The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Before Versace became a name

At a time when any rich kid, who doesn’t know what Worth is worth, calls himself a fashion designer, here comes a strong dose of fashion history from the Italians. A retrospective exhibition on the evolution of Italian fashion over the past half century since the 50s opens in a blaze of glamour at the Victoria Memorial Hall on Sunday.

As they take in individual pieces, handcrafted like works of art, viewers will have the pleasure of discovering that Italian fashion does not begin and end with Versace and Armani.

Fiorella Galgano and Alessia Tota, who organised the exhibition with the patronage of the Italian National Chamber of Fashion, announced at a press conference on Wednesday that it will be a heady mix of razzle-dazzle and high fashion, bespoke for film stars, celebrities and rulers. Seventy-two items of clothing and accessories by 40 designers will be showcased.

With Domenico Benincasa, consul-general of Italy in Calcutta, acting as their interpreter, they said they were exploring the possibility of collaborating with the gold jewellers of Calcutta. They have gone around outlets in Delhi where they sell Italian brands, and entrepreneurs had evinced much interest.

The exhibition begins in 1950, when it all started with a fashion show at Palazzo Pitti in Florence. Before that it was all French. Italian designers started their pret-a-porter or readymade line in 1980. And this, too, has been represented.

In the 50s, Italian cinema was synonymous with neo-realism and “American movies were the best sponsor for Italian fashion,” they said. For the Italians started dressing Hollywood stars. Bollywood, too, could have the same catalytic effect.

So we get to see the cassock dress designed by Sorelle Fontana for Ava Gardner in 1956. In 1960, the same dress was used as the model for Anita Ekberg’s outfit in Fellini’s La Dolce Vita. Audrey Hepburn’s “ballerina” shoes from Roman Holiday custom-made by Salvatore Ferragamo will also be there. He had also designed Evita Peron’s sandals. Madonna had worn replicas of the latter in the eponymous film. That will be on show too. So will Brioni’s suits for John Wayne and Clarke Gable.

Claudia Cardinale wore palazzo pyjamas by Galitzine in the Blake Edward film Pink Panther. They will vie for attention with Gattinoni’s dress worn by Kim Novak. Cindy Crawford comes dressed in a printed “Tiger” dress by Roberto Cavalli. Cate Blanchett shows off a Prada in chiffon. Versace comes in a glitter of Swarovski crystal beads at $ 300,000 — the costliest item.

The highlight of the accessories section is the round evening bag of Jacqueline Kennedy by Helietta Caracciolo.

Elena Ciravolo, who will put up the show, will try to organise the items in a way that reflects and complements Victoria’s surroundings. Explanatory boards, with photos, posters and drawings, will bring history to life.

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