BSOUS, Lebanon: It all comes back to a small white caterpillar – the Versace sheath dress designed for Lady Diana Spencer, the Pucci swimming costume from 1950, the feather-detailed evening gowns of Valentino’s late ’70s and early ’80s collection.
On the catwalks of Milan, the larvae that gave the world the luscious swish of douppioni on a ballroom floor and the graceful drape of a charmeuse scarf about a elegant neck is oft forgotten, but in the mountains of Lebanon this summer its contribution to the fashion industry is celebrated.
“Italian Silk: History and Fashion” hosted by The Silk Museum, Bsous, with the support of the Italian Cultural Institute, showcases 60 years of Italian couture women’s wear alongside a selection of 18th century Italian silks.
In the adjacent space, the museum’s permanent collection of traditional silk factory machinery and silkworms in various stages of development – from caterpillar to chrysalis to moth – brings home fashion’s long production process from thread to gown.
Italy was a latecomer to international couture, only really gaining a reputation in the industry when in 1951 an event hosted by the Marquis Giorgini in Florence showcased 180 creations by Italian designers to U.S. buyers. Since then the Mediterranean country has produced some of fashion’s best-known names.
Among the 40 items on loan to the Silk Museum from the Fashion Museum of the Sartirana Arte Foundation near Milan are pieces by Dolce & Gabbana, Armani, Roberto Capucci and Sorelle Fontana. The creations showcase the evolution of fashion across the decades, from the modesty of the 1950s through the short playfulness of the ’60s, the oversized ruffles of the ’80s and the figure-hugging frocks of the ’90s.
Also, alongside the development of Italian fashion over more than half a century, sometimes the progression of an individual designer is apparent. Valentino’s 1965 short black number with embroidered bodice and bubble skirt is displayed next to his floaty evening gowns of the ’70s and ’80s and a simple red button-down frock with black polka dots designed in 1990.
Other highlights of the collection on display are those dresses designed for celebrities.
Even as it hangs on its lifeless dress form, a flirty 1970 lilac and silver short frock by Irene Galitzire radiates the vivacious personality of the lithe Audrey Hepburn it was made for.
Actress Ava Gardner wore clothes by Sorelle Fontana both on and offset. In Bsous, a 1970 creation, designed for the Hollywood star when she would have been in her late 40s, is on display.
Nearby hangs an elegant striped coat created in 1960 by the Milanese designer Biki for the soprano Maria Callas.
The combination of pretty dresses and the star factor is doubtless enough to lure fashionistas and celebrity-culture addicts alike to Bsous. Meanwhile, students of fashion design are bound to find the show educational as well as aesthetically pleasing. And perhaps surprisingly, as all the clothes displayed are for women, staff at the Silk Museum report that many men who have visited the exhibition appeared to both engage with and enjoy it.
However, even if a room full of high-end attire proves a major turn off for members of your party, don’t despair. The Silk Museum’s many other assets may prove ample to coax them up to the Aley hills.
For history enthusiasts, preserved fragments of vestments and chalice silks from 18th century Italy could be the decisive lure, while those keen to escape the polluted grip of city life will find the museum’s lush gardens and scenic views refreshing.
Kids will delight in the permanent exhibition’s silkworms as they move slowly across their mulberry-leaf bed and meticulously spin their precious thread. Others may become fascinated by the history of silk making presented in the display cases and disused factory equipment.
Among this equipment is an operational loom on which the museum produces a range of small silk scarfs and other items for sale in its onsite boutique. Yes, shopaholics will be satisfied too – and mayhap enthralled that the garments they so desirously covet began life as the thinnest, most unassuming-looking thread.
“Italian Silk: History and Fashion” runs until Nov. 4, 2012. For more information please contact The Silk Museum on 05-940-767 or visit www.thesilkmuseum.com.