La Dolce Vita evokes beauty, luxury, and joyful exuberance – mid-century Italian life at its most glamourous. We think of Sophia Loren wearing lavish gowns at movie premieres, and European royalty vacationing on the Amalfi coast. Yet just a few years earlier, Italy was suffering the aftermath of World War II, surrounded by destruction and struggling to find a national identity after years of dictatorship. Surprisingly, Italian fashion played a vital role in the country’s post-war economic resurgence.
From Prada to Pucci, Valentino to Versace, Italy is heralded as one of the most progressive and respected fashion capitals in the world. However, the country was not always regarded as a fashion hub. In the years prior to World War II, Italy, like most countries, followed the fashion barometer set by haute couture designers in Paris. The Italian fascist regime sought to establish a unified la linea Italiana (Italian style) in dress during its twenty-year reign with little success, and Dior’s tremendously successful New Look collection in 1947 ensured all eyes remained on Paris. Thus, the country’s designers continued to look to France for guidance immediately following the war.
It took the efforts of one man, Giovanni Battista Giorgini, to push Italian design into the international spotlight. Giorgini recognized the quality and talent of post-war Italian fashion and industrial design. He wanted to promote the Italian aesthetic outside of France’s influence, celebrating his country’s fine craftsmanship and quality textiles. A former fashion buyer with American connections, Giorgini knew that capitalizing on the U.S. market was the answer to success for Italian design. The Marshall Plan, the U.S. economic aid package to Europe, insured that both governments were willing partners in supporting local industry.
Italian Fashion show at Sala Bianca, July 1955; courtesy of Archivio Giorgini.