.4 million euro, of which 90 per cent from clothing and accessories and 10 per cent from fabrics. 86 per cent of the total sales are generated outside Italy.

The holding company is still a family business and is managed by the forth generation of the family: Paolo is a president, Ermenegildo is an executive director and Anna, Benedetta, Laura and Renata Zegna are among the other management members. In the 1980s the group finalized the process of vertical integration by opening the first monobrand boutiques in Paris (1980) and Milan (1985).

In 2007, the holding company became already an owner of 525 monobrand places for world sale (Ermenegildo Zegna and Zegna Sport), of which 253 are under direct management. Recently the brand is diversified and, starting from the Chinese market, implements significant changes in the direction of the realization of its multibrand strategy.

In February 2006, a license agreement was signed between the Perofil holding company that entitles it to produce and distribute underwear and socks of the Zegna brand. A license agreement for luxurious menswear was signed in the same year with designer Tom Ford.

The foundations of the Max Mara brand were laid in 1951 with the presentation of a coat of camel colour and a red suit. The founder, Achille Maramotti, after his graduation as a lawyer, fully devoted himself to the family passion – designing of ladies wear.

He inherited this passion from his great grandmother Marina Rinaldi who headed a high class dressmaking shop at the end of the 19 century in the heart of Reggio Emilia, anticipating the pr?t-a-porter ideas of that time when fashion was considered simply a craft.

This first presentation with key and precisely outlined characteristics showed already the special distinctive features that might be discovered in the following collections of the brand. Among them were clear cuts and strict lines, inspired by the brilliant French style that was in fashion at that time, taking into consideration the typical Italian taste.

Many other collections followed the first one: the success was immediate and continued in the following years. At the end of the 1960s, when London was the capital of ideas and fashion, Achille Maramotti is again the first one to grab the momentum of a creator and transfer it in his newly designed collection Sportmax. Its target are the young women who try to look different.

The rest of the history is influenced by more recent fashion events: the evolution of suit, separate parts of the clothes with a view to the increasing requirements of the modern woman. Currently the collections of Max Mara have the general characteristics of the products offered by the company from Reggio Emilia: quality, style and respect for the personality.

Passion and decisiveness as well as the innovative tradition, launched by the founder Achille Maramotti more then 50 years ago, are continued by the new generation of the family. Here follow the people who exercise the top management of the company, of course with the support of other experienced experts: Dr. Luigi Maramotti – President of Max Mara S.R.L, Dr. Ignazio Maramotti - President of Max Mara Fashion Group S.R.L. and Dr. Maria Ludovica Maramotti - President of Manifatture del Nord S.R.L..

* * *

A lot of things might be missed in our attempt to explain the wonder and the phenomenon of Italian fashion with one exception: the divinely beautiful Italian women. Among them, as muses and customers of the great designers are such magnetic stars of the Italian cinema of the 1960s and the 1970s as Sophia Loren, Anna Magnani, Silvana Mangano, Claudia Cardinale, Gina Lollobrigida and later Ornella Muti among others.

We should not forget to mention also their successors like Monica Bellucci for example, emblematic with her original and unusually effective sex appeal. And at least one more suggestion shall be needed for the better comprehension of the beauty of current Italian design. This is its impudence and boldness to look at life straight in the eyes, to land the style and in the same time to exalt it; to respond to the needs of street fashion and of alta fashion. Ritual and improvisation, experiment and romanticism – all this is just part of the magic components of the alchemy, named Italian fashion.


Еджинс, Т. Краят на модата. W studio, С., 2000; Ермилова, Д. Ю. История домов моды, "Академия". Москва, 2003; Information from MDL EOOD press office;  Италианската мода е изправена пред риска на "третото поколение", Dnevnik daily, July 6, 2004; О'Хара, Дж. Енциклопедия на модата. "Библиотека 48 ", С., 1995; De grote Mode-Encyclopedie. ?ditions - Nathan. Paris, France, 1989; Fashion now. i-D selects the world's 150 most important designers. Edited by Terry Jones & Avril Mair. – K?ln: Taschen, 2005; Martin, R. The St. James Fashion Encyclopedia: A Survey of Style from 1945 to the Present. Visible Ink Press. Detroit, 1997; Seeling, Ch. Fashion, The century of the designers 1900 – 1999 . Cologne, 2000 ; Steele, Valerie. Fashion, Italian Style. Yale University Press. New Haven and London. New York, 2003.

We need your support so can keep delivering news and information about Bulgaria! Thank you!

Business » Be a reporter: Write and send your article

Bulgaria news (Sofia News Agency - is unique with being a real time news provider in English that informs its readers about the latest Bulgarian news. The editorial staff also publishes a daily online newspaper "Sofia Morning News." (Sofia News Agency - and Sofia Morning News publish the latest economic, political and cultural news that take place in Bulgaria. Foreign media analysis on Bulgaria and World News in Brief are also part of the web site and the online newspaper. News Bulgaria