We The Italians | Italian Lifestyle and Fashion: New Perspectives on the New Made in Italy. Arts + Culture Through the Lens of Fashion, Craft, and Film

Italian Lifestyle and Fashion: New Perspectives on the New Made in Italy. Arts + Culture Through the Lens of Fashion, Craft, and Film

Italian Lifestyle and Fashion: New Perspectives on the New Made in Italy. Arts + Culture Through the Lens of Fashion, Craft, and Film

  • WTI Magazine #96 Oct 14, 2017
  • 1058

Queens College Professor Eugenia Paulicelli curates a multimedia Made in Italy Festival and Exhibition at Queens College that explores the art of making and craft in a globalized, digital world and why it matters. Made in Italy. The art of making. Local craft. In a globalized, digital world?

Happily, the Made in Italy “brand” – with its tradition of style, sensibility, excellence, and innovation – is in sync with the times. But that’s not to say that the culture of artisanship and craft, the penchant for authenticity and local artistry, all of which are synonymous with Italian style, are on the wane.

Quite the opposite. And certainly not in fashion, cinema, and other fields of art and culture where Made in Italy is a leading voice and where the value of the artisan’s hand counts.

The fact is that Made in Italy’s impact has transcended borders and given rise to an exciting, new Made in Italy, which is constantly evolving in our era of relentless change, fast-emerging technologies, and concerns about environmental sustainability.

That’s just one of the themes that Professor Eugenia Paulicelli, curator of the Made in Italy Festival: Arts + Culture, has expertly woven into the agenda of talks by scholars and students, film screenings, and exhibits by artists, designers, and makers. Paulicelli is Professor of Italian and Comparative Literature at Queens College, the City University of New York (CUNY), and Director of the Fashion Studies Program at the CUNY Graduate Center.

Fashion kicks off the festival

Paulicelli carves the festival’s content into two interrelated themes – fashion and cinema – intermingling both themes in the events taking place from October 5 to December 15.

Fashion is presented through the lens of Paulicelli’s Fabric of Cultures series, the research and pedagogical program she conceived and introduced about a decade ago. She’s guided the Fabric of Cultures through multiple points of focus with CUNY’s ongoing support, first concentrating on the relationships between textiles and clothing from Eastern and Western cultures, then, for the Fabric of Cultures 2.0, on fashion as it relates to objects, memory, and technology, and, in the current iteration, Systems in the Making, the relationship between craftsmanship and technology in a globalized world. It’s been a journey of fascinating scholarship and excellent outcomes.

Eva M. Fernandez, Assistant Provost of Queens College (CUNY), highlighted the experiential learning success of the Fabric of Cultures project in her introduction to the 120-page exhibition catalog on Systems in the Making: “At its core an experiential learning project, the Fabric of Cultures invites its participants to take multidimensional journeys that track the historical antecedents of modern fashion and fashion critique, that survey archetypical patterns and their contemporary variations, that engage contributors in craftwork activities, and that elicit powerful memories of near and distant pasts.”

Paulicelli’s passion for the project is palpable, apparent to anyone who sits in her class or across her desk. Fernandez said: “Paulicelli’s formidable energy sparks fires in the imaginations of her students (I have seen these metaphorical fires with my own eyes), through a design that instantiates best practices in teaching and learning.”

The Fabric of Cultures and inclusion; fashion and social change

One of the highlights of the Fabric of Cultures “philosophy” is Paulicelli’s decision to exhibit the collective work of her students – from freshmen to doctorate candidates, budding designers, artists, poets, and makers among them – alongside the work of Italian fashion greats. This carries to the printed exhibition catalog and to the exhibit floor at the Queens College Art Center, which houses the Fabric of Cultures arts collection.

The art center’s Director, Amanda Nocera, acknowledges Paulicelli’s inclusiveness: “Dr. Paulicelli has welcomed her students to share in her research while supportively challenging them to push the limits of their own scholarship and artistic practice; a democratic approach whose success permeates this exhibition at every turn.”

For Paulicelli, fashion is clearly so much more than simple fancy. Systems in the Making, says Paulicelli, gets to the root of how clothing and fashion link to economics, globalization, climate change, political and cultural transformations, production and consumption. “Our first question must always be: Whose hands and labor made possible the garment in our closet or on our body?”

Back to Made in Italy

“Why, at a time when critics have questioned the nation and the nation-state as obsolete notions, do we still have labels such as Made in Italy, or Made in New York, or even Made in Brooklyn?,” asks Paulicelli. These are labels that evoke “localism in the midst of globalization,” but carry surprising weight in the current environment of technology and globalization. Why? Because they signify that even in a globalized world, “there remains a demand and desire for the local, for that which is not transnational.” Made in Italy instantly telegraphs, beauty, chic, luxury, craft.  “The Made in Italy brand is a complex social and cultural phenomenon that has shaped the processes of identity of Italians as well as the processes by which foreigners perceive Italy and Italians.”

