Reconstructing Italian Fashion: America and the Development of the Italian Fashion Industry

Reconstructing Italian Fashion: America and the Development of the Italian Fashion Industry

Reconstructing Italian Fashion: America and the Development of the Italian Fashion Industry

Reconstructing Italian Fashion: America and the Development of the Italian Fashion Industry

Synopsis

Despite its long eclipse by Parisian couture, Italian fashion is now celebrated globally for the quality of its tailoring, fabric and design. But an Italian label was not always a yardstick for excellence. In the twenty years following the Second World War, a little known fact is that America played a key role in the development of Italy's fashion industry. More generally known is that the Marshall Plan had a formative influence on the financial and industrial reorganization of Italian postwar reconstruction. But America's specific influence on the regeneration of the Italian textile industry has been largely passed over, despite the meteoric rise of design houses such as Max Mara, Gucci and Prada.However, while American interest was central to the industrial and stylistic expansion of Italian fashion, the lessons learned were combined with Italian ideas and energies to create fashions with a distinctly Italian edge. This book reveals that a deliberate effort went into the development of an Italian national identity in fashion design, partially in response to American interest. Drawing on a wide range of sources, notably the testimonies of key witnesses, contemporary media reports and surviving garments, this book contributes to the scant research on twentieth century Italian dress and specifically exposes for the first time the depth of American involvement in Italian fashion in a crucial phase of its development.

Excerpt

As the new millennium begins, the Italian fashion industry is unquestionably one of the top three players on the international fashion stage and ranks parallel with Paris and New York. Yet before 1945, there was no industrial production of fashionable womenswear in Italy, and little innovative made-tomeasure haute couture. The well-known Italian fashion style currently seen in the world's glossy fashion magazines rose seemingly from nowhere in the postwar years, and was not widely recognised until the early 1980s. It is perhaps not surprising therefore that the early post-war period has been seen simply as a preparation for the recent Yniracle of Italian fashion. This book seeks to correct this impression by viewing these years as the unrecognised foundation of the post–1980 success. It considers whether a distinct Italian fashion look existed in the mind of the international fashion industry in the postwar period, by viewing Italian fashion as a product which represents a complex mixture of foreign inputs, domestic responses and original developments.

Until recently the study of fashion met with widespread disapproval, or at best neglect, within academia. To enjoy the study of dress was to risk being labelled intellectually shallow and vain. In the words of American dress historian Valerie Steele, ‘fashion was widely regarded as frivolous, sexist, bourgeois, “materialrdquo; (not intellectual), and therefore, beneath contempt’. Today, happily, fashion is seen as far from trivial in academic circles. Scholars across many disciplines recognise it as a potent form of camunication, which can tell us much about the cultural, economic and social history of the society in which it is worn. Thus the history of fashion has become a rich area of research and interpretation and has moved ‘from the wings to center-stage’.

The intricacies of this evolution have been explained at length by the various contributors to the December 1998 ‘MBthodology’ issue of Fashion Theory which highlighted two major trajectories in the field of fashion which have polarised its study in the last twenty years. Firstly, the often uncritical dress history tradition and secondly, the more recent theoretically centred exploration which has emanated from the development of cultural studies as an academic discipline. Traditional dress history texts have been dismissed as uncritical ‘hemline histories’, which focus on a chronological stylistic progression. Cn. the other hand, many dress historians have felt that their subject . . .

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