The Vatican looms large as we approach Borgo Santo Spirito, the central base for AltaRoma, Rome’s quasi-answer to a fashion “happening” where fashion, city and its culture intersect. The hotel where we’re put up happens to be on Via Venuto, the street made famous by Federico Fellini’s La Dolce Vita. In fact, history looms large everywhere we go because that’s Rome in a nutshell. Every nook and cranny in the city is a picture postcard. And you are never far from a monument or location that needs a detailed tour guide explanation.
Cinema, politics and religion are unavoidably set into the backdrop to the city and that can either be a hindrance or a benefit to the cause of AltaRoma. By the end of the three-day programme of events, you had to hand to it to the current president of AltaRoma Silvia Venturini Fendi – it’s a tall order to turn Rome into a style destination and a hub for young Italian fashion. A quick search about AltaRoma on Italian newspaper La Repubblica and the tag “controversy” comes up before the event has even fully got underway as the contentious issue of funding comes up. Rome, despite its fashion credentials as home to the illustrious houses of Fendi, Valentino and Gucci and its claim to home grown couturiers such as Roberto Capucci, still plays second fiddle to Milan as premier fashion capital where the money is.
Rome’s history though as the former centre of Italian haute couture is about to get a major spotlight at the forthcoming V&A’s The Glamour of Italian Fashion, which opens in April. Add to that, the ongoing discussion in Italy as to what young designers are coming through to the forefront as Camera della Moda continues to assess Milan’s waning status in amongst the fashion capitals, and my first time experience of AltaRoma is well timed. Oh, and I get to use another Rome-related reference for a post title.
Silvia Venturini Fendi’s involvement with AltaRoma has meant that in the last few years, it has undergone a transformation. In addition to showcasing the Roman ateliers that may not be household names outside of Italy, Rome is now home to Vogue Italia’s Who Is On Next? competition. We got a mix of the old, the new and the relationship between the history of the city with its current fashion oeuvre were constantly exploited to great effect.
On the new side of things, which the Italian fashion journalists were most eager to see, previous finalists and winners of Who is On Next? all presented their A/W 14-5 collections, adding a sort of new gen ready-to-wear angle to AltaRoma. Arthur Arbesser, winner of the last edition, is someone I met at the House of Peroni talk back in November. He eschewed Italian fashion tropes in favour of looking back to his time studying at Central Saint Martins in London by way of an intriguing clash between Joy Division and clerical robes. Plus fake astrakhan in red and earthy loden come up against transparent silk organza and gold glitter techno. There’s definitely something interesting to grasp here in Arbesser’s melting pot of Austrian background, London education and Milanese work environment.
Esme Vie designed by Julia Voitenko and Daria Golevko sent a love letter to Rome with its double faced satin ensembles in peony-inspired shades of red, white and pink, bejewelled with jewel rosettes. Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pier Paolo Piccioli’s work for Valentino has definitely struck a note with Italy’s younger generation. Prim with an edge also flourished at Rome-based label Greta Boldini, designed by Alexander Flagella and Michaela Musco. Contrasts between masculine tweeds and crystal embellished silks made a case for a return to Italian glamour as seen in Luchino Visconi’s film The Damned. Film influences were also evident at San Andres, designed by Andres Caballero, who looked to his native Mexican film legend Maria Felix as a muse for his marble print silks and 1950s silhouettes.
For a sportier leaning that certainly juxtaposed with Rome’s penchant for the grandiose, you had further Who’s On Next finalists from the last edition – Comeforbreakfast, by Antonio Romano and Francesco Alagna and Quattramani designed by Massimo Noli and Nicola Frau (Italian fashion young gens seem to love pairing up, no?) both flexed their “contemporary” casual wear muscles. Comeforbreakfast skewed urban and tough whilst Quattramani injected whimsy with a mouse print inspired by sculpture artist Katharina Fritsch. It’s not quite the complete sum of parts but it’s interesting to see Rome, so weighted by its history and tradition, become this ideas factory in fashion. When Milan’s schedule continues to be dominated by big names and houses, Rome swoops in as a veritable alternative.
I was definitely up for a few shows with frows filled with fur, surgery and jewels and I definitely got that at shows by Sarli Couture, Gattinoni, Raffaella Curiel, and Renato Balestra. If you want literal theme executed without a hint of irony – in Balestra’s case, he was inspired by “birds of paradise” – then ye will find joy in these rambunctious shows. Less joyful was Gattinoni, which took us out to outskirts of Rome to the unfinished spectacular EUR Centre Congress building designed by FUKSAS. The architecture easily overshadows the clothes but moreover Gattinoni’s president Stephen Dominella, decided to bring his own agenda in by having a raging rant at the end, declaring his desire to never show in Rome and openly lambasting AltaRoma. I’m told there’s an ulterior political agenda. If only I could get my head around the intrigues and corruption of Italian politics. Either way, it was an inappropriate and needlessly sour note that makes me thankful that at the very least, in the UK, politics and fashion stay within their realms.
Check out the sashaying here!
Politics might distract the task at hand but the monumental relics of Rome will always be a powerful trump card. A Shaded View on Fashion‘s 6th film festival played out inside Hadrian’s Temple. I participated in a panel talk about the relevance and evolution of fashion film, adding little contribution other than “Fashion film Is Good”. I loved that the line-up of films at the festival showcased fashion films that are mixing up genres and are less about models wafting around aimlessly and more about narrative or spoof. Like this film by Remi Hachache for Converse entitled “How to fix a bad tattoo.” The lack of brand presence is almost irrelevant when you’ve got comedy gold.
Down in the underground amongst the ruins of the Stadium of Dominitian, designer Ludovica Amati put on a multi-sensory spiritual performance “La Cura”. If you were to dance around Joshua Tree surrounded by dreamcatchers, Amati’s organza dresses and wafty tulle ensembles are just the ticket. The tableau of crystals and rose petals is accompanied by a singing performance by two “medicine women”. This cure is completed by a heady scent by Meo Fusciuini, which wafts through the ruins like incense in neighbouring Catholic churches.
The mega good guys of AltaRoma are undoubtedly A.I. Artisanal Intelligence. Curators Clara Tosi Pamphili and Alessio de’Navasques explored the relationship between costume and couture as we were transported to the legendary Sartorial Farani, a legendary costume workshop in Rome, which has made created costumes for the likes of Fellini and Pier Paolo Pasolini. Costumes from films like Barbarella, Casanova and Othello are on display alongside Sartorial Farani’s library of couture pieces by the likes of Dior, Chanel, Balmain and Schubert. There’s a three way dialogue here between costume and couture and set against this wealth of aesthetic material, a selected group of young designers also pipe up in this conversation. The past and the present collide in a way that feels unique to Rome. These cross-field “happenings” put AltaRoma in good stead, no matter what the powers that be has in store in the future.