Italian fashion through the ageâ€™s, part 2
Just a teeter across the cobbles from the Spanish Steps from the Sorelle Fontana atelier is DalCoâ€™, the high-end female-owned shoe makers where the cobblers are still at work in a tiny, glue-stinking atelier filled with the lasts of the rich and famous, a few doors down.
Still a thriving business making hand-made shoes at a fraction of the price youâ€™d pay for an off-the-shelf number with red soles, DalCoâ€™ whipped up exquisite footwear for the likes of Bridget Bardot, pictured in the tiny boutique holding up a dangerously high-heeled shoe. They had a contract with Valentino, making all his shoes, and have donated a pair of boots â€“ Edwardian-looking in suede and patent leather â€“ made for Princess Lee Radziwell, the society queen sister of Jackie O to the V&A exhibition.
La Dolce Vita was a giddy time in Rome, one that the city has never really moved on from. It canâ€™t quite seem to get over the idea of Liz Taylor and Ava Gardner running around in sexy, figure-hugging outfits designed by the Sorelle Fontana and Fernanda Gattinoni, who also designed the costumes for Audrey Hepburn in King Vidorâ€™s War and Peace – one of which appears in the exhibition – single-handedly bringing back the empire line, and Albertina, whose knitted coats (so 60s and yet so now!) are still available in a funny old-fashioned boutique over on the Via Lazio.
Designers like Gattinoni, who made dresses for Princess Diana, still kits out the super-rich to this day: in the upstairs workrooms hand-made wedding dresses costing tens of thousands of Euros take shape where Elizabeth Taylorâ€™s bum used to be padded and where Ingrid Bergman was brought for fittings by her lover Roberto Rosselini. And though these little artisans, most of them with samples of their work not only in the V&A exhibition but in the permanent collection at New Yorkâ€™s Museum of Metropolitan Art, are still going concerns, the big, bad machine of Italian fashion is very much in Milan these days and has been for years.
Bulgari, however, which was acquired by that fashion behemoth LVMH a few years back, is still proudly Roman, with the impossibly glamorous Creative Director Lucia Silvestri working at a table laden with priceless jewels at Bulgari HQ right by the Tiber and workshops setting stones by hand on the outskirts of town.
So, where do gay men fit into this Italian fashion industry seemingly run by women?
â€œVersace brought his sexuality into his fashion but the others were very reserved,â€ says Enrico, who has a bit of a soft spot for Versace and for fellow gay designers Dolce & Gabbana. â€œTheir clients were more straight than gay,â€ he goes on. â€œWhich is interesting because their aesthetic is definitely more gay than straight.â€