"A confection herself as an object not to be touched: hats with light bulbs going off and on, a wave of gray-black hair cut to wind its way from the hairline to the eyebrows." Anna Piaggi.
"A fine poet of clothes." Bill Cunnigham
"Her pages are the reason to read Vogue." Manolo Blahnik
Toasting with champagne is a thing I love and I've always dreamed of being godmother to an Ocean Liner. The christening of this book calls for a special celebration: the deck is prestigious and the cargo exceptional.
Forty Italian designers have gone on board, preceded and followed throughout their journey by a festive fanfare. The press cheers, as they might have done at the arrival and departure of the golden stars of the Hollywood ere; a crowd of fans on both sides of the ocean is ready to swear by their elegant rules.
That's how it is: they are all wrapped in a magic halo of miracles or hard-won achievement, talent or brilliant craftsmanship, professionalism or trance, imagination or high-technology and it all comes in reams of silk, mind-boggling yarns, velvet-smooth leathers and unfathomable patterns. Neatly packed into an army of trunks, it travels around the world under a single, unmistakable label: the Italian Look.
When I think of the glorious and animated history of the Italian Look, a host of episodes and images appear before my eyes: a model standing on top of a Land Rover in the courtyard of the Palazzo Strozzi in Florence, wearing one of Lancetti's military coats, Verushka in a Ken Scott tiger print, on the grand stairway of the Brera, Walter Albini's '40's styles photographed in front of Kafka's home in Prague, in that fateful May of 1968, Ali MacGraw in a Capucci in Tivoli, models in Missoni pullovets waving starter flags, an Emilio Pucci against a sunset in Baalbeck. There were many hours spent with Alfa, sitting at the Biffa Scala cafe or at the Giamaica bar, eagerly flipping through the bibles of fashion: designs by Galitzine and Forquet, perfect graphisms for Scavullo's pictures at the EUR or in Bomarzo; Ferragamo shoes transformed into abstract space-age designs by Hiro's camera. In the reign of pure photography, nothing was more essential or desirable than a crisp Nattier fabric or Simonetta's sculptured look, especially if the model happened to be Isabella Albonico, Iris Bianchi, Tilly Tizziani, Mirella Petteni or Isa Stoppi.
Fashion and the mood that went with it gave the image its impact: an image drawn from a ritual of secrets, inventions and a special chemistry, fluctuating with the ever-changing tide of the fashions, faces and looks of the time. In the great carousel of this improvised replay, I can suddenly see Suzy Blakeley dancing in one of Valentino's Cruise outfits at the photographer Pierluigi's studio in Rome, in front of Chris von Wagenheim's camera, then Silvano Malta's New Orleans style, Caumont's Art Deco, the sexy-exotic-peasant girls, a Rolls Royce and a pair of skates, a cheerleader and a lesbian. Ah! the thrill of the cast, the themes, and dresses of the Italian Look, seen slightly unrealistically, as I have always seen them, through the eyes of a camera.
The ultimate test for dresses really comes when you photograph them: for me they should have a soul, create a mood, leave a souvenir, exude luxury or misery and carry a message from those who designed them to those who wear them. It's like an intimate relationship, technique counts but love and a sense of humor are essential. Designers, then, bear the important responsibility of communicating an idea. Theirs is like a secret society, a special ethnic group made up of pioneers, a few inventors and a few poets. The strongest is the one who can thrill you with a dress, the way Walter Albini's early designs used to thrill me.
When a dress seen through a camera feels void, I often decide to transform it, giving it some meaning, some character.
And for an incurable romantic like myself, who believes that every dress must be a story, things couldn't be better: never as in the past few years, the words, pages and chapters of Italian stories, on racks, runways, jets and in magazines and store windows, stories bought, sold, worn, paraded, shown off, celebrated, have built up such a formidable saga of influential fashion.
And the protagonists of these real stories are the forty designers of dresses and accessories portrayed in this book.
It's important to get to know them: we're in their hands. They hold the key to the past and future of the Italian adventure in fashion. They have created a group image which was once the prerogative of artists and architects.
They are the new phenomenon and the new elite.
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