The exhibition presents more than 100 ensembles from fashion houses including Prada, Gucci, Valentino and Versace, as well as Bulgari jewels and scooter and lifestyle brand Vespa, all contextualised with AV created by Urban Salon, graphics by Studio Fernando Gutierrez, and photography and video footage from the V&A and Italian history archives.
Urban Salon says it was tasked with creating an environment to house these displays and ‘bring to life the craftsmanship and the exceptional quality of the techniques, materials and expertise’ on which Italian fashion houses have founded their reputation.
Graphics in Italian type define curatorial themes, and the title text for the exhibition has been inspired by Italian street signs with lettering painted in a rust coloured paint. Between each section 5m high banners delineate the exhibition zones.
As visitors enter the exhibition they are greeted with a 4.8m wall clad in unfurnished Italian travertine stone tiles.
This gives way to Italy at War, an opening section that starts with a full height black and white image showing a Florence streetscape where heavy bombing had occurred during WWII.
The rise of Italy’s fashion industry is then plotted along the lines of the country’s post-war recovery, with particular attention paid to the Sala Bianca fashion shows held in Florence in the 1950s.
The Sala Bianca house was the glamorous setting for fashion shows planned by Giovanni Battista Giorgini, ‘who wanted to pull the fashion world from Paris to this house in Florence,’ says Urban Salon designer Ray Cheung, who adds ‘We wanted the space to feel like being at the Sala Bianca.’
Here garments are arranged within centrally aligned showcases to make it appear as if models are walking along a catwalk.
Two large-scale black and white archive images from a 1955 show in the Sala Bianca help create the illusion.
An ‘intimate’ timber-lined space then explains the relationship between dressmakers and clients before an immersive cinematic section looks at Hollywood’s relationship with Italian fashion.
The room features the Bulgari jewels and large cases of garments within the centre of the space offset by full bleed films showing Hollywood stars on and off set in Rome.
A Tailoring section has wall graphics with tailoring patterns from the fashion house Max Mara. The lettering from the title sign Tailoring has been CNC cut to emphasise a sense of the clean cut lines in Italian clothing.
Visitors then enter The Made in Italy room which explores the growth of manufacturing and incorporates a factory style cross-ceiling made from timber with a linear light incorporated into the structure and full height mirrored sidewalls to give the illusion of infinity and a sense of scale. Meanwhile a soundscape of a textile factory plays in the background.
‘It’s our tribute to Italian designers like [industrial designer] Achille Castiglioni’ says Cheung, who has tried to give a broad sense of Italian design though what he calls ‘a continuous elegant space which allows you to see the clothes from all angles.’
Within this section visitors learn about subjects including making leather and fur, and the development of knitwear from a hand-made to a digital process, plus the growth of ‘elegant ready to wear’ factory made products.
The penultimate section, The Cult of The Fashion Designer, is an exploration of fashion designers as celebrities, expressed as a T-shaped catwalk showcasing 19 garments beneath a large-scale projection of a film created by fashion photographer Jason Last.
A 13m2 tapered tension stretched ceiling over the catwalk uses the dimensions of the space to focus visitors attention on the garments and the projection.
Italian Fashion’s Future hosts another film where Cheung says, ‘We asked the key protagonists a series of questions – what’s important about Italian fashion, how it’s different and why it’s important; you’ve got everyone from a Gucci technician to the Vogue Italy editor.’
Cheung says, ‘What we’ve tried to achieve is a piece of exhibition design that is elegant and deluxe – a perfect backdrop for fine garments. Our intention was to create a simple four colour palette but with a variety of materials.
Materials include travertine marble, oak, mirrors, pvc, sailing hardware and acrylic.