Fashioning Rome: Cinema, Fashion, and the Media in the Postwar Years

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In the postwar period, and especially during the years of the nation's great transformation during the boom years, Italy and some of its cities projected abroad and at home an appealing image of modernity and beauty. Among Italian cities, Rome established itself in the imaginary of the time as one of the most desirable places for foreigners to be, especially for those working in the movie industry and related fields. In these years, Rome underwent something approaching a re-birth, a new life. After the havoc left by World War Two and the images of semi-destroyed buildings that were lodged in people's memory--almost as they had appeared in Rossellini's Roma, citta aperta (Open City, 1945)--Rome put on beautiful new clothes and became once again a tourist destination. Both as a manufacturing and as a culture industry, fashion had a great impact in constructing and reshaping modern, postwar Rome. In the aftermath of World War Two, Italy, along with the other European countries that were beneficiaries of the Marshall Plan, launched itself once again on the global stage (White and Ribeiro).

Through the marriage of fashion and cinema, Rome projected a new image of glamour, art, and beauty. Italy's reconstruction, and especially the recognition of Rome as a fashion city, were facilitated by the movie industry and the presence in the capital of the Cinecitta studios. Particularly crucial are the 1950s and 1960s, the years of the so-called "economic miracle"--a defining moment for the history of the Italian nation vis-a-vis the larger global economy. (1) It is in the context of post-World War Two reconstruction that the rich and multifaceted exchanges between Italy and America must be examined. The identity of European cities was also shaped through American mediation; in this process, popular culture, fashion, film, photography, and tourism played a crucial role. In what follows, I revisit these years through a new lens, that of fashion, in order to show how fashion plays a key role in telling the complex story of how different bodies, institutions, architecture, and systems of cultural mediation (film, journalism, art, etc.) make their critical contributions to our understanding of cities. More importantly, this essay will gauge the complex mechanisms that produce the tropes and narratives by which a city is textualized in different discourses, located and identified on maps--whether these maps be geographical, imaginary, or touristic. In her 2009 book uncovering the mechanisms that have supported the image of Paris as a fashion city (Fashioning the City. Paris, Fashion and the Media), Agnes Rocamora has emphasized the importance of both the imaginary and the lived dimensions of the city and how media culture contributes to the shaping and perception of the city she examines. (2) This process is made possible by "the well established tradition of textualization of the city and its inhabitants" (Rocamora), to which a considerable body of literary works, travel writing, and journalism has contributed. Let's remember that the word "text," in its Latin etymology (texere: to weave), contains the intricate practice that weaves narratives and, in our case, produces the city itself. At the core of the present essay is the unravelling of the fabric, threads, and tissues that constitute and have constituted both Rome as a fashion city and the perception of its haptic and optical dimensions in cinema. From this perspective, we will see an example of the role of fashion in the processes of modernization that have taken place at different times in history, and especially during periods of great cultural, political, and economic transformations--in which the identity of a nation is always revisited and reshaped. The scholarly contribution of what I would call a new historical geography, combining time and space in a relational mode, has been crucial for a critical and deeper understanding of fashion and its "many direct points of contact with the study of a city" (Gilbert 6). …