Pride Life Magazine - - CONTENTS -

Liv­ing - and wear­ing - la dolce vita

“This is ab­so­lutely not a fetish thing,” laughs En­rico Quinto, an ex­tremely at­trac­tive gay Ital­ian – think George Clooney with­out any of the puffi­ness - from his lav­ish apart­ment just across the Tiber from all the proper good stuff in Rome.

En­rico is a col­lec­tor of Ital­ian fash­ion, mainly women’s, and his ex­ten­sive, price­less col­lec­tion, num­ber­ing more than 6,000 pieces and stored in a ware­house down the road, forms the back­bone of the V&A’s sump­tu­ous ex­hi­bi­tion, The Glam­our of Ital­ian Fash­ion 1945-2014, which opens on 5 April.

Days be­fore we chat, En­rico has hosted a re­cep­tion at that lav­ish apart­ment just across the Tiber for jour­nal­ists (in­clud­ing my­self be­ing very sen­si­ble with the cham­pagne) and peo­ple very high up at the V&A where his en­thu­si­asm for the sub­ject is laid bare.

Apart from man­nequins ev­ery­where kit­ted out in Ital­ian (and some French) fash­ion where most peo­ple would have art­works, he has a rail of price­less Ital­ian cou­ture span­ning the last decades of the 20th cen­tury. Just see­ing him hold­ing the dresses, show­ing them, talk­ing about them is the very def­i­ni­tion of enthusiast.

“For me it’s about nostal­gia,” he ex­plains when I ask why a man would be so fix­ated on women’s fash­ion. “There’s noth­ing sex­ual but a lot of nostal­gia. I get mes­merised by images of the past. It’s a work of art. That’s what I see when I look at a dress. I’m ac­tu­ally very mas­cu­line in lik­ing dresses. I do like very struc­tured coats or suits more than pink things and lace. I’m not drawn to that.”

The V&A ex­hi­bi­tion, spon­sored by jew­ellers Bul­gari, whose in­cred­i­ble El­iz­a­beth Tay­lor emer­ald neck­lace is one of the stars of the show, traces Ital­ian fash­ion from a time when it was very much in the shadow of Paris, pro­duc­ing tex­tiles more than fin­ished clothes, to a pe­riod where it was famed for its sex­i­ness and its wear­a­bil­ity. En­rico has the whole story down.

“Italy re­ally came into its own with ready-towear,” he says. “In Italy we have a more ob­vi­ous un­der­state­ment in our taste and our life­style so we need com­fort­able, easy­go­ing clothes. It’s maybe not as so­phis­ti­cated or imag­i­na­tive as the French were do­ing, but for many years our suc­cess was that we had a more common sense ap­proach to fash­ion: the idea of look­ing good but be­ing com­fort­able.”

And be­ing sexy. Which is what drew movie stars like El­iz­a­beth Tay­lor, Au­drey Hep­burn and Ava Gard­ner, who would be film­ing in Rome’s an­swer to Hol­ly­wood, the Cinecittà stu­dio, to the doors of lo­cal cou­turi­ers.

While in Rome, we drop in – like El­iz­a­beth Tay­lor used to do, just knock­ing on the door – at the ate­lier of the Fon­tana sis­ters, or Sorelle Fon­tana. It’s now the Mi­col Fon­tana Foun­da­tion show­cas­ing the work th­ese three or­di­nary sis­ters from Tra­ver­se­tolo near Parma did for ev­ery­one from Jackie Kennedy to Ur­sula An­dress back in the glory days of La Dolce Vita.

La Dolce Vita, that giddy time in the 60s that took its name from the Fellini film, which was shot on the streets of Rome and just up the road at Cinecittà, was an era of pa­parazzi (the term was in­vented by the film), Hol­ly­wood movie stars, sports cars, dark glasses, jumping into the Trevi Foun­tain, glam­our, ma­jor jew­ellery and, of course, fash­ion.

Just a teeter across the cob­bles from the Span­ish Steps from the Sorelle Fon­tana ate­lier is DalCo’, the high-end fe­male-owned shoe mak­ers where the cobblers are still at work in a tiny, gluestink­ing 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 you’d pay for an off-the-shelf num­ber with red soles, DalCo’ 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 – Ed­war­dian-look­ing in suede and patent leather – 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 can’t quite seem to get over the idea of Liz Tay­lor and Ava Gard­ner run­ning around in sexy, fig­ure­hug­ging out­fits de­signed by the Sorelle Fon­tana and Fer­nanda Gat­ti­noni, who also de­signed the cos­tumes for Au­drey Hep­burn in King Vi­dor’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 Tay­lor’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 York’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?

“Ver­sace brought his sex­u­al­ity into his fash­ion but the oth­ers were very re­served,” says En­rico, who has a bit of a soft spot for Ver­sace and for fel­low gay de­sign­ers Dolce & Gab­bana. “Their clients were more straight than gay,” he goes on. “Which is in­ter­est­ing be­cause their aes­thetic is def­i­nitely more gay than straight.”

The Glam­our of Ital­ian Fash­ion 1945- 2014, spon­sored by Bul­gari, runs from 5 April – 27 July at the V&A. Tick­ets now avail­able at­ian­fash­ion.



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