Giorgini

Giovanni Battista (1899-1971). He is the father of Italian fashion and the strategist of the first Florentine fashion show on February 12, 1951, which represents the birthday of the Italian style in fashion, an independent style compared with the secular submission of Paris. “Under the white hair, slightly thin at the nape of the neck, the profile is reminiscent of certain knights that can be found in the paintings of the old Tuscan masters, with a falcon on the shoulder,” wrote Giancarlo Fusco, important journalist and remarkable observer of his own time. Giorgini was a gentleman in style, blood, and smiles: “A gentleman,” according to Grazia in August 1951. “He is well mannered and courteous, even when doing so must cost him considerable effort — behind his gentle appearance, there is a grip of steel, a first-class organizational intelligence, and a knowledge of the American market and of the psychology of buyers which, alone, explain the success of his undertaking far beyond the wildest expectation.” His knowledge of the American market was the product of almost thirty years of work as a middleman for American department stores — searching and singling out skilled and affordable Italian craftsmen (especially in the sectors of ceramics, glass, straw, leather goods, household linen, known as “tovagliati”), the selection and the purchasing, shipping back to the American department stores. He was a bloodhound of the beautiful and refined, a buyer working on order — that was his profession.In 1921, just twenty-two and in search of a job, he came to Florence from Forte dei Marmi, close to Carrara, where his family owned a few marble quarries and a small factory that manufactured equipment for marble cutting. Giorgini’s family was very patriotic, aristocratic, and Florentine in origin. “In 1918, when he came back from the front where he had fought as a volunteer, my father had to quit his studies. The head of the family had died, and the business had to be carried on. Bista, as he was known in the family, took on the responsibility, but he was not cut out for that sort of work. He wanted to be a diplomat. There was just not enough money to go back to school, however. My dad thought of a replacement for that. In Florence, a cousin of his opened an export office. He was dealing in ceramics. Export, in the mind of a young man, meant traveling around the world, seeing distant lands, just like a diplomat. That was where he began his profession. Two years later, he set up an office of his own.”It was 1923, and the young Giorgini fell in love with his work — finding the most beautiful objects, visiting the workshops of craftsmen, discovering a world that combined technical skill, artistic creativity, and manual dexterity. Giorgini understood that this profession could be more than just a commercial occupation, if he set himself the goal of discovering and familiarizing the rest of the world with the finest creations of Italian craftsmanship, a testimonial to the sensibilities, the tradition, and the culture of a people. He traveled around Italy to assemble a line of samples, with the finest examples of glassware, embroidery, and ceramics, and then he went off to America, speaking practically no English at all. It was, as he was often to remember later on, a humiliating experience: closed doors and countless refusals. He came back after “enchanting” only one important customer: Wallace C. Speers, the owner of the James McCutcheon & Co. of New York, where the finest home linen was sold. Speers was interested in the magnificent linen produced by Jesurum of Venice and by Olga Asta.Giorgini took intensive courses in English and he traveled between Florence and the United States. After every trip, he had a few more clients in his portfolio, another department store or other that had named him as their exclusive agent in Italy. Those trips and his acute skills of observation made him particularly knowledgeable about the development of the American market. He knew how to predict the most successful products, and when he came back to Italy he was able to direct the craftsmen with whom he was in contact, helping them to improve or adapt their production to the lifestyle and requirements of the new clients from across the ocean. After those first years, good luck seemed on Giorgini’s side. He had developed a selected network of artisans and a good circle of solid clients.The clients were solid until the Wall Street Crash when he suffered by the crisis of 1929. In America it was no longer the time for embroidered table and bed linen and Italian leather goods. He had to start again, but business was slow. It was this event that led to his idea of reversing the flow of trade. He imported clothing from America and opened, downstairs from his office along Lungarno Guicciardini, a store selling ready-to-wear clothes, toys, gifts, and furniture objects from the USA. The store was called ‘Le Tre Stanze’ (The Three Rooms) and the sales girls were the Antinori sisters, Paola and Mimmi. For its opening Giorgini invited a native Indian-American princess, who had long braids and was very beautiful in a white buckskin dress, embroidered with beads and decorated with colored ribbons; she held a ‘recital of Indian songs. The store was successful, but only for its gifts and furniture. The ready-to-wear was too ahead of its time for Italian tastes. Giorgini agreed to work in Spain as a buyer of artisan’s objects and table linen for the James McCutcheon & Co. chain. The Three Rooms slowly declined. Along came the Second World