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Roberto Capucci: Art into Fashion


Experience the first U.S. exhibition of works by the world-renowned artist-couturier Roberto Capucci at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. See the dazzling and stimulating haute couture that revolutionized the world of fashion and earned its Italian designer immense creative stature.

The exhibition’s nearly 90 items include a cocktail dress with train from 1952-1953, and two items from 1956: the “Rosebud” dress and the iconic “Nine Dresses,” inspired by the rings produced by tossing a stone into water. Exhibits are supplemented by film clips and historical photographs documenting the parallels between Capucci’s designs and the Italian fashion world.

[AMAZONPRODUCTS asin=”0300169582″]The years following World War II brought artistic rediscovery to Italy. Alongside emerging Italian film and using a reconstructed textile industry, modern Italian fashion developed, established in part by enterprising individuals like Florentine aristocrat and businessman Giovanni Battista Giorgini. Giorgini saw Italy’s fine stylistic tradition and new prosperity, as well as the war-weakened condition of France, as an opportunity to compete with the internationally couture-dominant Paris by centralizing Italian fashion in Florence.

In 1951, he recruited an inexperienced but promising 21-year-old Roberto Capucci to present at the closing ball of his second fashion show. The other couturiers refused to present with Capucci because of his youth and inexperience, so he showed his collection after the ball, at Giorgini’s home. This controversy drew the largely American media’s attention to the talented young designer, where it remained for more than five decades, fading only when American buyers began giving preference to domestic designers.

Capucci’s revolutionary box silhouette – shaped with four seams instead of the usual two – represents a bold departure from the traditional fitted form of the period and garnered him the prestigious Filene’s Fashion Award in 1958. The international press declared him Italy’s best designer, and the New York Times lauded his “vigor, imagination, and uninhibited originality.” The exhibit catalog quotes fashion journalist Logan Bentley Lessona, who described him as “the intellectual genius” of Italian fashion, “the designer’s designer.”

When European designers began to lose favor in the late 1970s, Capucci chose to exit the official industry and give solo presentations only once a year from 1982 to 1994, rather than compromise his artistic vision for commercial success. For those shows, only an original of each dress was made – as with any work of art. Capucci sketches extensively and puts careful consideration into the colors, materials, and shapes used in each of his visions. His dresses have been referred to as fabric sculptures, and he has called his work “a study in form.”

Born December 2, 1930, in Rome, Capucci studied at the Accademia delle Belle Arti before working as an apprentice to the designer Emilio Schuberth. He opened his first atelier in Via Sistina in 1950. Five years later, he moved to Via Gregoriana, where he lives today. After his early presentations for Giorgini in Florence, he also began to show in Rome, easing tensions between the two cities during a time that both (among others) were vying for Italian-couture dominance. He also has lived and worked in Paris, the United States, and all over the world. He even has a pink rose named after him by Vittorio Barni, an Italian hybridizer.

The Philadelphia Museum of Art is not only one of the largest museums in the U.S., but one with a long history of celebrating Italian art and artists, including its 1961 Festival of Italy, which commemorated the centennial of Italian unification and featured a fashion show organized by Giorgini.

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