And that’s why, she continues, “the experience of authenticity” is in demand by consumers and why designers are eager to tie their collections to a particular locale or local tradition. That’s the case for designers and companies included in the Fabric of Cultures exhibition: Cesare Attolini, Antionio Marras, Orange Fiber and Salvatore Ferragamo (this alliance creates fabrics from orange peel waste), “Arte e Ricamo” (Art and Embroidery), a women-run company that creates embroidery for top designers from Emilio Pucci (shown in the exhibit) to Dolce & Gabbana, Versace, Tom Ford, and Vivienne Westwood.

A mix of regional traditions, accents, and knowhow also play into designers’ collections. In the exhibit, we see influences from Italy’s north: Arte e Ricamo, Emilio Pucci, Ferragamo, and Silvia Giovanardi; from Italy’s south: (Calabria) FrancyG (Emanuela Errico and Maria Francesca Nigro); Cangiari/ Goel; (Sicily) Giulietta Salmeri, Marzia Donzelli, and Orange Fiber; (Sardinia) Antonio Marras; and, in the case of Cesare Attolini, the city of Naples. Attolini’s suit jacket designs changed the silhouette of men’s fashion. 

The Fabric of Cultures also offers a special opportunity to view the new Made in Italy from New York, a global fashion city and a design hub, through the Tek-Tiles project by the Pratt/Brooklyn Fashion + Design Accelerator, and NY-based companies such as Tabii Just and HVRMINN. 

The new Italian Cinema-CUNY

The second leg of the Made in Italy festival inaugurates a new education project at CUNY whose mission is to generate deeper understanding of the art of Italian cinema, from its origins to the present.

The launch of Italian Cinema–CUNY (IC–CUNY) will commemorate the 100th anniversary of the death of Nino Oxilia, the Turin-born playwright, screenwriter, and film director who directed the 1917 silent film masterpiece, Rapsodia Satanica (Satanic Rhapsody). Oxilia died in combat in WWI at the age of 26. Guy Borlèe, coordinator of Cineteca di Bologna, Il Cinema Ritrovato, will lead a panel discussion on the Oxilia film and discuss the restoration process of early films, especially the important role Cineteca di Bologna plays internationally in film restoration.

In an interesting parallel between fashion and film, actress Lyda Borelli, the diva who plays the role of Alba in Raposdia Satanica, a Faustian tale of a woman’s search for eternal youth, had previously worn the “Tanagra” dress designed by Rosa Genoni, the fashion creator, feminist, and peace activist, in 1908. The dress was revolutionary, prized for its less restrictive style, fluidity, and draping. Genoni created the Tanagra dress in 1908 and made the same one for Borelli. Paulicelli profiled Genoni in a recent book and will discuss her impact on fashion and the women’s movement as part of the Fabric of Cultures lineup commemorating the 150th anniversary of the designer’s birth. CUNY student Christina Trupiano has re-created the Tanagra dress for the exhibition, where it is on display, and cinematographers Massimo Mascolo and Claudio Napoli tell the story in the Made in Italy festival video they created.

Contemporary film on next

Screenings of contemporary Italian films will round out the series. Among the titles are Dopo la Guerra (After the War – by Annarita Zambrano, 2017) and Anna Piaggi – by Alina Marazzi, 2016) with roundtable discussions with the film directors and film scholars (Giancarlo Lombardi, David Ward, and Nicoletta Marini Maio) to follow.

Eugenia Paulicelli has gratefully acknowledged support for Italian Cinema-CUNY from the Department of European Languages and Literatures, the Italian Program, the Department of History, the Freshmen Year Initiative (FYI) and the Office of the Dean of Arts and Humanities at Queens College, and the Office of the Provost, the Program of Comparative Literatures and the Italian Specialization at Graduate Center of the City University of New York (CUNY), with the patronage of The Cineteca di Bologna, The City of Turin, The Museo del Cinema di Torino, the Regione Emilia Romagna, and Casa Artusi.

The Fabric of Cultures is part of a larger, partly digital, pedagogic and research project directed by Eugenia Paulicelli, Professor of Italian at Queens College and director of Fashion Studies at the Graduate Center.

The exhibition catalog, The Fabric of Cultures: Systems in the Making, is now available on Amazon.

Follow the Fabric of Cultures and IC-CUNY on Twitter and Facebook.

Photos by Simone Caprifogli