Italian Style at Minneapolis Institute of Art


The exhibition entitled Italian Style: Fashion Since 1945* is truly extensive! A few weeks ago I went to the Minneapolis Institute of Arts to see their first ever fashion exhibition as well as interview Assistant Curator of Textiles Nicole LaBouff, PhD.

The MIA is a solid museum and I knew the exhibition originated from the Victoria & Albert Museum, however I was still surprised at the breadth and depth of the show. Therefore I’m spending two visits at the museum and devoting two distinct Worn Through posts to the tour/interview and then to the review.

A little background from the press release:: “Trace the evolution of Italian design, from Gucci and Prada to Missoni, Versace and more. A major retrospective of the fashion that has defined a nation—and a rare chance to see Milan’s finest in Minneapolis. An MIA first, this groundbreaking exhibition examines the craftsmanship and entrepreneurial verve that catapulted Italy from the ashes of World War II to the style powerhouse it is today. Immerse yourself in impeccable design, rare ingenuity, and the head-turning glamour of celebrity style.”

Nicole was generous enough to walk me through the exhibit discussing its development by the V & A staff as well as any adjustments made for the Minneapolis space and audience.

Dolce & Gabbana
Leather Ankle Boots with Gold, White and Pink Embroidery
2000 Photo © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Tom Ford for Gucci, man's velvet evening suit, Autumn/Winter 2004/5.
Tom Ford for Gucci
Man’s Velvet Evening Suit
Autumn/Winter 2004/5
Photo © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

As I walked thru the sprawling space looking at the numerous items Nicole explained that V & A curator of 20th century and contemporary fashion, Sonnet Stanfill, did extensive research into archives and an array of other sources to pull together this comprehensive show.

Monica: How did Italian Style come to the Minnepolis Institute of Arts?

Nicole: Negotiations mostly were before I arrived. The way it happened was that the V&A typically reaches out to our museum and gives us a sense of what traveling exhibits were lined up. (The MIA) was interested in doing a fashion show and what our director and our leadership really liked about Italian Style is that it wasn’t one designer that was featured, it was focusing on an entire a national industry and that was a huge draw for them.

When the show completed its run at the V & A it was packaged for touring. It will come to a handful of U.S. spots and was constructed to be transported virtually pre-built. The MIA purchased new modular cases to showcase the dress objects and plans to repurpose the cases for future shows. When the exhibition was being installed the V & A sent their choice of individuals to assist and to handle all dress objects.

Mila Schon
Sequined Evening Dress and Silk Coat
Worn and given by Princess Stanislaus Radziwill Worn to Truman Capote’s Black and White Ball 1966 Photo © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Monica: Can you discuss some of the challenges and highlights of the preparation and install?

Nicole: It came all prepared. That made it really exciting, the fact that we had these massive crates that would be wheeled into the galleries and when we would pry it open it would be like unwrapping these giant Christmas presents day after day! That created an install that was really high on drama.

I can’t really think of any in particular challenges as it was very smooth install. I attribute it to the fact that things were dressed everything as very fast really very pleasant.

Gucci, bamboo-handled pigskin bag, early 1960s.
Bamboo-handled Pigskin Bag, early 1960s
Photo © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Monica: What are some of the fan favorite pieces and you must have a favorite?

Nicole: I love the Fendi mink coat for the intricacy of construction and the “How did they do it?” factor. When we were unpacking objects I was really puzzling over how did they get those pieces (together). [Note from Monica-It’s a patchwork coat and is displayed adjacent to its mock up]. There are so many fan favorites but the Fendi coat is something that there is a lot ooo-ing and aaahhh-ing and gasping. But, I kind of worry that people walk past it because it kind of doesn’t look like a fur coat. I think it’s easy to walk past it and think it’s a velvet coat and printed or something. [Note from Monica–it is part of a large display of items versus an isolated spotlight piece].

People really love the Audrey Hepburn dress. That’s an older Hollywood actress that even young people are really familiar with and spans all ages. I think it’s really interesting that it’s a film costume and you can see it moving in that film clip so it’s wonderful to have it contextualized with that material.

The Elizabeth Taylor jewelry is a really great story and it’s a great object. [Note from Monica–In her blog post for the MIA, Nicole tells the fantastic tale of Eddie Fisher buying Taylor the Bulgari earrings in an attempt to save their marriage during her affair with Richard Burton, only to have her foot the bill when it didn’t go his way.]. I’m always sure to mention on tours one of the things I think people really would appreciate about it is that the gemstones are set on springs so it would have trembled when the wearer moved so it would have been such a spectacular piece to see it in motion.

I think there’s a lot of really attractive and exciting pieces in the final gallery about the designer. The Dolce and Gabbana is hand painted, so if anyone has a difficulty understanding why a fashion exhibit belongs in an art museum I always make the point that that’s a very literal translation that bridges because it’s a painting. A lot of people catch that (and show) a lot of nodding and understanding that fashion has relevance in art museums. Also the Capucci piece in that last gallery is also a stunner; the green and pink one.

Roberto Capucci, silk evening dress, 1987-88.
Roberto Capucci,
Silk Evening Dress, 1987-88
Courtesy Roberto Capucci Foundation
Photo © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The exhibition is built on the idea of the history of Italian style shifted from magnificent designers and their craftsmanship, then makes its way toward mass production, ready to wear and the entertainment industry, and then circling back through to unique pieces and artisans again.

Monica: What is meaningful about this exhibition to the average Minnesotan (and other U.S. cities it will travel to)? Is it the familiar designer names? Why do you think the Italian designer really grabs the American public’s interest?

Nicole: The didactics explain that the story of the growth of Italian fashion is really implicated in American history too. So it’s really an important symbiotic relationship between Italian producers and American consumers. And that’s something the exhibition really demonstrates very clearly.

I don’t imagine it’s a draw. The drama of having a major fashion exhibition here at the MIA, the first ever, is the draw, but then once they’re here they’ll find it’s really not just Italian designers doing something over in Italy. It’s actually we as American buyers helped to grow this industry and this would be really interesting to the person going through the exhibits.

If we had one on French fashion we’d see people coming in great numbers. It’s an exciting new type of artwork for people to engage with in a large scale.

In a couple of weeks look for my review of the exhibition which will be from the lens of an audience member as well as colleague. I look forward to giving all of the items a second look!

*Top photo:
Photograph by Gian Paolo Barbieri for Gianfranco Ferre advertisement Fall/Winter 1991
Model: Aly Dunne

Italian Style: Fashion Since 1945 at Minneapolis Institute of Art

Runs Thru January 4, 2015, ticketed exhibition in the Target Galley, see the website for details

Exhibition organized by the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
Presented by Nordstrom and the Blythe Brenden-Mann Foundation.
Major Sponsor: Delta Air Lines
Generous support provided by: Faegre Baker Daniels LLP, Topsy Simonson

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