War, the call to arms, his return to Florence under German occupation on September 8, the liberation of Florence, and his opening of an Allied Forces Gift Shop. In order to execute the shop, he found a space in Via Calzaioli, where Coin now stands — there was a long balcony and, all around it, a great many small rooms shaped like horseshoes. In every room was a craftsman. The success was so great that, at the end of the war, he was asked by the Allies to open two more shops, one in Milan and one in Trieste. Transport was almost nonexistent. He purchased an old Renault and did everything himself: loading and driving. The Italy that Giorgini drove through from the centre to the north was a devastated land.It was in those years in that Italy that he started to think about the idea that he would carry out five years later. The idea of creating an Italian high fashion — which was an impossibility in the eyes of the foreign buyers and of the Italians themselves until Giorgini succeeded in envisioning it, bringing it to life and establishing it on the world stage — began to develop in his mind in 1946, in that terribly difficult postwar period. It might well have seemed like overambitious madness. And yet, this intuition, which was apparently paradoxical — how could a product implicitly bound up with wealth and wellbeing be identified with a country in ruins? — proved to be a very powerful vitamin, as it were, capable of reinforcing and strengthening Italy’s manufacturing and commercial situation in the space of just a few years, and outstripping even the most optimistic expectations by a huge margin. In 1949 and 1950 he experienced difficulties. B. Altman, a name of extreme importance among the major luxury department stores in New York, turned him down unceremoniously when he suggested that they sponsor a presentation of Italian fashion at the Brooklyn Museum.The event would have required 25,000 to 35,000 dollars and B. Altman considered it to be an enormous sum of money, especially if spent blindly, ‘without seeing the Collections first’. On 11 October 1950 the department store’s management wrote to Giorgini: ‘It would be fatal for us to present clothing that was derivative of French fashion’. No support for the presentation in the States, and, perhaps to mitigate the drastic nature of the rejection, the expression of interest in something of the sort in Italy, in order to allow the buyer, Miss Meison, to “visit the market,” to see things directly and to buy those objects that she might consider wise and appropriate. Rather than just an expression of a wish, this was a clear operative suggestion — it softened the rejection, but at the same time it stimulated Giorgini not to give up. It was necessary to organize in Italy something that could demonstrate, directly in the field, the creation of a true, authentic Italian fashion, or at least, that could mark the beginning of a independent trend in Italian clothing production. Twenty-five years of experience as a purchasing agent for the United States, as the eye of the department stores on Italian craftsmanship, as an emissary of the beautiful, the refined, and the “hand-made” gave Giorgini extremely sensitive antennae with which to sense the needs of the American market, the trends of consumption, the waves of taste, an eye for what would work in America. It was not as if the United States had shut off Italy’s export of crafts goods, at the time a minuscule amount of business. In 1947 an operation that Giorgini had carried off had been extremely successful — an exhibition of furniture, fabrics for interior decoration, Murano glass, ceramics, leather goods, on the premises of Watson and Boaler, in Chicago. Designed by the interior designer Hag Mayer, an old friend of Bista, that minimal “expo” of Italian craftsmanship had opened a breach to the point that it persuaded the director of the Museum of Modern Art in Chicago, Meyric Rogers, to organize, in conjunction with Giorgini, a traveling exhibition that, under the name Italy at Work, opened in a number of American museums. But museums are not the same thing as the market, nor do they influence the market more than a certain amount.On the whole, high-quality Italian craftsmanship was having a hard time. In America, what was working was the perennial, eternal Italy of Chianti bottles, mandolins, and spaghetti, and an extremely low-quality, cheap sort of export was beginning to gain ground. In order to invert this tendency or, at the very least, to create a small space for a more qualified Made in Italy, a powerful idea was needed, a product image capable of attracting the interest, the attention of the press, and to conquer the first pages in the news. An engine was needed to change and transmit speed to the noble train of the Italian artisan trade. The extraordinary intuition of Giorgini was in his understanding that this engine could be fashion: an Italian fashion invented from next to nothing because it was nothing compared to the success of the French haute couture. Giorgini had his work cut out for him, in terms of claiming lineage from the Etruscan “wardrobe,” the Italian elegance of Catherine de’ Medici, from eighteenth-century Venice, and the more credible and widely recognized excellence of Italian fabric manufacturers, Italian embroidery, Italian skill with needle and thread, a skill typical of a poor country, of a society in which clothing was made at home, where a mother might restitch a dress to be worn by her daughters. There was no such thing as Italian fashion. It had only given its first cry during