In 1940, Anna Ancillotti Chiarugi established a dressmaking business in Sovigliana-Vinci, near Florence. Her four daughters Sandra, Lucia, Rosaria and Stella Chiarugi inherited the business in 1975 and seven years later renamed the company Oppio (Italian for opium). The label found international success, but by 2009 the company had been bought out or sold.
On our way back from the ROM we cut through Yorkville Village (formerly known as Hazleton Lanes), to get to our car, and discovered an exhibition of 60 years of Italian Fashion in the main rotunda.
I had heard nothing about this show so it was a delightful surprise. The mall was about to close so we had only minutes to see as much as we could and take some pics.
Looking this up online today I see one of the partners in this display is the Istituto Italiano di Cultura Toronto — an organization that often sponsors Italian theme exhibitions in Toronto (I recall a phenomenal Bugatti chair exhibition they did about twenty-five years ago.) According to the institution’s website the exhibition “60 Years of Made in Italy” was organized by Fiorella Galgano and Alessia Tota from various archives and private collections, and created courtesy of the Consulate General of Italy.
On display are garments from the 1950s to the present including a lot of celebrity worn pieces. The exhibition is FREE, and on display until the end of June.
Laura Biagiotti was born August 4, 1943 and studied to become an archaeologist before entering her mother’s dressmaking business. She presented her first eponymous collection in 1972 and her brand quickly became one of the leading luxury lines that made Italian fashions famous in the 1970s and 1980s. Known for her cashmere knits and wool fashions, she also had a successful men’s line, sunglass brand and signature scent Roma, named for her home city.
Biagiotti lived in a restored medieval castle outside of Rome, which was also the headquarters for her business. The company was a pioneer in the now-established practice of fashion houses sponsoring the restoration of historic structures. In 1998, her company restored a staircase designed by Michelangelo that leads to the top of the Capitoline Hill, and more recently, Biagiotti contributed to the restoration of two 17th century fountains in front of Palazzo Farnese – home of the French Embassy in Rome.
Her husband, Gianni Cigna, who had also been her business partner, died in 1996, and her daughter, Lavinia Biagiotti Cigna, has been working as the creative director of the fashion house since 2005. Laura Biagiotti died May 26 of a heart attack.
There may be a new contender for the oldest extant illustrated garment. Until now I thought it was the c. 1610 jacket of Margaret Layton, but Daniel Milford-Cottam alerted me to a possible earlier garment worn by Eleanor of Toledo in one of her last portraits that was also possibly her burial gown.
Spanish aristocrat Eleanor of Toledo married into the Tuscan Medici family at the age of 16. The union brought blue blood into the Medici clan, money into Eleanor’s family, and produced 11 children. Ill health plagued Eleanor most of her life and in 1562 she died from Malaria at about age 40.
In the 19th century her tomb was opened and body exhumed. The funereal dress she had been buried in was removed and is now kept in the Pitti Palace in Florence (the home bought by Eleanor and Cosimo Medici in 1549 that became the residence of the ruling families of Tuscany.) The sleeveless dress has metallic embroidery that seems to resemble what can be seen of the same bodice in one of her last portraits.
There is an interesting article that talks more about Eleanor of Toledo’s portraits, gowns and makes the initial supposition that the burial garment may be the one shown in her portrait.
In 1979’s The Greatest Dancer, Sister Sledge sang “He wears the finest clothes, the best designers, heaven knows, from his head down to his toes – Halston, Gucci, Fiorucci…” Although I don’t believe Fiorucci ever made or sold men’s clothes, the song immortalizes how important the label was in the late 1970s.
Elio Fiorucci was born in Milan on June 10, 1935. He began his fashion career as a teenager, working in his father’s shoe shop. In 1967 he opened a boutique on Galleria Passarella in Milan, modelled after the lifestyle emporium Biba in London, with most of his stock coming from English designers like Ossie Clark and Zandra Rhodes. In 1970 Elio began styling his own eponymous line that mixed the spirit of Carnaby street with his Italian sense of colour and humour. He also kept his eye on trends, and popularized Afghani coats and Brazilian thong bikinis in his store. His approach was right for the times, and within a few years he was expanding his fashion empire, opening stores in London in 1975 and New York in 1976.
When Studio 54 opened in Manhattan in 1977 Fiorucci was hired to organize the grand opening. The clothes Fiorucci sold became associated with the disco scene. In 1980 when Warhol launched Interview magazine, the opening party was held at Fiorucci’s store. Fiorucci was more of a stylist and retailer than a designer – in 1978 he was the first brand to sign a collection of sunglasses. The Fiorucci logo became a pair of cherubs wearing sunglasses – an image that could be found on everything from T-shirts to key chains.
Although known for colourful, fun clothing, including clothes of vinyl and plastic, it was tight-fitting jeans that really established Fiorucci’s international reputation and set off the designer jean wars of the late 1970s and early 1980s. Tight-fitting jeans were a staple of the Disco scene and later, in the early 1980s, Fiorucci reportedly became the first to carry stretch jeans made from a mix of Lycra and denim. His skinny clientele loved them – Fiorucci only carried clothing for thin girls, explaining “To manufacture only small sizes is doing a favour for humanity. I prevent ugly girls from showing off their bad figures.’’
After meteoric success in the 1970s and early 1980s, Fiorucci’s fortunes began to turn. By the late 1980s his style had fallen from favour, he ran into distribution problems, and had to close his New York location. In the mid 1990s Fiorucci was up on charges of fraud for falsifying reports to increase the value of his company when it was sold to Carrera in 1989. He was sentenced by an Italian court to a suspended prison term of 22 months.
Fiorucci’s fortune eventually changed and in 2004 he founded the brand ‘Love Therapy’.
I came across these two vintage Keystone press photos recently and was interested to read the caption information on the back. Both images say the dresses were made by the Italian firm of ‘Hawai’. Hawai was founded in 1964 near Verona as a costume jewellery fittings manufacturer. These dresses were exhibited in October 1969 in Munich at a showcase of spring 1970 Italian fashions. The Hawaii company still exists (www.hawai.it), and specializes in metal and plastic accessories for footwear, clothing, leather goods, and pet accessories.
I have had the privilege of handling several chain-mail dresses by Paco Rabanne. He, of course, is the most famous designer and originator of chain-mail dresses, but, as I suspected, he was not the only designer of chain-mail inspired dresses and accessories.