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A key to understanding Italian fashion


“In Italy, the state is weak and the family is strong, so it’s logical that, when it comes to preserving their histories, fashion houses—often second- or third-generation family operations—do it themselves.” So begins a short article by D.T. Max for The New Yorker, illustrated with photographs by Lorenzo Vitturi: “Fashion’s Attics.”

The opening remark is sublime in its simplicity and the universe of history it sums up. It is so fundamentally true that, at first sight, it would seem fit for a much larger opera magna —an in-depth essay, a book, not a mere annotated gallery of photos. Yet the little piece provides a key to understanding the richness and depth of Italian fashion.

To some people, fashion may seem a passing fad, a superficial pursuit for deep pockets and shallow minds. In Italy, however, it goes far beyond that. It is a fundamental component of lifestyle, almost as relevant as the food. Mothers will admonish children if they mismatch the colors of their clothes with the same vehemence they would for overcooking the pasta. Friends will discuss a particularly unusual combination for its successful outcome, or lack thereof.

No surprise and superficiality there. For in Italy, fashion is not merely a fact of life but a form of art. Quite literally. Next time you go to a museum pay attention to the rich fabrics you will find in Renaissance painting. You will understand a thing or two about its lineage.

And it is really a matter of ancestry. The article in The New Yorker describes the attics of Max Mara, Pucci and Ferragamo, among other eminent fashion houses. These are archives that modern designers go to draw inspiration, to match their creations to those that preceded them. As Max says, “clothes speak to other clothes, boots to other boots.”

That conversation of patterns and colors then transcends those walls. Just stroll around any street of Rome and Florence, Naples and Venice, and you will see this chromatic dialog multiplying by the millions as Italians go about their business. See if it doesn’t make you feel good. And if you had doubts about it, rethink if appearances matter, or not.


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