LONDON: Rarely seen Bulgari jewellery once owned by actress Elizabeth Taylor and suits, dresses, gowns and accessories by top names in post-war Italian fashion will be on display at an exhibition opening this week at London's Victoria & Albert Museum.
"The Glamour of Italian Fashion 1945-2014", which opens on Friday, "examines Italy's rich and influential contribution to fashion from the end of the Second World War to the present", the V&A said in a press release.
The exhibition includes some 120 ensembles and accessories by fashion houses including Dolce & Gabbana, Giorgio Armani, Fendi, Ginafranco Ferre, Gucci, Missoni, Prada, Pucci and Versace, plus couture from Giambattista Valli, ready-to-wear from Fausto Publisi and work from Valentino's designers Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pier Paolo Piccioli.
"I think the craftsmanship is what is really so attractive about Italian-produced goods," American designer Tom Ford said at a celebrity pre-opening event on Tuesday night.
Actress Elizabeth Hurley, who shot to fame wearing a Versace dress at the premiere of the film "Four Weddings and a Funeral", said Italian designers add that little bit extra.
"I think they love the female body and I think they love women and they like women to look fabulous so I like it. I approve," Hurley said.
Post-war Italy had a strong textile industry but its fashion was mostly ignored by international buyers until businessman Giovanni Battista Giorgini set up Italy's first catwalk shows in the early 1950s and invited the press from all around the world, exhibition curator Sonnet Stanfill said.
"If Christian Dior is credited with restarting the French couture industry in 1947 with his new look, I think we also have to give equivalent credit to Giorgini for launching the Italian fashion industry," Stanfill said.
"The American buyers really responded warmly to this rainbow of couture gowns and in addition the Italian designs were about a third the cost of their Paris equivalents so there was that excitement of discovery as well as the cheaper price."
Hollywood stars caught on to Italian fashion and the V&A exhibition shows not only the Bulgari jewels worn by Taylor but dresses worn by Ava Gardner and Audrey Hepburn.
"Fashions worn by Hollywood celebrities on the streets of Rome when they were on set and off set and their romances while they were filming were chronicled by the paparazzi and the popular press," Stanfill said. "That media attention really shone a spotlight on a whole generation of Italian designers."
The exhibition finishes with a short documentary about the issues facing the future of the Italian fashion industry including competition from lower-wage markets such as India and Asia and also the marketing power of the established fashion houses, which makes it harder for newcomers to gain a foothold.
"The landscape is changing," Stanfill said. "That's what makes this a really interesting moment to open this exhibition."