The Legendary Pitti Palace In Florence Offers A New Take On Fashion

Add a new must-see to Florence’s staggeringly rich cultural offerings—the refurbished Fashion and Costume Museum in the Pitti Palace, part of the Uffizi Galleries complex. Closed for three years for restoration and from the effects of the pandemic, the Museo della Moda e del Costume makes news by highlighting the recent past, debuting 12 rooms focused on 20th-century fashion, while remaining an important repository for historic pieces dating from the time when the Medicis ruled the town.

Although splendid fashion museums can be found throughout Italy, they are often devoted to the work of a single designer (e.g, Armani/Silos, the Salvatore Ferragamo Museum, Museo Fortuny). The Pitti costume galleries, which debuted in 1983, became the country’s first state-supported museum dedicated to the history and cultural significance of fashion. Today there are over 15,000 clothing items in the collection, the oldest from the sixteenth century.

The renovated rooms are located in the Palazzina Meridiana, part the Pitti Palace properties. (The Pitti famously was a home of the Medicis, although it was built by an arch-enemy of the family, a local banker named Luca Pitti, hence the name. The nearby Uffizi was originally designed to serve as a Medici administrative building. In Italian the word for offices is uffici; long ago, the term was uffizi.) The palace has also played a role in contemporary Italian fashion history—its Sala Bianca was the site of many important runway shows from 1952 to 1982.

The twelve new rooms, along with the ballroom, display 50 dresses and accessories from the early 1900s to the early millennial, a roughly 100-year period that the curatorial team describes as “a century of a thousand styles,” and a time span when Italian fashion, particularly after World War II, reached exceptional levels of global renown. Eike Schmidt, director of the Uffizi Galleries, who has spearheaded efforts to add contemporary items to the collections, said at the museum opening that the fashion should be considered “not only as evidence of the taste of an era that has seen extraordinary changes, or as attestations of the genius of the stylists, but also as art objects in themselves.”

Appropriately for a major relaunch, many of the featured clothes are directional “statement” pieces once worn by well-known personalities. Mariano Fortuny, the designer acclaimed for his pioneering pleating techniques, made a striking kimono for the Italian actress, Eleonora Duse, a mega-watt celebrity during the Belle Epoque. A sequin garment designed for another Belle Epoque figure, socialite Franca Florio, is on display, as are lavish gowns by Elsa Schiaparelli, noted for her collaborations with Salvador Dali, and pieces by Emilio Schubert, who dressed Gina Lollobrigida and Sophia Loren during Italy’s dolce vita heyday. Gianfranco Ferré, an influential designer who helped make Milan the prêt-a-porter capital it is today, headed up Dior in the 1990s; his work for the French maison is a part of the exhibit. Vanessa Gavioli, the Fashion and Costume Museum’s curator, said about the apparel on view, “The result is a dream journey where evening dresses triumph, but there is no shortage of daywear and accessories.” Miuccia Prada, Giorgio Armani, Gianni Versace and non-Italian designers like Coco Chanel, Jean-Paul Gaultier and John Galliano are also represented.

The museum will have more fashion to see in spring of this year when ten additional rooms will open. These will reach deeper into the past by focusing on clothing worn in aristocratic circles from the 1500s to the 1800s. A room will be devoted to historic jewels in all their timeless splendor.

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