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How Italy has Influenced the World of Fashion

VIEW Published Article : 2019 Winter Issue SCENE Magazine North End

Fashion is a form of expression, a statement letting the world know exactly who you are without speaking a single word. Italia has been a chapel, a beacon from the beginning when it comes to influencing the manner in which the world dresses.

Milan itself has created a vogue lifestyle within its city’s walls that millions from around the globe flock to each year even if only to sneak a peek. Italy takes the trophy in most all categories of wearable design; watches, shoes, dresses, sunglasses, handbags even right down to the leading hair stylist.

Cashmere; that warm silky fabric that makes an impression on sweater season with an exclusive tag labeled, “made in Italy.” Or as a Bostonian that must have by mid-November is the latest release in Moncler jackets.

One of the most impactful moments in modern music was 20 years ago at the Grammy Awards when Jennifer Lopez stunned in that iconic, green Versace dress. The piece was gushed about for decades so much so that Donatella Versace in honor of her brother Gianni redevised the ensemble. This past fall, Lopez closed the Milan Fashion Week runway for the 2020 Spring/Summer jungle themed collection.

The city of Milan is recognized internationally as one of the world's most important fashion capitals, along with Paris, New York and London. Milan's fashion history has evolved greatly throughout the years. Milan began as a center of fashion in the Middle Ages and Renaissance, as in Venice and Florence, the making of luxury goods was an industry of such importance that in the 16th century the city gave its name to the English word "milaner" or "millaner", meaning fine wares like jewelry, cloth, hats and luxury apparel. By the 19th century, a later variant, "millinery", had come to mean one who made or sold hats.

In the mid-19th century cheaper silk began to be imported from Asia and the pest phylloxera damaged silk and wine production. More land was subsequently given over to industrialization. Textile production was followed by metal and mechanical and furniture manufacture. In 1865, the first major department store in the country opened in Milan by the Bocconi brothers (which was called Alle Città d'Italia and later in 1921 became La Rinascente). This was a novelty at the time with regards to retailing in Italy. Though, traditionally, artisans would sell the items they made directly or to small stores, the opening of these new department stores modernized the distributions of clothes in the city.

Italy’s fashion houses are legendary, from Dolce Vita to Prada, Versace to Valentino. The country has always been known for its meticulous craftsmanship and luxury materials, but it was only after World War II that Italy emerged as a fashion destination.

“Before the war, Italian fashion was always following the direction of French fashion, just like everyone else was. It wasn’t until after the war that Italy’s fashion industry got the confidence and the economic support to come into its own,” says Stefano Tonchi, one of the curators of the exhibition Bellissima: Italy and High Fashion 1945 – 1968. During the ’50s and ’60s, while French labels like Christian Dior and Jacques Fath turned their focus fully on couture, only Italian fashion designers truly understood the need for women to have comfortable, versatile clothing that was also tailored and refined.

Italian day wear took off in America and paved the way for the ready-to-wear collections coming out of fashion houses today. In an effort to restore and stabilize the Italian economy after World War II, the Marshall Plan provided American aid for Italy’s textile businesses, which were mostly small, family-owned operations. This investment spurred the production of the leather, fur, silk and wool–still the country’s most prized luxury materials to this day.

Part of the reason Italy was the first market for day wear was a coterie of women designers who understood the needs of women. Germana Marucelli, Mila Schön, Simonetta, and Galitzine: “this group of ladies were all coming from Italian aristocracy, and they found themselves without a job and without any money after the war,” says Tonchi. “What they knew was clothes, they loved clothes, and they had the technical know-how to create these collections.”

Who are these influential designers? The ones that have molded fashion, create the collections the world is eagerly awaiting each spring and fall.

A few that have paved the way and passed on are; Elsa Schiaparelli of Rome, Italy. Along with Coco Chanel, her greatest rival, she is regarded as one of the most prominent figures in fashion between the two World Wars. Starting with knitwear, Schiaparelli's designs were heavily influenced by Surrealists like her collaborators Salvador Dalí and Jean Cocteau.

Emilio Pucci, Marchese di Barsento born in Naples, Italy. Pucci was a Florentine Italian fashion designer and politician. He and his eponymous company are synonymous with geometric prints in a kaleidoscope of colors.

The beacon of designer shoes; Salvatore Ferragamo birthed in Bonito, Campania, Italy. He worked with many Hollywood stars in the 1920s, before returning to Italy to start the eponymous company making unique handmade footwear. His scientific and creative approach to shoes spawned many innovations such as the wedge heel and cage heel. Film stars and celebrities continue to patronize his company, which has evolved into a luxury goods empire spanning the world.

A man whom needs no introduction, the late and dearly respected Gianni Versace of Reggio Calabria, Italy. Still listed as #3 on the most influential fashion designers of all times Versace continues to impact todays trends. Gianni was the designer and founder of Versace, an international fashion house, which produces accessories, fragrances, make-up and home furnishings as well as clothes. He also designed costumes for the theatre and films. As a friend of Eric Clapton; Diana, Princess of Wales; Madonna; Elton John; Cher; Sting and many other celebrities. He was the first designer to link fashion to the music world.

Still with us continuing to create are designers like; Donatella Francesca Versace born in Reggio Calabria, Italy. She is the current Chief Creative Officer of Versace, a division of Capri Holdings. Versace was founded by her brother, Gianni Versace, and upon his death in 1997, Donatella inherited 20% of the company and became its chief executive officer.

Valentino Clemente Ludovico Garavani born in Voghera; Italy best known as Valentino resides at #8 on the list of influential designers. Founder of the Valentino SpA brand and company. His main lines include Valentino, Valentino Garavani, Valentino Roma and R.E.D. Valentino.

Listed #9 of the most influential fashion designers of all time; Giorgio Armani of Piacenza, Italy. Armani is an Italian fashion designer, particularly noted for his menswear. He is known today for his clean, tailored lines. He formed his company, Armani, in 1975, and by 2001 was acclaimed as the most successful designer that Italy had produced, with an annual turnover of $1.6 billion and a personal fortune of $8.5 billion as of 2013.

The list of greatness continues, as #14 of the most influential fashion designers of all time is held by, Miuccia Prada of Milan, Italy. Miuccia is the designer and entrepreneur behind Prada and Miu Miu. The youngest granddaughter of Mario Prada, she took over the family-owned luxury goods manufacturer in 1978. In March 2013, she was one of the fifty best-dressed over 50s by the Guardian. As of 2014, she is listed as the 75th most powerful woman in the world by Forbes.

Rolling in at #23 on that same list of all-time influencers is; Roberto Cavalli born in Florence, Italy. He is known for exotic prints and for creating the sand-blasted look for jeans. He is the father of fashion designer Daniele Cavalli who is following in his footsteps.

Roberto Capucci, Nino Cerruti, Fendi, Gucci, Alessandra Facchinetti, Bottega Veneta, Dolce, the list of legendary designers to shape the designer world continues. The future of fashion hides within the youth strolling the streets of Milan looking for their unique voice that will impact the world. Currently the #1 fashion designer in Italy is Giorgio Armani. A staple of truth that Italian fashion will continue to reinvent itself. It will break the mold time and again while the rest of the world drapes themselves in our style.

Photo Captions

#1 Singer Jennifer Lopez closes Milan Fashion Week 2019 in Versace Photo by:

#2 Erika Palkovicova dons Prada Photo by: Brianislav Simonick

#3 Designer Elsa Schiaparelli organdy blouse was a 1950's trend. Photo by :

#4 Still in 2013 Designer Salvatore Ferragamo was the foreman in mens fashion Photo by :

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