The Genteel
October 23, 2020



Brescia's Museo di Santa Giulia, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is hosting an exhibit dedicated to the work of Italian designer Roberto Capucci, one of the founding fathers of Italian haute couture. The exhibit's title, "Roberto Capucci e l'Antico. Omaggio alla Vittoria Alata" (Roberto Capucci and the Ancient. A Tribute to the Vittoria Alata), pays homage to the designer's own version of the ancient relic, Vittoria Alata (the Winged Victory of Brescia) - a georgette creation in shades of of green and mauve. Capucci took his first steps in the fashion world as an enfant prodige, and was the first Italian couturier to link the worlds of art and fashion. Today, he is a celebrated "researcher-artisan" (as he likes to define himself).

The Vittoria Alata side-by-side with
Capucci's own version

Capucci was born in Rome in 1930, and after earning his degree at the Accademia di belle Arti, he opened his haute couture atelier (he would never venture into prêt-à-porter). It was couture's golden age and Paris was at the heart of it: Christian Dior launched his couture house in 1946 and the creations of Balenciaga and Balmain were attracting worldwide attention for their elegance and glamour. Capucci's unofficial debut took place in Florence at the very first Italian collective of fashion shows in 1951, marking the birth of Italian haute couture. He was too young to participate, but the show's organizer, Giovanni Battista Giorgini, gave him the opportunity to dress his wife and daughter. The fashion press was charmed by the elegance of the two ladies, and sealed their approval with enthusiastic reviews. His first official involvement with the Florence fashion shows was the following year, where he enchanted the fashion world with his visually thrilling designs and artistic flair: the attention he paid to each chromatic shade; his architectonic proportions, shapes and perspective; and his visual and tactile sensibilities in using fabrics. 

By 1956, Dior himself declared in a Vogue interview that Capucci was the best Italian couturier. Capucci's most famous garment at this time was the "Nove Gonne" (Nine Skirts), a simple yet striking red taffeta dress created for American actress, Esther Williams. The skirt consists of nine concentric layers, inspired by the concentric circles that form in a body of water when a stone is thrown into it. The couturier counted among his clients many high society ladies and celebrities including, Italian actress Silvana Mangano, Jacqueline Kennedy and scientist Rita Levi Montalcini, who wore one of Capucci's creations when accepting the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1986.

"Nove Gonne"

He was considered, first and foremost, an artist by creative connoisseurs: his ability to shape fabric with finely chiseled creases and folds made him the master of plissé pleating. His mastery over the use of colour and his extensive knowledge of chiaroscuro are a testament to his creative background and art studies. His designs are sculptural and architectural, which the body does not wear, but inhabits; they are objects that blur the boundaries between art and fashion.

He was also well known for his innovative silhouettes. The designer created the Box Line style in 1958, a square shaped silhouette constructed of four panels of fabric sharply seamed at the front, back and sides. The Box Line starkly contrasted the sartorial tastes of the time, which were still influenced by the romantic New Look of Dior. The style was revolutionary from a technical and manufacturing point of view, marking a significant departure for Capucci as he continued to develop a more architectural and sculptural approach to design. His white silk satin "Colonna Dorica" dress, made in 1978, was designed to resemble a Doric column. 

His creations distinguished themselves by their stage presence and, not surprisingly, he also ventured into costume design, creating theatre, opera and ballet costumes. He dressed ballet dancer Carla Fracci, Italian soprano Katia Ricciarelli, Bulgarian soprano Raina Kabaivanska, and in 1968, Pier Paolo Pasolini asked Capucci to design the costumes for his movie, Teorema

The culture change of the 1970's greatly impacted Capucci. The designer took his first of many trips to India which fundamentally affected his creative evolution. He was the first Italian designer to venture into social awareness campaigns, donating his sketches and promoting local clothing production programs for Indian women in Rajastan. He began to detach from fashion's business-oriented thinking and started to hold fashion shows outside of traditional fashion week calendars, allowing him to follow interests beyond the fashion system. 

"Colonna Dorica" (Source:

By the early 1980s, his demand for greater autonomy caused him to detached from nearly all fashion institutions and he committed to pursuing his art full-time. But that didn't stop the rest of the world from remaining interested in his work. His "sculptures to inhabit" were chosen as the protagonist of prestigious international shows and he was invited to display his art pieces at the 1995 Venice Biennale, The Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City, The Victoria and Albert Museum and The Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna. In 2005, The Roberto Capucci Foundation was established in Florence with the purpose of preserving and promoting the work of the maestro (it hosts the Roberto Capucci Foundation Museum) and to patronize new talents and revitalize artisan crafts by providing educational support.

Capucci reminds us that fashion can be eternal as art: timeless, rising above trends and not confined by creative restraints. He was able to create a global aesthetic language through pleats and drapes, unique silhouettes and his use and combination of flamboyant colours. Fashion and design enthusiast will be delighted by the masterpieces at Santa Giulia and their curiosity to see Capucci's homage to the Vittoria Alata will finally be satiated. Brescia's Vittoria Alata re-examined by one of the founding fathers of Italian haute couture? A once in a lifetime opportunity not to be missed!

19 November 2011 - March 18, 2012 

Santa Giulia Museum,

Hours: daily 9.30 - 17.30. closed on Mondays 

Admission: € 8.00, reduced € 6.00



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