The generous support of the Design History Society has made it possible for me to continue researching fashion and textile archives in Italy for my doctoral thesis: Italy's Textile Production and its Influence on the Ready-to-Wear System and its Aesthetics 1945-1985, which I am undertaking at Kingston University, London.
My thesis looks at the role textiles played in the development of Italian fashion, from a country of little known couturiers in the 1950s, to the development of worldwide power house of Italian designer ready-to-wear in the 1980s - with, at the helm, the city of Milan. The project aims to observe the phenomenon of the post-war Italian fashion system, observing the foundational materials of fashion, that is textiles and their fibres. My approach aims to assess the intrinsic material of fashion in terms of its quality, innovation in design, type (natural, artificial, synthetics fibres), production techniques, and their impact on the country's overall fashion production. The importance of the material employed in making Italian fashion has often been quoted as a very significant characteristic of the country aesthetic, but its impact has not been yet critically assessed. My research aims to address this gap.
In the past one and half years, I have visited a number of archives in Italy, UK and the USA (refer to my earlier blog post). This year, the DHS Student Travel Award helped to fund two trips to Italy (conducted in June and July 2017), where I visited five archives in Milan, Reggio Emilia, Prato, and Parma. During these visits I had the opportunity to interview textile producers and scrutinise documents and correspondence, fashion magazines, and drawings.
Analysing material first-hand is a key aspect of my research, and these trips have offered me the opportunity to collect material that has become key in the development of my argument for chapter 2 of my thesis. This chapter focuses on Italian textile and fashion production of the 1960s, a decade that has come to be defined as the experimentation period essential before the establishment of a solid and authentic Italian fashion system. New modes of production and consumption were developed in the country at this time, and I investigate them though the lens of a specific type of textile intermediary and wholesaler, the carnettista. This approach allows me to unpick the modes of production, commission, marketing and sale of textiles in Italy during the 1960s, and how this impacted the production of both high fashion (alta moda) and the nascent ready-to-wear.
The archival-led approach of my thesis is only sustainable with the help of institutions like the Design History Society, and I am very grateful for the support offered.