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Keenan Schember

The Minneapolis Institute of Art brings the art of Italian Fashion to Minneapolis.

M.I.A. brings Italian fashion to Minneapolis

November 12, 2014

As someone who considers fashion to be a pair of pajama jeans and a tee-shirt, walking among the some of the most beautiful clothes ever made is something that I would not normally spend my free time or money doing. However, after meandering through the Italian Style exhibition at the Minneapolis Institute of Art one fall afternoon, I have a much greater appreciation of what it means to be “made in Italy.”

Organized by the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, the exhibition chronicles the greatest achievements in Italian fashion from the 1940’s to the present. Beginning with two fairly plain wartime suits in a glass box, the exhibition quickly cascades into a display of the contrasting, elegant ballgowns bedecked by ornate lace and satin details. As nearly the only person in the exhibit twenty minutes before closing time I felt as though I were swirling among the beautiful socialites of post-war Europe.

I wandered from the magnificent gowns of the ballroom to the scandalous life of the beach in the ‘50s. The change in atmosphere was representative of the cultural shift from the conventionality of 1940’s europe to the shocking innovations of the ‘50s. Some of the first controversial two-piece swimsuits sat on show beneath movie reels of curvy models on the beach.

After discovering the cutting-edge uses of textiles over the years and studying the innovative implementations of knitwear in fashion, the room dedicated to the feats of the 1970’s caught my eye. Decadent fabric draped the manikins and sinches dramatically at their waists. At this point in the exhibit, I began to see more than just vintage clothes. I saw the historical significance of each outfit. I could almost hear the soundtrack to Remember the Titans radiating from each fabulously bold dress, coat and sweater.

The history buff in me was further thrilled when I approached the wall of magnificent Italian suits. Not only were the beautiful, innovative creations of Versace, Gucci and Fendi before me, but the suits worn by men that changed the world. On display were not only exquisite works of art, but the wardrobe of powerfuls leaders like John F. Kennedy. There is a lot to appreciate in the intricate and impeccable design, fabric and stitching that brings the suit together, but there is historical significance for those, like me, who can always see the beauty in another grey jacket.

The final pieces on display are modern, fantastical couture evening gowns. Dresses to a caliber I had only seen on Gossip Girl or the red carpet, each on strategically posed mannequins come to life with the illusion of motion, personality and grandeur. I had entered a different universe; a universe where stiff, jeweled cocktail dresses are described as “practical and stilettos have flames as heels. The informative plaques shed light on the compelling stories behind each piece on display.”  I learned the tragedy of Gianni Versace’s murder and his sister and longtime muse Donatella took over the line. I learned that Prada has a “pretty-ugly” aesthetic and that Miu Miu is Prada’s “rebellious younger sister line”.

The exhibit ends with a movie. A compilation of interviews with great designers keeps you thinking about the cultural significance of design. Consequently, as I descended the stairs of the Minneapolis Institute of Art, I had a greater appreciation for Italian fashion and the history behind it.  Don’t be surprised if you soon see me strutting through the halls decked in the latest Gucci designs.

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    michael hawkinsNov 13, 2014 at 8:48 am

    Great graphics and manipulation…and article too.

    M. Hawkins