The Urban Salon designed exhibition, ‘The Glamour of Italian Fashion 1945-2014’ opened at the V&A on 5 April 2014. The exhibition explores Italy’s dynamic fashion industry over the past 70 years and features more than 100 ensembles from leading Italian fashion houses such as Prada, Gucci, Valentino and Versace as well as a vintage Vespa, archive photographs, video footage and Bulgari jewels.
The brief was to develop an environment that brings to life the craftsmanship and the exceptional quality of the techniques, materials and expertise that have contributed to Italian fashion’s reputation, while letting the objects speak for themselves. The exhibition is arranged into a number of different sections all with very different moods.
The exhibition opens with a 4.8m high wall clad in unfinished Italian travertine stone tiles. In the first section, a full height black and white image of a bombed Florence streetscape marks the start point of the exhibition. From there, Italy’s dramatic transition from post-war ruins to the recovery of the luxury fashion industry is shown through an elegant section evoking the famous the Sala Bianca fashion shows held in Florence in the 1950s. Within this section, garments are arranged within centrally-aligned showcases to give the sense of models walking along a catwalk. Two large-scale black and white archive images from a 1955 show in the Sala Bianca further enhance the illusion of a catwalk show.
Visitors then move into a more intimate timber-lined space to learn about the close relationships between dressmakers and clients, before entering an immersive cinematic space exploring Hollywood’s relationship with Italian Fashion. The room features large cases of garments within the centre set against full bleed films with Hollywood stars on set and off set in Rome. The Made in Italy room, which explores the growth of manufacturing, incorporates a factory style cross-ceiling made from timber with a linear light sandwiched in the structure. Full-height mirrored sidewalls to evoke the scale of large factory. A soundtrack composed in a textile factory plays throughout this space. The Cult of Fashion Designer, which explores how Italian designers became celebrities, incorporates a T shaped catwalk showcasing 19 garments beneath a large-scale projection of a film created by fashion photographer, Jason Last. A 13m2 tapered tension stretched ceiling over the catwalk takes full advantage of the high ceiling in the gallery and focuses visitors’ attention on the projection and garments.
Graphics designed by Studio Fernando Gutierrez reflect the various curatorial themes. The title text for the exhibition evokes traditional Italian street signs with lettering painted in ‘rust’-coloured paint. 5m high banner signage separates the different exhibition zones. Wall graphics of cut out tailoring patterns from Max Mara and CNC cut graphics emphasize the clean-cut precise lines in the section exploring Tailoring.
Urban Salon also worked with lighting designers, dha; film-maker, Jason Last and AV designers, Squint Opera. This is Urban Salon’s second project for the V&A, having worked on its winter 2009 exhibition, ‘Maharaja The Splendour of India’s Royal Courts’.