Themes such as fashion and cinema have often been explored by exhibitions organised all over the world. Rather than just looking at these two topics, a recent exhibition at Venice's Palazzo Mocenigo, the Museum and Study Centre of the History of Fabrics and Costumes, looked at the connections between film, costume, fashion and Venice.
Entitled “Trame di moda - Donne e Stile alla Mostra del Cinema di Venezia” (Fashioning Cinema - Women and Style at the Venice Film Festival) the event is co-curated by Fabiana Giacomotti and Alessandro Lai, designed by Sergio Colantuoni, and co-ordinated by Chiara Squarcina, Director of the Museum and Study Centre at Palazzo Mocenigo.
The main purpose of the event is celebrating the 80th anniversary of the Venice Film Festival (the first film at the festival was Rouben Mamoulian's Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde with Fredric March and Miriam Hopkins, screened at the Excelsior Hotel on 6th August 1932) through red carpet gowns and film costumes.
The exhibition route opens at the main entrance of the Palazzo with a first room introducing visitors to a series of gowns donned by famous divas on the red carpet at the Film Festival: among the highlights included there is Valentina Cortese's Roberto Capucci gown, Anne Hathaway's Atelier Versace dress and Madonna's Vionnet evening gown with embroidered red butterflies.
The most interesting and beautiful garments on display remain the costumes from nine films celebrating Venice showcased in the other rooms of the Palazzo.
The movies were selected keeping in mind the importance of specific historical periods: Federico Fellini's Il Casanova (1976) celebrates the last years of the Serenissima Repubblica di Venezia; Luchino Visconti's Senso (1954) recounts a love story taking place during the Austrian occupation; Iain Softley's The Wings of a Dove (1997) is set in the Venice of Mariano Fortuny while Luchino Visconti's Death in Venice (1971) brings back visitors to the Belle Èpoque.
Robert Rossen's Mambo (1954), David Lean's Summertime (1955) and Anthony Minghella's The Talented Mr Ripley (1999) explore the aftermath of the war and the years of the economic boom in Italy, while Enrico Maria Salerno's The Anonymous Venetian (1970) and Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck's The Tourist (2010) introduce the late '60s-early '70s and the modern times.
In some cases the curators decided to play with juxtapositions, looking at connections for example between pieces from the msueum collection or garments by Fortuny or Madame Gallenga and Roberto Cavalli's coats and dresses from his A/W 2006-07 collection. A sumptuous ball gown in vair fur designed by Karl Lagerfeld and Fendi and inspired by the mechanical doll in Fellini's Casanova is exhibited for example next to the original costumes by Danilo Donati.
Yet the richest and most beautiful pieces remain the original ones, including Donati's tremendously heavy (they weight roughly 18 Kg each) black silk or pink tulle and taffeta knee-length coats with horsehair appliqués or chenille embroideries for Donald Sutherland in Casanova, and Donati's handpainted court gown and mask for his mechanical doll (part of this dress was actually remade as the original was destroyed in a fire); Piero Tosi's costumes for Death inVenice for Silvana Mangano with those delicate pink organdie sleeves, front and collar ivory lace and antique floral appliqués, Tosi's black dress with matching burnoose and horsehair and rafia hat with chiffon veil donned by Alida Valli in Senso and inspired by Virginia Oldoini, Countess of Castiglione or a wonderfully simple yet beautiful 1955 mohair coat in burgundy with double texture proofing in salmon pink from the collection of the Umberto Tirelli tailoring house compared to a new version of the coat made by costume designer Ann Roth for Gwyneth Paltrow in The Talented Mr Ripley.
Knitwear enthusiasts will rejoice at a silk jersey V-neck shirt and wool black shorts courtesy of Deanna Ferretti donned off set by Silvana Mangano in Mambo; other highlights that prove the future of costume design and fashion should be rooted in fine, traditional craftsmanship and high quality include Gabriella Pescucci's organdie powder pink gown for Elizabeth McGovern in Once Upon a Time in America.
Connections and juxtapositions work quite well with garments that reference specific films such as Gianfranco Ferré's designs from his Autumn/Winter 2002-03 collection. But, in the case of other contemporary designs including Alberta Ferretti, Ermanno Scervino, Francesco Scognamiglio and Giambattista Valli's, links are a bit far-fetched or forced upon specific garments, while a remake of a Max Mara double breasted beaver wool and cashmere coat recreated as a homage to Florinda Bolkan's wardrobe in The Anonymous Venetian is maybe less interesting than the original pieces showcased.
The exhibition is completed by a series of videos screened in the bathroom of the Palazzo that also feature historical footage by the Istituto Luce.
What inspired this exhibition?
Fabiana Giacomotti: Until the end of the Serenissima Republic, Venice was a fascinating place that oozed allure and charm upon different people and different arts. Venice was also a sort of experimental laboratory, unreal and surreal at the same time: Lumière operator Alexandre Promio took for example the first travelling shot from a gondola in the Venetian lagoon in 1896. These were the main themes Alessandro Lai and I tried to capture through the women who donned these costumes on the big screen and on the red carpet, creating in some cases unexpected connections between contemporary designers and historical garments.
Which criteria did you follow to select the red carpet gowns exhibited in the first room?
Fabiana Giacomotti: The main idea was to pick gowns donned by famous women in Venice at a special occasion during the Film Festival. They obviously had to look good together, so we decided to select them according to the colours of the Venetian dawn. The final selection features two dark gowns that belonged to Anna Magnani and Suso Cecchi D'Amico - D'Amico's is a Balenciaga dress she wore at the presentation of Visconti's Rocco and His Brothers - then there are gowns that go from white to pale gold to peach pink.
In the exhibition there are quite a few costumes by Danilo Donati and Piero Tosi, in your opinion, what's the main difference between them?
Fabiana Giacomotti: Danilo Donati's costumes are made to be looked at from a distance, Tosi's are ideal for close ups. I actually had the opportunity to meet Tosi while working on this project and it was a great pleasure. He was amazing, he came to see us while we were taking the photographs for the catalogue. I think Tosi is a genuine philologist, he is definitely the most careful, scrupulous and precise costume designer I have ever met in my life and he has an amazing passion for research. Like all the truly great people he is extremely nice and kind.
Which was the most challenging aspect when it came to designing this exhibition?
Sergio Colantuoni: Juxtaposing in a logical way the costumes with the red carpet gowns. They represent indeed two different realities and purposes - a costume defines a character in a film, a dress is made to astonish people on the red carpet, capturing the attention of the media and of the fans. We tried to give the impression that the dummies are alive, but we also deviced two props, molecular dots for each piece on display that provide information on that specific costume and a red ribbon guiding the visitors and making them feel as if they were walking on the red carpet.
Can this exhibition be considered also as a way to study the chages the female body went through in different decades?
Sergio Colantuoni: Yes, it could be considered like that as the costumes and dresses on display are all unique since they were made for 100 different women, so we had to have on board experts who could adapt and alter the dummies as the proportions of a woman from the '50s were different from those of modern actresses.
With many thanks to Chiara Squarcina, for co-ordinating these interviews and supplying research materials for this post, and to Monica Giani and the staff at the Palazzo Mocenigo ticket office for facilitating my visit. All images courtesy of the Museum and Study Centre at Palazzo Mocenigo.Member of the Boxxet Network of Blogs, Videos and Photos
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