Does traditional Italian culture and aesthetic still affect Italy’s biggest design houses? In the Italy of the 15th and 16th centuries, two things were happening simultaneously: Leon Battista Alberti and Giorgio Vasari were developing the rubric upon which Italian art has been judged ever since while the luxury womenswear industry was blossoming, particularly in Siena and Florence. Six hundred years later, is this history still evident in the couture ready-to-wear of today? I chose to examine Italy’s most established fashion houses in order to complete the analysis: Prada, Fendi, and Gucci.
From Vasari, still evident are his concepts of... Style: a term for the combining of various parts from different sources in order to create the finest possible figure. Prada offers a particularly telling example this season as its anniversary collection literally reanimates past greatest hits from the collection, revamping them and restyling them to bring a new best of the best to the runway. Natura: alludes to the idea that a mere reproduction of nature falls short of perfection. Art is expected to improve on nature. This is evident in each of the collections. Each of these design houses continue to use nature for inspiration whether it be in the beatle sleeves of Prada, the fur inspired collection of Fendi or the proud peacocks currently represented by Gucci. They have each referred to nature and expounded upon it, stretching it beyond its natural state into something exciting and new. Grazia: this is quite subjective but has been literally translated as “an undefinable quality dependent on the eye.” It depends on a feeling of softness, facility and appropriateness. That being said, each of these collections maintains a dignified air of excellence and grace that I believe would be aptly described by the more current term ‘chic.’ Decoro: literally decorum, these Italian design houses unanimously show conservative hemlines and keep their display of skin to a minimum, preferring to speak in the well-executed lines and craftsmanship of their clothing. From Alberti, one can still find his thoughts about... Istoria: the most imporant part of a work; its concept, idea or narrative. Though I am not certain the concepts currently walking down the runway would stand the test of Alberti’s stringency in their rigor, each house does achieve a respectable amount of cohesion through their often shallow concepts, i.e. Gucci’s demure femme fatale, Fendi’s Fur is Fun, or Prada’s search through Grandma’s haunted attic. Craftsmanship: though France has fully dominated Haute Couture, let it be known that all are in agreement on the couture craftsmanship and elegant execution of the Italian fashion houses. Time and time again they provide flawless and beautiful garments. Culturally, the effects of past Sienese Sumptuary Laws can still be felt in the level of luxury and lack of female empowerment, specifically from Gucci. Sumptuary law dicatated, under threat of fines, how luxurious a woman’s dress was allowed to be. Though this occurred in the very town that many of the garments were created, women and men alike were limited in the amount of silk, jewelry, and hair pieces they were permitted to wear. This extended also to shapes of sleeves, lengths of dresses, dips of necklines and kept up with changing trends faster than any other policy. The laws were in place to fundraise, curb friction between classes and encourage piety. All restrictions were lifted when it came to the representation of the town to any outsiders as the wealth and luxury were a display of the town’s honor. Restrictions were also lifted in the face of extreme personal wealth or status. The laws emphasized and propogated the idea of women as proprietal representations of a family’s wealth or status, as status bearing accessories. This season, Gucci also propogates this idea, literally dressing their models as prized preened peacocks with a brand of manpleasing sexuality that is more and more irrelevant. These values are extremely present in the presentation of Milan fashion week where the shows are more lavish, the collections more stunning, and the business more brutal than anywhere else. Conclusion: Though much of the process and rigor stressed by Vasari and Alberti is absent conceptually, the continued excellence of craft has kept these Italian fashion houses at the forefront of the world’s brands, ensuring that Milan fashion week in all of its strict, conservative and luxurious glory will continue to thrive and prosper.