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From Marras to Margiela: Sardinia and Fashion

An exhibition at Palazzo Pitti’s Costume Gallery traces the connections between traditional Sardinian costumes and contemporary designs.

Palazzo Pitti is a famous place in the history of Italian fashion: it was here in the Sala Bianca of the Palazzo that many Italian designers first debuted with their collections during a seminal catwalk show held in 1952. The palace is also famous for the Galleria del Costume, the only museum in Italy dedicated to the history of fashion, showcasing garments and accessories from the 1700s on.

The Costume Gallery at Palazzo Pitti is now hosting an interesting exhibition, entitled “La Sardegna veste la moda” (literally: “Sardinia dresses up the fashion world”) that attempts to make a connection between traditional Sardinian costumes and the work of contemporary designers, from Marras to Margiela.

Dating from the 1930s until the present day, the rare garments and accessories exhibited, mainly taken from different private collections, show with an archaeological precision how Sardinia and the Mediterranean area contributed with their colours, heritage and atmospheres to create a peculiar identity in the world of fashion. Shapes, silhouettes, embroideries, appliquéd motifs and accessories are used in this exhibition in a semiological way, to start a dialogue between local inspirations and global styles.

The exhibition opens with three colourful regional costumes surrounded by Guido Colucci’s illustrations chronicling the different typologies of Sardinian costumes in the early 1900s. From the second room on, regional costumes are instead compared and juxtaposed to creations by famous designers: while a black and white video introduces the visitors to traditional celebrations and processions in Sassari, men’s black costumes by Sardinian tailoring houses Castangio and Modolo are compared to three different black dresses by Dior by Yves Saint Laurent (1959/60), Dior by Gianfranco Ferré (1992) and by the Turin-based Gambino Sisters (1960). The intricate embroidery of designs by Emilio Schuberth, Ventura and the Callot Sisters, calls to mind the decorations of traditional costumes, while the Fontana Sisters’ pink crocheted raffia cocktail dress is a tribute to the materials and craftsmanship techniques hailing form the region.

Colourful body pieces from the Marmolada, Gavoi and Ollolai areas are compared to minimalist bodysuits by Martin Margiela, while an haute couture jacket by Christian Lacroix decorated on the back with long fringes is juxtaposed to black fringed shawls from the Sardinian town of Oliena. Folk and avant-garde mix in a Callaghan by Romeo Gigli outfit, comprising a patchwork cape, a long tiered skirt, a traditional belt from the town of Meana Sardo and a pair of slippers from Cagliari.

A lace wedding dress stands between a row of white shirts and a row of black jackets, the latter including pieces by Thierry Mugler, Martin Margiela and Antonio Marras compared with a traditional “mastruca”, a black goatskin jacket traditionally worn by Sardinian shepherds.

Japanese inspirations are presented in a special room where Maurizio Galante’s voluminous kimonos are showcased together with Junya Watanabe and Comme des Garçons’s deconstructed pieces and Issey Miyake’s pleated and lightweight designs. The draped and pleated motifs of the looks showcased here recreate the movement of the waves, evoking the power and the rhythms of the Mediterranean Sea.

A great attention is also given to a new generation of Sardinian designers: an entire room is dedicated to Antonio Marras with a gazebo created by old wooden windows and doors that protects a black dress à la Carol Rama and a display of colourful capes, coats, jackets and skirts the designer created for Kenzo and for his own lines, pieces that evoke in their colours the paintings by the Maestro di Ozieri and by Giuseppe Biasi, the Altara sisters’s illustrations and the work of the talented Melis brothers.

The work of Angelo Figus is explored through an installation, a pyramid of clothes supported by a horse created using items from the designers’ most recent collections. The exhibition closes with a room dedicated to Silvio Betterelli, with his black dresses and skirts that incorporate in their structure the heavy cattle bells of the Mamuthones, the iconic Sardinian Carnival masks.

While managing to build a bridge between the traditions of a region and international contemporary styles, “La Sardegna veste la moda” proves that Sardinia is an endless source not only of inspirations but also of strong emotions.

“La Sardegna veste la moda” is at the Galleria del Costume, Palazzo Pitti, Florence, until 16th July 2009.