In a post written almost three years ago we wondered if it wasn't maybe the time to bring back Italian designer Cinzia Ruggeri on the scene. It has taken quite a while, but our question has just been answered by 10 Corso Como.
The Milan-based avant-garde boutique led by Carla Sozzani has indeed launched a retrospective dedicated to Cinzia Ruggeri, entitled "Cin Cin 1980 - 2015".
For decades contemporary designers paid silent tributes and homages to Cinzia Ruggeri with garments that borrowed from her ideas and experiments reappearing on fashion runways here and there, while her fashion designs were widely exhibited at the Venice Biennale, and during iconic fashion exhibitions such as "The Genius of Fashion" (FIT, New York), "Fashion and Surrealism" (FIT, New York) and "Postmodernism: Style & Subversion" (Victoria & Albert Museum, London).
It seems therefore only apt to rediscover Ruggeri today through a series of her key pieces that bridge the gaps between art, architecture, interior design, fashion and technology.
Born in Milan, Cinzia Ruggeri studied design at the local Accademia delle Arti Applicate in the ‘60s. Even before she graduated she started exhibiting at Italian galleries and, after her studies, she moved to Paris where she worked for Carven.
Upon her return to Italy she settled down in Milan and started working on her own collections, becoming soon well-known for her creations that mixed disciplines such as fashion, architecture and interior design, reinterpreting them in a surrealist key.
Ruggeri created in the '80s some of the most iconic designs that ever came out of Italy, from her "Homage to Lévi Strauss dress", with its three-dimensional ziggurat-like motifs to the "Dress with Octopus", that turned the body into a surreal yet sensual sea creature. Her fashion shows were also considered theatrical events, with exclusive performances of light and music: in the '80s, Brian Eno created a ziggurat shaped lightning installation for one of her shows, causing a sensation in Milan.
Ruggeri also developed "transdisciplinary" pieces that were inspired by Cubism, Futurism and Constructivism, and combined fashion, the scenic arts, photography, anthropology, geology and ecology together.
The designer then started experimenting with behavioural garments (that allowed the wearer to interact with the surrounding space while enticing the reaction of other people near them) and materials that changed colours according to body heat.
There is currently a lot of talk about smart textiles, but Ruggeri was the first one to look at the possibilities that technology may have offered her, employing for example liquid crystals that, thanks to the change of temperature, enabled her to create from a single model a number of variants of colours and patterns.
As the years passed, Ruggeri began working in other fields: as an artist she designed theatrical productions, ballets and artistic events, venturing into interior and furniture design and creating wardrobes, glasswares, mirrors, pieces of furniture and home accessories for different companies, while also teaching Project Methodology and Fashion Design at NABA in Milan.
As you may guess, there is a lot of Surrealism in the pieces included in the display at 10 Corso Como, yet nothing is too conceptually impossible to grasp: Ruggeri has a natural attitude for cleverly playing with words, shapes and silhouettes, but she has always done so in a fun and accessible way.
Her sofa "Colombra" is a mix of the Italian words "colomba" (dove) and "ombra" (shadow), and it's called so because its shape projects the shadow of a dove; her chair "Pipì" (Pee) may have what sounds like a rude name, but you soon discover there is a childish and innocent reason for it, as the piece is shaped like a dog, while the "Shatzi" mirror is not a cruel revealer but a dear friend ready to offer with its multiple hands simple but fun gifts to the person reflecting in it.
Among the dresses and fashion accessories on display there are pieces that wouldn't look out of place if donned by eccentric artists à la Björk, though they were designed with ordinary women and not with extravagant performers in mind.
The "Homage to Lévi Strauss dress" with its sculpted ziggurat silhouette may be safely in the archives of London's Victoria & Albert Museum, but here you can still see a yellow dress with its silhouette characterised by a staircase-like motif, one of Ruggeri's experiments in three-dimensional forms (a piece that many Italian fans of the band Matia Bazar will remember); the slap glove – a glove-cum-bag or bag-cum-glove ideal to leave your "mark" on someone; the "abito salame" (salami dress) made with a thread similar to a cotton ham netting that traps the body of the wearer as if it were a sausage, and the hat with a brain printed inside it to remind maybe wearers to think more.
In the display nothing is what it seems: a flat fabric water lily is actually a cute beret; the fluidly fluttering organza panelled skirt on a white dress is formed by a series of silhouettes of black dogs.
There are also some long lost videos in the showcase, early examples of fashion films that also included references to interior design and architecture.
Among the screened videos there is also "Per un vestire organico" (1983, originally shot in Ruggeri's showroom and screened at Palazzo Fortuny in Venice): it features an octopus woman (dancer Valeria Magli) who very slowly (to remind us to readjust our internal rhythms to the surrounding spaces) walks across a room, becoming entangled with the objects and pieces of furniture she finds in her path (among the pieces there is also an aquarium table designed by Ruggeri where tiny fish used to live).
"I tried to tell a story through the pieces selected for this exhibition," Ruggeri told Irenebrination. "I wanted to introduce visitors to few creative ideas such as the graphic signifier of the staircase as a metaphor for life, reinterpreted in different ways through dresses and accessories including jewellery, shoes and belts. I also played with contrasts and opposites - negative and positive / full and empty - and with themes like deconstruction in a white dress that is missing a part of its collar and with holes instead of buttons, and in an embroidery pattern that, after repeating itself for a while in an ordered sequence, gets free and takes a new course of its own. Another theme included is the transfer of symbols and meanings, like the dogs in the white dress, the earthquake that destroys the linearity of an ordinary tie or a pair of traditional men's shoes in a yellow shade characterised by a brogue pattern with a fluid shape."
Ruggeri, who still smiles when she sees some of her creations like the "salami dress", is happy to have found at 10 Corso Como a collaborative, organised and enthusiastic staff to work with and invites viewers to have a look at the display, get inspired by the pieces and watch her videos on a double monitor, admiring also the jewellery they featured (by Corrado Levi) and ponder a bit about fashion, film and space.
"Fashion in general, catwalk shows, costumes and films, are a bit like boundary locations: because of their liminal geographic position, all the places located at the boundary of something are, in accordance with the people taking them into consideration, subject to being considered first or last in relation to space," she states.
In the last twenty years the focus on the commercial and financial aspects of the fashion industry has put more emphasis on producing more and create less, manufacturing relentlessly and continuously in a reckless way that has generated empty forms of fashion with no messages and emotions that at times verged towards dark, depressing and horrific fantasies. People like Ruggeri remain the key to a healthy fashion system that may still be capable of bringing a smile to people's faces. If 10 Corso Como has understood it, there are good chances that smiling will soon be the new black in fashion.
CIN CIN 1980-2015, an exhibition by Cinzia Ruggeri, is on at 10 Corso Como, Milan, Italy, from 10.30 a.m. to 7.30 p.m. (Wednesday and Thurdays until 9.00 p.m.), until 6th April 2015.
Image credits for this post
All images courtesy of 10 Corso Como
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