Articles by: Pamela a. Ivinski

  • Art & Culture

    The Clothing of Dreams

    Italian costume designers, now having earned 13 Oscars, unquestionably deserve the honors they are also receiving in a terrific exhibition, “I vestiti dei sogni: La scuola dei costumisti italiani per il cinema” (“The Clothing of Dreams: The Italian School of Costume Designers for Film”), currently at the Museo di Roma.

    The show, produced by the Fondazione Cineteca di Bologna and on view until March 22, traces the history of Italian efforts in the field from 1915 to the present. While emphasizing the genius of a select few designers, the exhibition also highlights the connections between the generations while linking cinematic costume to Italy’s grand sartorial tradition as represented over the centuries in painting and sculpture.

    The first costume encountered in “I vestiti dei sogni” is the distinctive red jacket worn by Toni Servillo in La Grande Bellezza (The Great Beauty), the 2013 Oscar winner for Best Foreign Language Film. Made by Neapolitan bespoke tailoring firm Cesare Attolini, the sport coat is displayed near a 1775 portrait of Pius V, whose nephew built Rome’s Palazzo Braschi, in which the museum is located.

    The rhyme between the color of the jacket and the papal vestments underscores the symbolic importance of red in Italian clothing history. At the same time, it may slyly allude to the persistence of extravagant taste among some well-to-do Italians, shared by the building’s first owner, who enjoyed “wealth accumulated thanks to the unprincipled granting of many privileges from the Pope” (according to the museum’s website), and the “gagà” (Neapolitan dandy) type associated with Attolini and Sorillo’s character, Jep Gambardella.

    The exhibition then moves into a section of the palazzo utilized for traveling exhibitions and begins the tale of Italian costume design with examples by actress Lyda Borelli, who designed her own costumes for silent films of the 1910s.

    Here we learn about Vittorio Nino Novarese, a screenwriter and costume designer who was the first significant Italian artisan to find success in Hollywood, eventually winning an Oscar for the male costumes of Cleopatra (1963).

    The blank walls of this part of the museum display stills from early black-and-white movies and clips from later films, including stunning ballroom scenes from King Vidor’s War and Peace (1956) and Luchino Visconti’s Il Gattopardo (The Leopard) of 1963.

    Some of the most fascinating insights into the costume designer’s process appear in Maria de Matteis’s comments about the gowns she made for Audrey Hepburn in War and Peace. A wall label (in Italian and English) explains that de Matteis created 22 dresses tinted in accordance with the life cycle of a leaf, from light spring green to “winter Havana brown,” and that some were embroidered with horse designs in order to accentuate the actress’s childlike features.

    After small rooms devoted to Piero Gherardi’s hallucinatory clothing for Federico Fellini’s 1965 Giulietta degli Spiriti (Juliet of the Spirits) and Danilo Donati’s highly textured, almost sculptural costumes for Edipo Re (Oedipus Rex, 1967) by Pier Paolo Pasolini, the exhibition expands into luxuriously appointed rooms filled with the museum’s art collection.

    A large selection of dresses made by various designers in association with Torelli Costumi, the celebrated theatrical and cinematic costuming atelier, includes exquisite examples such as gowns worn by Silvana Mangano in Visconti’s Morte a Venezia (Death in Venice, 1971) and Michelle Pfeiffer and Winona Ryder in Martin Scorsese’s The Age of Innocence (1993).

    A room to the side pays tribute to the workshops and designers who complete the outfits with items like a wig worn by Morgan Freeman in Driving Miss Daisy and Jack Sparrow’s boots from Pirates of the Caribbean. Another room is dedicated to Milena Canonero’s Oscar-winning designs for Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette (2007).

    The final section of “I vestiti dei sogni” deliberately places cinematic clothing, including more male costumes than have been seen earlier in the exhibition, in dialogue with works from the Museo di Roma’s permanent collection. In one spectacular vignette, three clerical figures from the ecclesiastical fashion show of Fellini’s Roma (Fellini’s Rome, 1971) pose in front of a painting that depicts Fabio Chigi Elected Cardinal by Pope Innocent X.

