At Italy On This Day you will read about events and festivals, about important moments in history, and about the people who have made Italy the country it is today, and where they came from. Italy is a country rich in art and music, fashion and design, food and wine, sporting achievement and political diversity. Italy On This Day provides fascinating insights to help you enjoy it all the more.

Saturday, 2 December 2017

Roberto Capucci - fashion designer

'Sculptor in cloth' who rejected ready-to-wear


Roberto Capucci is still involved with the  fashion world even in his 80s
Roberto Capucci is still involved with the
fashion and design world even in his 80s
The fashion designer Roberto Capucci, whose clothes were famous for their strikingly voluminous, geometric shapes and use of unusual materials, was born on this day in 1930 in Rome.

Precociously talented, Capucci opened his first studio in Rome at the age of 19 and by his mid-20s was regarded as the best designer in Italy, particularly admired by Christian Dior, the rising star of French haute-couture.

It was during this period, towards the end of the 1950s, that Capucci revolutionised fashion by inventing the Linea a Scatola – the box-line or box look – in which he created angular shapes for dresses and introduced the concept of volume and architectural elements of design into clothing, so that his dresses, which often featured enormous quantities of material, were almost like sculpted pieces of modern art, to be not so much worn as occupied by the wearer.

Growing up in Rome, Capucci was artistically inclined from an early age. He attended the Accademia di Belle Arti di Roma and wanted to become either an architect or a film director, designing clothes initially as no more than a diversion.

Yet he quickly revealed a talent for creating innovative, non-conformist dresses and fashion became his main occupation. He opened his first atelier in the Via Sistina in Rome in 1950 and the following year was invited to exhibit at one of the earliest fashion shows in Italy, organised by the aristocratic entrepreneur Giovanni Battista Giorgini.

Some of the Capucci designs on display at the Roberto Capucci Foundation Museum in Florence
Some of the Capucci designs on display at the Roberto
Capucci Foundation Museum in Florence
His coats lined with ermine and leopard and capes trimmed with fox fur would not have found favour with many of today’s buyers yet at the time were a hit.  The press noted Capucci’s youth and dubbed him ‘the boy wonder’. Giorgini was well aware of the appetite for spending among post-War jet setters and promoted his young protégé for all his worth.

It was not long before Capucci was being hailed as Italy’s best designer and was becoming known in Paris, the world’s fashion capital.  But it was the American market that Giorgini was keen to exploit, having made good contacts while the Allies were liberating Italy.

After he had unveiled his Linea a Scatola collection in 1958 Capucci was awarded the Boston Fashion Award, considered to be the clothing trade’s equivalent of an Oscar, which established his reputation beyond Italy.

He opened an atelier in Paris in 1962 and remained in the French capital for six years, living in some style in a suite at the Ritz Hotel and keeping the company of Coco Chanel among others.  He launched a perfume range, the first Italian to do so in France, but in 1968 he decided to go back to Italy, establishing a new Rome studio in Via Gregoriana.

The logo of today's Capucci fashion house
The logo of today's Capucci fashion house
Where Capucci differed from other designers is that he was not interested in producing clothes for the mass market.  He considered himself an artist and an architect and regarded his creations less as garments so such as sculptures in cloth.  He used yards and yards of material in order to create volume and shape; one critic observed that his clothes were ‘like soft body armour’.

So when ready-to-wear clothing and consumer fashion took hold in Italy in the 1980s, Capucci withdrew.  He would not allow his agenda to be set by the demands of the market and resigned from the Camera Nazionale della Moda Italiana, the body that promoted Italian design, membership of which would have required him to participate in four fashion shows each year.  He would exhibit, but only at times that suited him and in carefully chosen settings, often museums.

He also opposed the cult of the supermodel, which in his opinion was a distraction from the garment.  He preferred to create dresses for individuals – opera singers, actresses, the wives of politicians and debutantes from Roman society. He made outfits for Marilyn Monroe, Gloria Swanson, Jacqueline Kennedy and Silvana Mangano, the Italian actress, who was raised in poverty in Rome during the Second World War but who blossomed, in his opinion, to be ‘the most elegant woman in the world’.

Capucci today is a brand, with a ready-to-wear range established in 2003. The clothes are not designed by Capucci himself but by young designers such as the German Bernhard Willhelm and the American Tara Subkoff, who have access to a huge archive of the maestro’s work, which runs to 30,000 individual designs.

Today, aged 87, he remains involved through the Fondazione Roberto Capucci, set up in 2005, which preserves an archive of 439 historical dresses, 500 signed illustrations, 22,000 original drawings and a large photo and media library.

In 2007, at Villa Bardini in Florence, he opened the Roberto Capucci Foundation Museum, which hosts organised exhibitions and teaching activities.

The Via Sistina in Rome looking towards Piazza Trinità dei Monti
The Via Sistina in Rome looking towards
Piazza Trinità dei Monti
Travel tip:

Via Sistina, where Capucci opened his first studio in Rome, is the wealthy Campo Marzio district of the city centre, linking Piazza Barberini with the church of Trinità dei Monti, at the top of the Spanish Steps.  It was orginally part of the Strada Felice, commissioned by Pope Sixtus V to link the Pincian Hill with the Basilica of Santa Croce in Jerusalem, about two kilometres to the east of the centre.  The street today is lined with elegant palaces. The Via Gregoriana, where Capucci established his second studio in the city, runs almost parallel with Via Sistina

Elegant Via della Spiga in Milan's 'fashion quadrilateral'
Elegant Via della Spiga in Milan's
'fashion quadrilateral'
Travel Tip

Anyone wishing to admire the designs of today’s Capucci fashion house should head for Via della Spiga in Milan, where the company has its main prestige showroom. The elegant, pedestrianised street forms the northeast boundary of the luxurious Quadrilatero della Moda – the fashion quadrilateral – bordered by Via Monte Napoleone, Via Manzoni, Via Sant'Andrea and Corso Venezia.



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