In 1971, Diana Vreeland had just been dismissed from her position as Vogue’s fashion editor and she was ripe for a return. And return she did, lending her editorial eye to the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s fashion collections to create a new style of exhibit, constructing scenes like a magazine rendered in three dimensions, and controversially pairing pieces from different time periods. She also brought in a VIP crowd for the exhibit’s opening night and unprecedented crowds throughout its run. The show was a capital-E Event, and the concept of fashion as high art was born.
People still line up in droves at the Met to see fashion exhibitions, such as Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty in 2011, which set attendance records. Now, Minneapolis is becoming part of this legacy with Italian Style: Fashion Since 1945, the first major exhibition to showcase Italy’s contributions to the style canon and the first of this size and scale to come to Minneapolis.
The retrospective was organized by the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, where it debuted before traveling stateside; the Minneapolis Institute of Arts is its first U.S. stop. Boasting more than 100 ensembles and accessories from such famed Italian fashion houses as Gucci, Prada, Versace, Valentino, Armani, Fendi, Pucci, Missoni, and Dolce & Gabbana, it goes beyond the fabric to examine the history of Italian style from a broader viewpoint, chronicling how the country became one of the international fashion world’s superpowers and a major player during the golden age of Hollywood.
And what better time than October—a month of theatrics and costume—to get caught up in the romance, drama, and stories of Italy’s fashion heyday? I was curious about what to expect from Italian Style, so I called up Nicole LaBouff, assistant curator of textiles at the MIA.
“It’s very dynamic,” she explained. “Fashion photographs, accessories, shoes, handbags, newsreel footage—it’s all being woven together in an interesting way that gives a lot of variety to the viewer.”
Designers frequently reference past trends in their looks, but consumers often are influenced by fashion’s history without ever being aware of it. “We sort of use it intuitively,” LaBouff suggests. “We want to create an image for ourselves, and we use clothing in a communicative way. It’s important to know that things we use today have deep and interesting histories.”
So go to the show and brush up on your history while taking in some truly gorgeous eye candy. As for me, I’ll be digging through some vintage trunks for the perfect full-skirted, Valentino-style dress to channel Audrey Hepburn at the exhibit opening.
Italian Style, Oct. 26–Jan. 4, Minneapolis Institute of Arts, artsmia.org