Although Italian fabrics, craft techniques, and accessories have long been staples of international high style, Italian fashion, like American sportswear, began its ascent to the world stage only after the Second World War. During the postwar economic boom of the 1950s and ’60s, aristocratic Italian couturiers such as Simonetta, Alberto Fabiani, Capucci, and Valentino captured international attention with elegant yet comfortable ensembles—epitomized in palazzo pajamas—crafted from innovative textiles in striking color combinations. Italian sportswear played variations on this chord of casual chic, introducing stretch jumpsuits, capri pants, and wild prints. Italian style attained worldwide fame not only through the usual conduits of fashion magazines and newspapers, but also via the movies, in Italian films such as Federico Fellini’s La Dolce Vita (1960), and American productions like William Wyler’s Roman Holiday (1953) and Joseph Mankiewicz’s Barefoot Contessa (1954), which were both set in Italy.
Inaugurated in Florence in 1950, runway shows played up a connection with Italy’s heritage of Renaissance art and helped promote Italian fashion. But many of the couture houses moved their presentations to Rome, leaving boutique fashion and accessories behind. During the 1970s, Krizia‘s Mariuccia Mandelli led the movement to transfer the Italian ready-to-wear shows to Milan, where she was joined by the houses of Armani, Missoni, Versace, and many others. Today, Milan has grown into an international fashion center rivaling Paris, London, and New York.
Mandelli first established her firm—which she named Krizia after a character in Plato’s dialogue on female vanity—in Milan forty-five years ago. Since its debut in 1954, Krizia has been on the cutting edge. As the boundaries between art and fashion continue to shift, Mandelli walks in the footsteps of avant-garde artists such as Sonia Delaunay, Natalia Goncharova, and Kasimir Malevich, using fabric like a painter’s canvas, and her sculptural creations further blur distinctions between the two worlds. Inspired not only by art, but also by architecture, theater, cinema, popular cartoons, and the circus, her designs feature an array of special effects, such as allover pleats, lavish figurative embroidery, and intarsia knits. Integral to her design process are both fascination with textiles and delight in unexpected combinations.
Mandelli was one of the first to embrace minimalism, showcasing simple, clean, and sophisticated collections at a time when fashion had not yet embraced that aesthetic. The garments she presented in 1964 at Florence’s Pitti Palace were Spartan in their structural simplicity and restricted black-and-white palette. Her elegant shorts for day and evening, which were dubbed “hot pants” by the media, made their initial runway appearance in 1971. In 1978 she introduced pleats—used in never-before-seen ways—beginning with an accordion-pleated raincoat. In later collections some of her pleated garments took on architectural qualities, tiered like the Chrysler Building or spiraling like Frank Lloyd Wright’s Guggenheim Museum and Vladimir Tatlin’s Monument to the Third International, while others drew inspiration from the natural world, resembling shells, butterflies, and flower petals. Her artistic sources have included Charles Comfort Tiffany’s lilies, Ferdinand Khnopff’s sphinx-women, Oskar Schlemmer’s theatrical designs, Alexander Calder’s mobiles, and Alberto Burri’s clay works. In her knitwear collections of the 1970s and ’80s, Mandelli invented a veritable bestiary, ranging from leopard prints and zebra stripes to realistic tapestries of the great cats. A selection from Mandelli‘s more recent designs is also on view.
The exhibition has been curated and the installation devised by motion picture set designers Dante Ferretti and Francesca Lo Schiavo, and costume designer Gabriella Pescucci