    The juxtaposition speaks to the continuing role of sartorial splendor in the pageantry of the Church, exaggerated by Fellini and recently criticized by Pope Francis. In a decidedly more secular vein, three costumes from Il Casanova di Federico Fellini (Fellini’s Casanova, 1976), including a lacy men’s suit of pink upon pink, are situated comfortably among portraits of powdered wig-wearing figures from the 18th century.

    The beauty of these outfits, which like so many of the dresses and suits on view in “I vestiti dei sogni” were created for Tirelli Costumi, suggests that the upcoming exhibition of Tirelli’s cinematic costumes scheduled to open at the Museum of the Moving Image in New York this summer will be just as appealing as this splendid show.

  • Art & Culture

    Bellissima. Italian Fashion Through the Seasons

    MAXXI, the nearly five-year-old contemporary art museum located in the Flaminio district of Rome, describes its mission as not simply a place to display art. Rather, the museum hopes to function, among other things, as a place for “cultural innovation and the overlapping of languages.”

    “Bellissima” features relatively few items of clothing and accessories, but the limited scope allows the viewer to spend more time appreciating individual objects.

    As the wall labels (in Italian and English) explain, the show does not present a history of clothing but “stages a selection of outfits by a series of authors to whom is due the very identity of Italian fashion, revealing its themes and distinguishing features.”

    Mannequins populate an elevated catwalk that resembles a baggage carousel crossed with a racetrack. Nonetheless, the dresses, jumpsuits, and coats worn by the figurines are anything but the kind of mass-produced “fast fashion” that’s shoved into a suitcase and checked at the airport with a prayer that it doesn’t get lost on the way.

    In keeping with their interest in the artistic dimension of “l’alta moda,” the curators of “Bellissima” feature a number of items of clothing that required incredible handiwork, including the beading and embroidery we associate with couture.

    Taking this notion a bit further, the mannequins share the catwalk with actual works of painting and sculpture, many from the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna of Rome.

    In some cases, these comparisons serve solely to establish a shared aesthetic. In other examples, the connection is more direct, as with a 1965 Roberto Capucci dress identified as an “Homage to Vasarely,” a founder of the Op Art movement.

    Capucci’s dress is not created from printed fabric; instead, the visual effect is created by weaving black and white satin ribbons and is displayed alongside prints by Alberto Biasi that make use of similar optical illusions. And one item from 1962, a simple shantung day dress by Germana Marucelli, served as the canvas for strokes of color hand-painted by Paolo Scheggi, a Settignano-born artist whose works from the 1960s have recently grown in popularity.  

    Some items derive their interest as much from their history as their beauty, especially in the section devoted to cinema and “Hollywood on the Tiber.”

    A mannequin clad in a dress made around 1953 by Emilio Schuberth for Gina Lollobrigida sprawls on the catwalk, her saucy attitude and the dress’s ample strapless bodice alluding to La Lollobridiga’s status as a sex symbol.

    Glass cases built into the catwalk hold gold kid stilettos worn by Marilyn Monroe in “Bus Stop” (1956) as well as a tiny pair of lace sandals made for beloved Italian actress Anna Magnani (star of the 1951 Visconti film from which the exhibition takes its name). Hats, bags, and jewelry by Bulgari (the exhibition’s main partner) and others complete the head-to-toe aspect of wearable art.

    Additional materials on display in “Bellissima” allude to the diffusion of Italian fashion. A few stunning giant photographs ring the room, including a 1958 image by Federico Garollo of two women in polka-dotted Valentino dresses that is the very essence of mid-20th century Italian moda.

    Screens set into the catwalk project a variety of programs devoted to Italian fashion, providing a less static view of the period under discussion. If you can get to Rome before the show closes on March 5, the easy trip to MAXXI from the Centro Storico via Metro and tram is worth the effort. If not, an enormous exhibition catalogue, published in an English version, provides more specific information on pieces in the show as well as the fashion scenes in a number of Italian cities.