Fashion History: Italy After WW2

12 01 2009


Prior to the 18th Century, Como was a leading silk producer. Wool was key in Florence.  Techniques in leather-works and weaving were regionally specific.

Under Fascism, attempts were made to create an Italian style of international prominence, but to no avail. After the war, France was again focused on reviving the haute-couture market, and the US was well on its way as the mass market leader in fast, cheap production. Because wealthy women only wanted French fashion, Italian producers had merely copied them. However, a new post-war market (largely US) was wanting a more convenient, affordable fashion: something between haute couture and mass-produced apparel.  An Italian entrepreneur saw an opportunity in the market, and enabled Italy to become the leading producer of creative, easy-to-wear clothing.

A man named Giovanni Battista Giorgini (1989-1971), who had worked as a buyer for US department stores, understood that there was a demand for well-crafted, yet affordable fashion. He knew that he could rely on Italy’s tradition of diverse craftsmanship for quality and creativity, while the US provided industrial machinery and a hungry mass market. Giorgini told Italian designers to ignore France and create their own designs. He then hosted a show in his villa for American and Canadian buyers, showcasing these Italian houses and boutiques. The show was a success, demonstrating simplicity, a sophisticated use of color and decorative details, and cost less than half its French counterpart. Giorgini had this show immediately after the Parisian Fashion Week in February 1951 because buyers were already in Europe, and could be more easily persuaded to view the new Italian designs. Thus the modern Fashion Week circuit was born.

Giorgini understood that it wasn’t just the dress, but the lifestyle and the image the fashion represented which made sales. Italy became increasingly popular in the US market through magazine articles demonstrating the laid-back lifestyle of Italy. Designers such as Emilio Pucci emerged in the 1950s, demonstrating lively colors in dynamic and soft patterns alike in his silk productions.

By 1958, Italy had overtaken France and England as leading European exporters to the US of textiles, apparel and accessories. Italian exports in women’s clothing had risen from 45 million articles in 1950 to 2 billion in 1957! Shoes alone skyrocketed from 208 million pairs exported in 1950 to almost 19 billion in 1957. In the same period, Hollywodd had taken an interest in italy, and began to produce films such as Roman Holiday (1953), which contributed to the diffusion of Italian style abroad. This same mechanism of integration between fashion and media would come in handy again in the future with Giorgio Armani, but more on that later!