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Italian Pret-a-Porter

Italian fashion artists of the 1950s recognized the growing need for accessible, comfortable and yet equally refined clothing lines that would bridge the gap between French couture and the sport elegance trade popular in America. The never-ending boom of the Italian pret-a-porter was about to be set in motion.

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Dolce & Gabbana, Prada, and Gucci are all the rage, and nearly every femme fatale has swept down the red carpet in a Valentino gown on her way to the Oscar’s.

Here’s the story about how the Italian designers faced down the Parisian fashion monopoly to reign supreme as suppliers of high fashion chic accessories and pret-a-porter clothing.

Saks Brings Italy to America

IIn 1951, G. B. Giorgini lured retail magnates, such as Saks Fifth Avenue and Bergdorf Goodman to his estate to view the best of Italy’s top designers. The stores were delighted and walked away with lavish gowns fabricated by several imaginative and innovative Italian designers.

This paved the way for a new, accessible style of clothing for the American and European elite who craved novelty and the Italian’s artistic interpretation of contemporary art and postmodern culture.

Made famous by Missoni, Versace and Armani in the 70’s, Italian ready-to-wear clothing took the world by storm with its daring and bold creations and emphasis on structure.

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Gucci, founded in 1906, made its name as a prestige leather goods manufacturer of shoes and handbags.

The couture house went viral in the 1990’s when Tom Ford became head designer and started headlining Gucci handbags and luxury designer wear with startling minimalist lines.

Since then Gucci has branched out into the hard luxury goods market, designing and manufacturing everything from diamond watches to sunglasses.

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Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana created the iconic design firm of D&G in 1985 in Italy’s fashion hub, Milan.

They quickly built a name for themselves with their paradoxical juxtaposition of lace and chiffon with manly structured suits and dresses. D&G are also famous for resurrecting the futuristic corset.

Dolce & Gabanne are loved by celebrities like Sophia Loren and Madonna for their over-the-top drama and sex appeal.

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It was Giorgio Armani who introduced the relaxed jacket in the 1970’s to the delight of working men and women.

He literally ripped out the reinforcement and padding and did away with the double breasted jacket and replaced it with an unstructured two-button version.

His women’s business suits were popular throughout the 70’s and 80’s, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art owns one of his ladies’ suits donated by Armani fan, Lauren Bacall.

Armani is currently one of the best high end designers of men and women’s suits in the world.

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Gianni Versace also rose to prominence in the 1970’s with his colorful interpretation of Andy Warhol’s pop art oeuvre.

Since then, the Versace Medusa head icon has graced everything from necklaces and watches to the sado-masochistic themed black leather collection the designer brought to the runway in 1992.

Although Versace tragically died in 1997, his design house lives on, and Versace pieces are avidly sought by anyone wishing to make a vivid impression.

The world would not be the same without Italian designers’ vision of feminine and masculine perfection, art and contemporary culture. Thanks to modern manufacturing, what was once only available to the mega wealthy is able to be mass produced and accessible.

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Now that  couture design is available for mass consumption, is it losing it’s unique, one of a kind appeal? Can it still be considered a luxury good if not a few but thousands of shoppers can afford its purchase price? Is this a topic for a another post altogether? Yes! So stay tuned.


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