Haute couture

Fashion & Art: lessons from the capitals of the Italian Fashion

Fashion shows became increasingly popular during the last decades of the 19th century to show the latest clothes and outfits mainly created in the Parisian ateliers. Before then, stylists used to promote their new collections through magazines, sketches, paintings of noblewomen and occasional exhibitions of pupae, i.e. life-size dolls displaying their creations. The first to use live models and to sew branded labels into his garments, was Charles Frederick Worth, an English fashion designer established in Paris, who is also credited to be the father of Haute Couture. Worth raised the status of the fashion designer from simple tailor to trend setter and arbiter of what women should be wearing, the colors, the fabrics and their combinations with accessories and body silhouette.

A few decades later, Paul Poiret was the first haute couturier to use fashion shows and sensational parties to draw attention on his work, by combining fashion with reading sessions of poetry, exhibitions of paintings (such as by Picasso, Modigliani etc), music concerts ...in 1912 he  presented his new collection with a concert tour in the major European capitals. The experiment was repeated the year after in the United States and for the very first time fashion parades left their ateliers to become Art Events by definition.

The first Italian fashion show of great international importance was organized in 1951 by Count Giovanni Battista Giorgini in his own Villa, then moved to the White Hall of Palazzo Pitti, that had served for many years in Florence as royal palace of the Dukes of Tuscany. For the very first time an Italian fashion show was organized not by a single atelier or a stylist in a department store, but as a great event aimed to celebrate the Made in Italy craftsmanship  as  a form of art and Florence as the city of a post-war new Renaissance of applied arts. The event was attended by a selected audience of foreign journalists and buyers of leading American department stores and marked the success of the Haute-couture made in Italy vs the Haute-Couture made in Paris (watch this vintage video report of the Italian National Radio-Television, dated 1951)

Then in the mid-sixties Florence lost its position as the capital of Italian Fashion and was progressively replaced by Rome, which grew in importance as high fashion pole in the country thanks to the creations  of Valentino, Fendi, Roberto Capucci, Renato Balestra, Gattinoni, Sorelle Fontana, Anna Mode, Tirelli…and the establishment of the National Chamber of the Italian Fashion, a non-profit organization which develops and promotes the Italian Fashion throughout the world.

In 1967 the haute couture fashion brands moved permanently to Rome, and Florence specialized on knitwear, exhibition of men’s clothing, accessories and, in the recent years, also garments for children. Finally in the seventhies then-new labels, such as Armani, Dolce & Gabbana, Gianfranco Ferré, Romeo Gigli, Krizia, Missoni, Moschino, Luciano Soprani, Trussardi, Versace and many others specialized on ready-to-wear clothes (such as coats, jackets, trousers, shirts, jeans, jumpers and miniskirts) left the catwalks of the Pitti Sala Bianca to parade in Milan, provoking in the history of Italian fashion a change comparable to the one that in 1951 had toppled the Parisian leadership.

In a decade, Milan became the international capital of ready-to-wear, while Rome specialized on haute couture, craftsmanship and its connections with the cinema and cultural industry, dictating the rules of beauty and Italian style through the screens of Cinecitta’.

Today the country's main shopping districts are Via dei Condotti in Rome, Via Montenapoleone fashion district in Milan,  and Via de' Tornabuoni in Florence. The main events of Italian Fashion are AltaModaAltaRoma for the haute-couture, in January and July; Milan Fashion Week for the pret-a-porter in February and September; Pitti for Men, children and knitwear in June.