Arranged for the most part chronologically, "Italian Style: Fashion Since 1945
" offers a history lesson on how the nation's sartorial aesthetic was established post-World War II, a time when there was a push to promote clothing designed and made in Italy. This was furthered by American aid coming into Italy through the Marshall Plan following the war.
The gallery notes take you through the earliest fashion shows, run by Giovanni Battista Giorgini at Sala Blanca in Florence, to Italian fashion's dominance in America, which was helped along by Hollywood stars such as Audrey Hepburn, Ava Gardner, and Liz Taylor. "The only word Elizabeth knows in Italian is 'Bulgari,'" reads a quote from Richard Burton.
The exhibit also explores the role of the "stilista," experts who tailor the vision of fashion designers into what people actually wear, and concludes with a showing of some of contemporary designers who are still pushing boundaries today.
While the history is interesting, the real delight of the show is the clothes themselves. From Robert Capucci's 1957 lilac cocktail dress with velvet stole, whose layered curvy lines embellish the dress wearer's figure, to Giambattista Valli's 2013 evening gown made of silk flowers attached to see-through white tulle, the show is just one jaw-dropping dress after another, with a few men's fashion items thrown in as well.
In extravagance, there also come moments of just plain silliness, and the exhibit relishes showcasing ideas that are conceptually very creative, but often unwearable. For example, Carosa's quilted cocktail dress made of gold-colored silk and satin has kind of a space-age feel to it. It's cool, but not very flattering. Or take Moschino Coutore's dress with a map of Italy printed on it. This hideous sleeveless frock, and Moschino's Yellow Pages jacket, which in the exhibit is presented next to it, are both so over the top that they become laughable. But that's part of the fun of it all.
The best designs are the ones that find that delicate line between taste and creativity, where the designers make interesting and wonderful shapes, but don't forget that it's a person who will be wearing them. One of the best examples of this is a marvelous dress by Sorelle Fontana, created in 1960 for Ava Gardner. The wool crepe dress has a slim skirt and a bust that almost seems to be floating in mid-air. The line is strange, but it's also classy at the same time.
There's no doubt that each visitor will have their favorites -- both to praise and to bash. In addition to free admission to the exhibit, Thursday's event includes a catwalk fashion show presented by Cult Collective and Mona Williams, and live music by Strange Relations. There will be a photobooth, and activities that let you create your own fashions inspired by the show. The Italian Cultural Center will also be on hand to help you to master your stylish Italian phrases.