LONDON – This week, London’s Victoria and Albert Museum opened its doors to The Glamour of Italian Fashion – 1945-2014, showcasing Italy’s contribution to modern fashion from the end of the second war and underlining the crossover between art and fashion. Using resources from over 30 different archives in Italy, curator Sonnet Stanfill spent two years researching the project. And my, does it show. Her slick edit of 100 outfits spanning 70 years features many pieces never before seen in Britain. As well as featuring leading design houses such as Gucci and Dolce & Gabbana, spectacular items from less well known post-war couturiers Sorelle Fontana and Mila Schön also get a look in.

Installation image of The Glamour of Italian Fashion 1945 – 2014. Photo © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

The exhibition’s highlight comes in the second of the three galleries, where the Hollywood-on-the-Tiber era takes centre stage. We’re cast back to the 1950s and 1960s when the film world flocked to Rome’s Cinecitta studios to shoot movies such as Cleopatra, War and Peace and Roman Holiday. Photographed both on and off set against magnificent and sunshine soaked backdrops it’s little wonder that actresses such as Audrey Hepburn, Ava Gardner and Liz Taylor became style ambassadors for Italian fashion.

The exhibition showcases a beautiful Fontana – no, not that one – evening gown worn by Ava Gardner in 1960. And Elizabeth Taylor’s emerald and diamond Bulgari necklace supporting a 23.44 carat emerald pendant, is particularly stunning. It was given to Taylor by Richard Burton, who once quipped, “The only word Liz knows in Italian is Bulgari.”

Elizabeth Taylor wears Bulgari jewellery at the masked ball, Hotel Ca'Rezzonico, Venice. Image courtesy of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Other highlights of the exhibition feature tailoring. After all, for many, this is what Italy does best. Bespoke suits from Rubinacci, the family-run menswear atelier from Naples show sleek cuts and slim lapels that were its trademark in the 1960s. Then there are the accessories. How could we forget those? From the most exquisite handbags and shoes, Italy’s fine leatherwear is coveted the world over and here, we can feast over some of the nation’s finest. A pair not to miss? Some Dolce & Gabbana black leather stiletto ankle boots featuring embroidery, crystals and sequins. They’re a work of art in their own right.

Ankle boots, black leather stiletto heels with gold, white and pink embroidery, by Dolce & Gabbana, 2000. Photo © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

The final gallery is perhaps the most poignant. Focused on how Italy plans to move forward in fashion, it serves as an antidote to Burberry and Alexander McQueen’s recent decisions to leave Milan Fashion Week for London. As well as showcasing how they are building on their fast fashion and Internet retail, it celebrates the work of newbies setting the fashion world alight like Valentino’s design duo Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pier Piccioli, and Fausto Puglisi, a favourite of Madonna and Anna della Russo. For a nation with fashion at its heart, the message is clear: Viva L’Italia!

Style Writer Naomi Reilly contributes to The Telegraph, The Guardian and Elle, among others.


The Glamour of Italian Fashion – 1945-2014
Victoria & Albert Museum, 5 April–27 July


Arte Moderna e Contemporanea
Sotheby’s Milan, 27 May