Galleria del Costume, Florence.

Recently, I had the pleasure of visiting the Galleria del Costume at the Pitti Palace, in Florence, Italy whilst on holiday.  The gallery was hosting a temporary exhibition, ‘Women in the Spotlight/Donne Protagoniste‘, which charts the development of Italian fashion from the early 20th century to the present day. Each room was dedicated to a particular designer and/or a woman who wore that designer’s creations. Coupled with photographs and information about the designer’s and their customers; the exhibition gave an informative and interesting overview of the social history of Italian Fashion.

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Evening Dress, ‘La Primavera’ Rosa Genoni, 1906. Silk, tulle, embroidery. Main bodice with scalloped edges and draping of embroidered tulle, gathered at the waist with loose pleats falling from the centre back. Draping trimmed with hand embroidery. 

The first room was dedicated to the of early 20th century Italian fashion designer, Rosa Genoni. Rosa rose (loving the alliteration!) from a humble background as a seamstress in Tirano, to become a worldwide renowned couturier. Rosa was influenced by draperies, embroidery and Botticelli’s Primavera. A very fitting influence as this masterpiece by Botticelli sits in the Galleria del Uffizi across the Arno river from the Pitti Palace.

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Embroidered sample. Glass beads, thread, embroidery thread on muslin.

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A selection of work by couturier Mariano Fortuny, belonging to the actress Elenor Duse, c.1900-1920.

At the beginning of the 20th Century, Elenora Duse was one of Italy’s most famous actresses. Therefore it was befitting that one of the most important designers of this era, Mariano Fortuny, should design pieces for her. Fortuny created loose, flowing shapes with wide sleeves that gave Elenora Duse stage presence, even when not treading the boards. The examples above are rare early examples of Fortuny’s work within the remit of Italian fashion. If you look below you can see the amazing detail of the fabric on the white coat (furthest to the left in the above picture)!

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White silk coat dress with embossed floral and foliage detail (c.1900-1910).

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Blue velvet cape with gold embroidered poppies and gold trimming. Worn at the Italian Royal Court in the 1920s. Sartoria Ventura, Milano, 1925-1930.

By far one of my favourite pieces in the entire exhibition, this beautiful court cape was worn by Donna Franca Florio, a member of the Italian aristocracy in the early 20th century. Donna (meaning woman in Italian) Franca married into Italy’s richest families in the 1890s and dressed according to her status. However, Franca’s life was not all glitter and champagne, she lost many children at an early age and by the outbreak of WW1 her family had lost its fortune. However, we can look at the amazing cape (and dresses below) and just wonder at the splendour of Donna Franca’s life in early 20th Century Italy!

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Front view of above court cape.

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Black crochet worsted or wool blend? evening dress with web-like detail, over a white under dress. Maker unknown, Naples or Palermo, 1900-1901.

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