As any Italian native would attest, the country that brought the world pasta and Sophia Loren has two great passions; food and women. And while fashion designers from Florence to Fifth Avenue would attest that their mission is to make women beautiful, few do it with such style, charm and élan than the Italian fashion contingent. Renegade conceptualism, urban sportiness and deconstructed minimalism have their place in the strata of fashion, but now, more than ever, Italian fashion is acting as a love letter to women; and it is women who are driving this softer aspect forward.
Gucci’s first lady
Perhaps surprisingly for an industry largely devoted to women’s attire, the fashion world is dominated by men. But in the sphere of Italian fashion, a range of high-powered women are reacting sensitively and instinctively to how a woman should dress, in a show of sartorial sisterhood. It’s indicative of this shift that the house that once defined vampishness and dominatrix chic has softened its aesthetic. Gucci, brought to life by US design titan Tom Ford and transformed into a high-octane, take-no-prisoners luxury label, was in the 90s a byword for daring, provocative and overtly sensual womenswear. Cut-out panelling, plunging necklines, hip-grazing splits and spike heels that could cut glass were the modus operandi.
But in this new, female-friendly Italian fashion arena, Gucci has embraced a new femininity under creative director Frida Giannini. The designer has replaced sheer blouses and shocking ad campaigns with a fluid, soft aesthetic that draws inspiration from the film noir heroines of the 1940s; and what women wouldn’t want to follow such role models? The new lines include tea dresses that elegantly accentuate curves and sumptuous, intricate florals and gowns that nod to the Gucci era of days gone by, when Grace Kelly was a fan. The brand’s latest poster girl is Kelly’s granddaughter Charlotte Casiraghi, a model of modesty, elegance and propriety.
Donatella’s bold new vision
The house of Versace has always catered to an after-dark glamazon. This was the brand that brought the supermodels to a global stage, under the tutelage of founder Gianni Versace, so it’s no wonder that his tigress sister Donatella continues to make a stand for strong women in her interpretation of the Versace codes. Today, however, the showgirls of Versace’s past have been subdued, with Donatella Versace adding a more subtle, nuanced edged to her designs; for example, nutmegs, caramels and nude tones now play a part where neons and pop-brights previously dominated. For spring, the Versace woman marries fragility and fierceness in dainty, feminine lace set against heavy-duty gladiator sandals and leather accents.
Art of fashion
At the other end of this interpretation of femininity is Consuelo Castiglioni, a designer who, at her label Marni, has channelled a contrasting element of Italian fashion cool. At Marni, print is paramount and catering to a certain intellectual, thoughtful consumer is key; Castiglioni’s prints are artistic (architects, she has said, are big fans) and her cuts – which break away from the traditions of some Italian brands – are inventive and quirky; boxy jackets are a staple. ‘A dress could be seen as a piece of art, but a piece of art with added value to its functionality,’ she has said.
No one exemplifies the brilliance of Italy’s female designers more than the revered Miuccia Prada, who turned her family’s dusty luggage label into a multi-million pound luxury conglomerate. Her thoughtful, elegant, ahead-of-the-curve designs mean she is acknowledged as one of the most important designers of the 21st century. She has said of her work that she endeavours to ‘make men more sensitive and women stronger… fashion fosters clichés about beauty, but I want to tear them apart.’ Tear them apart she has, with collections that have taken stereotypically ‘ugly’ aesthetics (such as 60s curtain material) and turned them into beguiling, luxurious garments that defy the traditional aspects of Italian womenswear.