the years when Mussolini imposed that the Italian ateliers designed independently, without drawing inspiration from Paris or copying, at least 50% of Collections.Paris was The Fashion, in a totalizing and monopolizing way, apparently invulnerable to any possible assault, as very rooted myths are, furthermore alimented, year after year, by new talents and by an extraordinary capacity of self-promoting that has always been a French ability. While Giorgini was dreaming of an elegance designed in Italy, Italian fashion “houses” and Italian dressmakers were spending thousands of francs in Paris to buy exclusive patterns from Dior, Balenciaga, Fath, Patou, in order to quench the thirst for French elegance of their very Italian customers, voracious, after the years of war-enforced fashion diets, for French fashion, for “fashion-fashion,” as people said in those years, on the model of “coffee-coffee,” to distinguish it from the ersatz coffee available during rationing. So what reason was there to think, in the beginning of the 1950s, with the country still heaving and wounded from five years of war, that Giorgini should succeed in bending the power of that granite monopoly, if not to reverse, to alter a centuries-old trend? Well, perhaps because the ground had been broken by those early efforts. And certainly because, in this case, the idea of inciting dressmakers and aspiring designers to launch themselves in a creative autonomy, without senses of inferiority, the idea of organizing them and giving them a shared strategy was not an idea conceived with a view to the domestic market, too elitist and too snobbish, conditioned by the French tradition, but rather with a view to America, which was also, in the area of high fashion, reverent toward the French, but still capable of commercial pragmatism.Among Giorgini’s most important clients were I. Magnin of San Francisco, Bergdorf Goodman and B. Altman’s in New York, the best of the department stores of the United States, the best which, in order to stay at the top in the field of high fashion, could look nowhere but to Paris, and could buy from no one but the ateliers of Patou, Dior, Balenciaga, the compact platoon of acclaimed masters of elegance. America was, therefore, also subjugated by French fashion. But Giorgini was sensitive to things in the Florentine air, both by tradition and as a citizen of his town, and so the “case Pucci” made him understand just how much the American market needed products that were not staid and academic, but was looking for a less stiff and formal way of dressing, freer and more colorful, and less formal.In 1947, Pucci succeeded in making his way onto the decisive and miracle-working pages of Harper’s Bazaar, where the story was told of how he had created a skiing wardrobe in Saint Moritz for a friend of his who had lost her luggage. Those pages told the story and illustrated that story with a photograph that sparked the interest and commercial instincts of Lord & Taylor’s, a department store on Fifth Avenue. The request to mass produce those “mises” was the first event in the adventure of Pucci, the first impulse in a long and clamorous success.When, at the end of the 1940s, Giorgini began to develop the idea of an “Italian look” to be invented, reinforced, and offered to America as a way of regenerating the image of a discredited Italian craftsmanship, the “caso Pucci,” if it had not exploded, was certainly bubbling away in the United States. It was the first signal of a market mechanism that could be exploited. “This was not the only indicator,” recalls Elisa Massai. “Giorgini knew how to understand things,” and he did. Between 1949 and 1950 Italian knitwear — helped along by the first yarns in cotton and wool, which the American assistance plans UNRRA and ERP were unloading in Italian ports — began to sell slowly at first in England and in the United States. This was the first bridgehead in an invasion that Giorgini’s brilliant strategy was to render triumphant. “Dorville House,” in London was discovering Laura Aponte, Marisa Arditi, Lea Galliani, and the Maglificio Mariangelo. In June of 1950 Henriette Tedesco, buyer for I. Magnin, opened the golden gates of America to Olga di Gresy and her label “Mirsa.” This was an elite export, involving small numbers, but it was also a signal of the sharp reversal of a trend. Almost at the same time, Bettina Ballard, director of Vogue, and her rival, Carmel Snow, director of Harper’s Bazaar, were going wild over the “rags” designed by Pucci in daring turquoise and shocking pink and, in Capri, they were discovering Simonetta Visconti Colonna di Cesarò and Tessitrice dell’Isola, who was actually known as Clarette Gallotti; the former was a duchess and the latter a baroness. This aristocracy was not swimming in money after the war, and fashion was an antidote to their financial problems, perhaps also to the boredom of having been for centuries without nothing to do.The war had shaken up life considerably. For the great names of nobility, and for women in general, working was no longer taboo. On the contrary. It was a fascinating new idea. Simonetta Visconti was working, and she was designing a handsome fashion, by quite simply reproducing that which she herself, a woman of taste and determination, wore or would be willing to wear. This was the obvious secret as well of Lola Giovannelli Sciarra and of Stefanella, a duo working in the “Boutique” style, and of Giovanna Caracciolo, the mastermind of Casa Carosa.In 1949 the buyers of Bergdorf Goodman and Marshall Field, in search of novelties, had