The debut of Italian Fashion in the World and the Fontana Sisters: lesson by A. Lepri

Those who enter the world of fashion respond with curiosity and amazement.

It’s always a great emotion to tell good stories.

Those who enter the world of fashion respond with enthusiasm, curiosity and amazement. Every time I talk to my students, the commitment is rewarded by the attention of the small audience. And what happened also last week, during the lesson that inaugurates my cycle of open lessons, dedicated to Italian Fashion and the analysis of the Fashion System through the forms of communication of newspapers. 

The intervention began with the screening, on the big screen of the Conferences Amphitheater of the Piaggio Museum, of the first news programs that broadcast services dedicated to the fashion shows, starting from the distant January 27, 1949, a significant date for our history, which through an excellent marriage, that between the American stars Linda Christian and Tyrone Power, in Rome, turned the international spotlight on Italian fashion.

The bride’s dress had been made by the boutique Sorelle Fontana, and the numerous foreign TV and newspapers that participated, in addition to the social event, focused attention on the Italian style. It was the beginning of a great adventure, which continues today.

The post-war reconstruction in our country, thanks to the 1947 Marshall Plan and American financial aid, allowed the fashion sector to start again. It was precisely the women who gave a strong impetus to the rebirth after the war, strongly determined to revive the textile sector. The cinema, especially the American one, brought a lot of work to the seamstresses, especially to the Fontana sisters who worked mainly for the Roman aristocracy, but also to the new nascent stylists such as: Emilio Federico Schubert, Valentino, Roberto Cappucci, Iole Veneziani, Biki, Germana Marucelli. The shops often coincided with the house. Despite this, the Italians continued to have their clothes made at home (the wealthiest in tailoring) and almost in every home, there was a kitchen machine and someone who knew how to use it.

Clothing was an asset that passed from hand to hand, readjusted and remodeled to be worn again. Italy was gradually discovering the charm of Haute Couture and the boom of 1950s allowed her to compete with the overwhelming power of Paris, the absolute capital of fashion at the time.

The pioneers of this golden season of fashion, the great protagonists of the international scene were the three famous Fontana sisters. Zoe, Micol and Giovanna, who had been able to merge the sartorial skills learned from the tailoring of the Traversetolo family, with their natural predisposition towards everything that was romantic and precious, with their hyperfeminine taste, which so much liked the jet set of the time, from the 40s onwards.

In their atelier in via Sebastianello in Rome they designed dream dresses, which became true icons of the history of fashion, inextricably linked to the great stars of cinema and the beautiful world.

The three couturiers had their sartorial jewels paraded for the first time in the Sala Bianca of Palazzo Pitti in ’51 and won an audience and an illustrious and international clientele.

Among their prestigious clients, it is to be remembered above all Ava Gardner, who wore clothes created especially for her in “La contessa scalza” in ’54, “Il sole sorgerà ancora” in ’57, “L’ultima spiaggia”, but it is to remember above all the “pretino”, a real cassock, complete with a hat, severe and seductive at the same time, rebuilt on the statuesque forms of the splendid diva.

The Roman atelier was also frequented by Jacqueline Kennedy and Maria Pia di Savoia, Liz Taylor, Soraya, Marella Agnelli, as well as becoming an important testing ground for young couturiers who subsequently established themselves, such as Renato Balestra.

The Fontana sisters, while continuing their activity in the atelier, left the official Haute Couture events in ’72 , in the midst of the social revolution that inevitably affected fashion and costume, the years that saw the triumph of casual and of unisex, selling in 1992 they sell the brand to an Italian financial group.

In 1994 Micol Fontana, who turned 100 last November, created a Foundation that bears his name, which collects the splendid family creations.

Alessandra Lepri