17 February 2017 -
Histories of Italian fashion have often highlighted the lives and careers of couturiers and individual stilisti, or the relevance of centres of Italian fashion at particular moments, such as Rome and its 'Hollywood on the Tiber' glamour in the 1950s and 1960s, and Milan as the symbol of Italy's prêt-à-porter's explosion in the 1980s. However, the investigation of the actual material that constructs fashion, that is, textiles and their fibres, are overlooked, and aspects such as their quality, innovation in design, materials (natural, artificial, or man-made fibres), production techniques, and their impact on the country's overall fashion and design aesthetic, is still largely uncharted.
My PhD research investigates Italy's transition from a country of dressmakers, tailors and small-scale couturiers in the early post-World War II period to a major producer of designer ready-to-wear in the 1980s through an exploration of the Italian textile industry. The project analyses social, economic and cultural changes from the immediate post-war years to the climax years of the 1980s, when a mature integrated fashion system was developed. My investigation connects production, commerce and style, and situates national change within global contexts by fusing textile, fashion studies and design history in a multidisciplinary approach to examine Italian textiles within the wider context of marketplace collaboration.
The Design History Society Student Travel Award helped to fund a crucial research trip to the USA, which took place in October and November 2016. During this time, I visited 13 archives in New York, Philadelphia and Wilmington, with each archive offering a variety of material, from letters, photographs and trade journals, to exhibition programmes and textile swatches. I also visited museum and university fashion collections to analyse first-hand Italian-made garments. The subsequent in-depth object-based analyses of evening dresses, day suits and sportswear has been vital to the development of my research, and the transatlantic commerce of Italian fashion is a key feature of the first part of my thesis. I am very grateful to the Design History Society for their support, and to all the archivists, curators and academics who facilitated my visits and engaged in inspiring conversations.
Lucia Floriana Savi
Kingston University London