Fashion Movie

It is my great pleasure to accept this invitation to talk about my latest book on fashion and cinema. Let me first summarize it, but with a small premise. Fashion and clothing are important objects to understand not only the universe of emotions and personal relationships with materiality, fabric, cut, and color, but also the complex history of the identity of a nation. Italy, in our case. Most of my work and research has focused, and still focuses, as in my current project, on the “made in Italy,” on how fashion and material culture in general reveal not only the folds of history but also its own soul. When clothes and objects enter into dialogue with the various media, the most powerful of which is cinema, they are animated by the complexity of not only stories but also plural subjectivities within a single character. Clothes, in fact, reveal, but they also disguise identity. It is on this interplay that I have focused in my book following closely the characters in “fashion” films such as La dolce Vita, La notte or Blow-up. Human beings are not only interested in their own clothing but also on the clothes that belong to or are worn by others. This helps explain the general public’s fascination, curiosity and attraction for the many recent exhibitions of fashion and costumes from cinema. But beyond the pleasure and sensuality that elegant and well-made clothing evokes, there are other stories to tell. Those of the highly skilled labor of many professionals; and the story of how cinema launched Italian fashion to the global scene. Starting in the post-war years, the marketing of Italian style and later of the “made in Italy” brand was spread to the world via film. Italian style began to signify beauty, elegance and quality. These values have travelled up until today’s experiments in know-how and craftsmanship. Cinema and fashion in Italy have always enjoyed a great synergy even when they did not go at the same speed, as was the case of early cinema (Oxilia, Pastrone). In the 1910s, Italian cinema was exported all over the world along with Italian Divas like Lyda Borelli. My book, in fact, traces these early beginnings by way of one of the classic authors of Italian literature, Luigi Pirandello. He was known for having published the first novel on the industry and theory of cinema, but as I underline we need to recognize his contribution to the semiotics of dress. The book then continues with thematic chapters that look at different historical periods: the 1930s with directors such as Alessandro Blasetti, on to Michelangelo Antonioni and Federico Fellini, and up until Paolo Sorrentino’s La Grande Bellezza, the film that concludes the book. The chapters investigate the cities of cinema and fashion and how they alternate in the collective imaginary of foreigners. Rome, the eternal city, is of particular importance. The city of Rome, in fact, speaks during the solitary and nocturnal walks of Jep Gambardella (Toni Servillo), impeccably dressed by Attolini. Jep’s brightly coloured jackets and suits–yellow and red–are not often seen in men’s fashion. In La grande bellezza, they describe an exuberant personality with all its melancholic fragility. The “made in Italy” of Jep’s sartorial elegance is a contemporary version of the old story of Italian fashion: handmade craftsmanship and its simple elegance. It is not by chance that in the age of globalization needs and desires still exist for the emotion that comes from the old artisanal workshops that need to be kept alive. A series of interviews with Massimiliano Attolini, Dino Trappetti (Tirelli), the late Teresa Allegri, founder of Annamode, as well as an interview with Ferdinanda Gattinoni whom I had the pleasure to meet back in 2000 and that I kept until I was ready to publish it, concludes the volume. Their voices underline the strength of the made in Italy, an ongoing creative laboratory in the world of fashion as it is in the world of cinema.

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