arrived in Milan to take a look at the models by Noberasco, Vanna, Fercioni, and Tizzoni. In Rome they had purchased Simonetta’s models. Something was really changing. Zoe, Micol, and Giovanna Fontana, the three sisters from Trasteverolo, from the heart of Emilia, had come to Rome before the war to work as seamstresses. They had already made clothing for Mirna Loy, and in their atelier in Via Liguria, they were suddenly illuminated by the spotlights of Hollywood for the wedding dress that they had created for Linda Christian, for the five meters of white train that shone in the Basilica di Santa Francesca Romana, under the flashbulbs of dozens of elbowing paparazzi, the first newsreel wedding of the post-war period. It was 27 January 1949. There was, then, a thin opening. It had to be built on and the only way to do that was by convincing tailors and dressmakers to take what could be defined the Italian way to fashion; and, once achieved this goal, put in contact the several Italian maisons, tailors, dressmakers and designers with the buyers of American and Canadian department stores. Giorgini tried it, with considerable emphasis. The refusal of “B. Altman’s” to sponsor an Italian runway presentation at the Brooklyn Museum left only one alternative open — that of luring the buyers across the Atlantic to a presentation of Italian apparel in Italy. An extremely difficult task, full of obstacles that would have seemed insurmountable to anyone who was less courageous. The real obstacle was the fear of arousing Parisian wrath. Giorgini must have realized this early and, in many cases, he was unable to overcome that fear. The psychosis over Paris had two aspects — the fear of being cut off from the circuit of French ateliers, of being barred from drinking at the well of ideas, patterns, and outfits, of clothing to be purchased on an exclusive basis and to be multiplied in a number of different versions, with variants of fabric and cut; and the sensation, practically a received idea, that their customers were so conditioned by the automatic link between elegance and Paris that they were often reluctant to entertain even the hypothesis of a “chic” (an ever-present word back then) that could exist anywhere but in the sacred precincts of Paris. Never had the maisons allied to present together their creations.They had always presented many weeks after the Collections of Paris, so as to have the time required to translate and develop the indications and lines that the capital of fashion was imposing. That phrase, “immediately following,” which was indispensable if there was to be any hope of persuading the buyers to extend their European stay, and to come from Paris to Florence, was also a way of ensuring that Italian high fashion would not be just a photocopy of the French “dernier cri” — perhaps it would be less than sublime, but certainly there was no risk that the buyers would see the same thing in Florence that they had just seen in Paris. Three revolutions in one — a few too many for Giorgini’s idea to trigger immediate enthusiasm among those who saw, in the routine of buying and copying, a solid market, and reliable profits.Giorgini entered into contact with the most important brands receiving only denials. His proposal seemed to terrify them. Then, what would he show to buyers who, only out of friendship, solidarity of profession, had accepted to change their program and come to Florence? Giorgini didn’t give up. He simply turned to those whom, today, we would call the emerging talents. And he scored. Bluffing. On 27 November the invitations were also sent out (more than anything else, an announcement of intent) to Bergdorf-Goodman, Escobosa of I. Magnin in San Francisco, for Henry Morgan of Montreal. Giorgini’s intentions were quite real, but they were based on a void, a void into which he had leapt, on faith, without a parachute. The rejections from the leading fashion houses had dramatically accelerated the speed of his fall. There was practically no time left to find a solution. On 28 December 1951, just over a month prior to the possible dates of the runway presentations, Giorgini wrote the minor houses, the up-and-coming or newly established designers.“I have been working regularly with the North American market since 1923, and I represent many of the finest companies that import Italian artistic and crafts products. No consideration has ever been given to fashion in any practical sense, since Paris is the world center as far as they are concerned. Italian fashion accessories have always been considered quite highly, however; among them, purses, scarves, gloves, umbrellas, shoes, jewelry, and so on. Since the United States is now quite well disposed toward Italy, it seems to me that the time has come to attempt to establish Italian fashion on that market. And, in order to achieve that purpose, since in Paris the Collections are presented to American buyers during the first week of February and of August, we must organize a presentation of our own Collections during the same period of time. Since I have already received confirmations of participation from many of the finest fashion houses, I would suggest that we work as follows:Date: second week in February and August of each year. Venue: Florence. Procedure: Each High Fashion House will present a minimum of twenty outfits (morning, afternoon, cocktail, evening) worn by one, or if possible, two of its own models. Each House will pay for the expenses indicated above and will pay 25,000 Lire to the Ufficio Giorgini for our expenses involved in