History and style: how did Milan become the new capital of Italian fashion?

November 25, 2009 5 By Cristina

Let’s continue our journey into the history of Italian fashion, and discover in more detail the reasons which led Italian designers to move their collections to Milan, crowning this city as the “capital of fashion”, the focus of all activities concerning the fashion field, the pulsating heart of elegance and style.

As we saw in our previous articles, Italian fashion wasn’t born in Milan but, rather Florence saw the birth of “Italian style”, thanks to the brilliant idea of the aristocratic Giovan Battista Giorgini. In 1951 he organized the first “fashion parade” in the living room of his majestic house “Villa Torrigiani”, to attract the attention of some American buyers traveling from the Paris collections and visiting Tuscany on the way home. The next year, the event, gaining success and appreciation, moved to the legendary Sala Bianca at Palazzo Pitti, in Florence, an enormous salon decorated with stucco and frescos, where designers presented their creations, winning popularity and affirming themselves in the fashion field as promoters of the Made in Italy style around the world.

Some years later, thanks to the strong artistic partnership between the American and the Roman movie industry, many Hollywood actors and actresses came to Rome to film movies directed by important  Italian movie makers such as our famous Federico Fellini. Rome became the new Hollywood and, Italian designers started producing appropriate dresses for American actresses such as Ava Gardner and Anita Ekberg, who wore Italian made dresses not only during filming but also in their private life.

The world of fashion, inevitably, moved to Rome, the eternal capital of beauty, history….and, as from the 60’s also of Made in Italy elegance. It was in these years that designers and creators such as Micol, Zoe and Giovanna Fontana or Giovanna Gattinoni gained popularity, not only in Italy but in the United States and, in particular, in Hollywood, becoming the American actresses’ favorite designers. Emilio Schubert created looks for Anna Magnani and Sofia Loren.

Roman “haute couture” became famous all around the world, confirming Italian fashion as the undisputed symbol of quality, prestige and refinement. This “golden age” lasted for about a decade, until the end of 60’s when something happened which overturned the fortunes of Italian fashion and shifted its focus from Rome to Milan.

Let’s look in more detail what happened!

The end of 60’s and, in particular the year 1968 was a period of social revolution and protest against the political system, which started in France and moved rapidly to Italy too. Women started fighting for equal rights and, for the first time, they really started wearing trousers. Elio Fiorucci took advantage of this situation and promoted jeans for women to wear here in Italy, locating his shop in San Babila square, in Milan, which, would very soon become the centre of the Milanese trend-setting style.

Fashion entered a new period in the 70’s with the “assembly line” boom, as business men started producing t-shirts, skirts, trousers and jackets in bulk, giving birth to a more accessible fashion in terms of price. Designers were no longer considered to be luxury tailors but creators of a style that should be affordable for everybody.

Milan soon became the new capital of prêt-à-porter and the big textile industries started employing talented designers to give a distinctive touch to their creations. So in 1973, a young designer called Gianni Versace started designing models for “Genny” while another young designer, Giorgio Armani, designed his first creations for an important financial textile group.

The focus of fashion, inevitably moved to Milan, also because the town offered all the comforts and convenience for business development: international airports, conference halls, majestic hotels for press conferences or receiving important guests. Moreover, Milan was the home of some of the most important Italian fashion periodicals.

The episode which underlined the definitive moving of fashion from Florence to Milan was an accident involving Missoni fashion house in 1967. Just minutes before presenting their show at the Sala Bianca of Palazzo Pitti, in Florence, Ottavio and Rosita Missoni noticed that the lingerie worn by the models was unsuitable for the light lamè dresses. However it was too late to change anything. The models walked down the catwalk with their lingerie showing. Press and buyers applauded the bold idea promoted by Missoni but the following year, Missoni were not invited to take part in the show. So, they decided to present their creations anyway, choosing a Milanese swimming pool as their setting. The success was enormous and the popularity they achieved convinced the other Italian designers to abandon the Florentine Sala Bianca in Palazzo Pitti and move their collections to Milan, choosing a special set which would better enhance the originality of their creations.

In 1975 the Italian Camera della Moda, presented its first official calendar of fashion shows and Milan celebrated its success. In 1978 about 51 collections were shown over 6 days including many Italian brands such as Missoni, Fendi, Genny, Mario Valentino, Enrico Coveri, Mila Schon, Roberta di Camerino and Laura Biagiotti.

More than 30 years have passed since that event, but Milan continues to be the pulsating heart of Italian fashion, attracting every year thousands of people, fashion journalists and buyers coming from all the countries in the world, for the traditional “Milan fashion week”, to see the new proposals for the coming seasons, sure to find in it the best of luxury and elegance, the pure essence of tradition and attention to detail; in other words, the genuine “Made in Italy” style.

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