Though many people who live in Calcutta have never been inside the Victoria Memorial Hall, it is known to attract a steady stream of upcountry visitors every day. But while the recently-concluded exhibition of 50 years of Italian fashion was going strong there, for a change, innumerable city slickers used to troop in.
They were willing to wait in a queue, for only 25 people at a time were allowed inside. The security was heavy, for the clothes on display were museum pieces and, therefore, priceless. Little wonder they could draw about 2,000 to 3,000 people each day. The beautiful clothes were so alluring that security guards had a tough time ensuring that the visitors did not touch the fabrics.
Few had seen the likes of this before. The pages of Vogue had come alive inside the Hall. The narrative began in 1950, when Italian designers first started revealing their true colours. Hollywood added lustre to the “Made in Italy” labels.
The exhibition showcased a host of top designers, many of whom were unknown to Indians. They had dressed celebrities and film stars and people got the chance of a lifetime to see articles of clothing and accessories associated with the likes of Audrey Hepburn, Fellini, Jacqueline Kennedy, Claudia Schiffer, Cindy Crawford and Cate Blanchett. People were highly intrigued by the crystal micro-mini created by Versace, that was the costliest item displayed.
But Italian consul-general Domenico Benincasa does not want the show to end here. He wants it to go on. He would like to project Calcutta as a city that is a “nice place to work.”
After the unprecedented success of the fashion show in this city, there is a possibility of bringing in more exhibitions to highlight what Italy has on offer — industrial machinery, food processing, jewellery, leather, et al.
This could help change the international image of Calcutta that many regard as a shantytown. Italians will start a collaborative project with the famous gold jewellers of Calcutta, and what few are aware of is that Italian fashion houses source their textiles from this city.
Italian food is the rage in Calcutta. Oberoi Grand hosted an Italian food festival in 2000 and the Hub at Taj Bengal boasts the Italian chef Salvatori Intrigilla. The pizza and pasta have become the staple for many Calcuttans.
Italian films have inspired the likes of Satyajit Ray. At the international film festivals held in Calcutta, Italy still has a very strong presence. Retrospectives and seminars are held concurrently, and often Italian experts are amazed at the knowledge of local people in Italian cinema.
If this interest in all things Italian translates into much-needed investments for West Bengal, then more such exhibitions are welcome to the city.