organizing the event and greeting the guests. Sales: these will be negotiated directly between the Houses and foreign buyers. In the interests of the Houses themselves, it is an explicit requirement that the outfits which will be presented be of exclusive and original Italian design. For this first presentation to be held next February, it is unlikely that many American buyers will be attending, because they believe that Italian Fashion is merely derivative of Parisian fashion, and, therefore, their interest is quite limited. On the other hand, we have often seen Italian clothing in Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar under American and French names. It all depends, therefore, on our determination to show that Italy, which has demonstrated her mastery in the field of fashion over the centuries, has preserved her genius and can still create style with a wholly genuine spirit.“The first presentation will take place in Casa Giorgini on 12 and 14 February 1951 — as per enclosed invitation. I would request that you respond with the greatest possible rapidity if your House is interested in participating.” Italian fashion, with its trade volume of billions, with its vast armies of professionals in the industries of knitwear and apparel, the spectacular phenomenon of designer clothing which exploded in the middle of the Seventies, its beneficial and “curative” effects on the chronically ailing Italian trade balance — it all started with this letter of exhortation with a tone that is at times naive and dated, but which brims over with Italian pride and which, in order to trigger commercial interest, makes use of a little white lie.It was not true at all that Giorgini “had already received confirmations of participation from many of the finest fashion houses.” If the reCollections of Simonetta Colonna di Cesarò are at all accurate, he may have received a few positive responses before sending out the letters. But very few and far between. “I received a visit from Giovan Battista Giorgini,” recalls Simonetta (professionally, she used only her given name). “Florence at the time was a major center for exports of crafts’ products, lingerie, leather, and straw. He outlined his plan to me, a plan that was ambitious, difficult, and in some ways, revolutionary — to launch an Italian fashion on the worldwide market. Today that may not seem so revolutionary. But, at the time, fashion was a monopoly of French designers. Their word was law. All of the European houses, including the majority of Italian dressmakers, went to Paris twice a year to buy and to copy — and at times to copy without buying — the ideas of Balenciaga, Fath, and the other heavy hitters. The plan that Giorgini had in mind broke with tradition. It was potentially a boomerang. I accepted without thinking twice, without asking for time to decide. But I was not taking much a risk, because I was already designing original fashion, and I did not copy the French; I had a clientele of my own, which did not display withdrawal symptoms if they did not wear clothing in line with the commandments of Paris. I formed part of the sparse group of alternative Italian fashion, along with Schubert, the Fontana sisters, Pucci, and Germana Marucelli. For me, Giorgini’s project was not a risk. It was a lifesaver. It was even more than that. It was a rocket ship. Without Giorgini, nothing would have happened. He had the courage to do things. He spoke little and he acted.”Perhaps, when he wrote his incitement to “show that Italy has preserved her genius and can still create style with a wholly genuine spirit,” Giorgini has already received the reassurance of one “yes’, that of Simonetta. Perhaps he knew that Marucelli, the terrible Tuscan, a former apprentice seamstress who wore her hair in a bun and who established alliances with artists, was waiting for nothing better. Micol, Zoe, and Giovanna, the Fontana sisters, had also always been very well disposed toward Giorgini. “He had come to see us,” recalls Micol. “He had said to us — ‘You three do nice work. Very nice work. You can tell from the attention you receive. I am inviting buyers from various American department stores. You can present your Collection, as long as you agree not to copy French style. Let’s see what happens.’ We were already creating a bit of Italian fashion. Just a little because, it was obligatory that, in the Collections, most of the apparel be French or of French inspiration. But we had begun to notice that those few outfits which were entirely designed by us were successful. Actresses, who were the treasure of Casa Fontana, tended to choose the outfits that we had designed. Therefore, we were relatively immune to the fear of breaking away from Paris. And yet, it was not an easy decision. Turning our backs on Paris meant giving up a mechanism that we knew worked. Certainly, in the wake of the excitement over the wedding dress for Linda Christian, we had made a name for ourselves in Hollywood. On the runway of the Beverly Hills Hotel, with an audience made up of legends of the movies such as Frank Sinatra, Rita Hayworth, Katharine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy, and Clark Gable, our outfits were greeted with applause and orders. We had that success to encourage us. And yet it took a great deal of courage to take Giorgini up on his offer. It meant that we would no longer be able to keep one foot in two shoes: with French fashion and a few Italian outfits. I remember that we had long family discussions. ‘You’re doing fine as it is. What else are you looking for?’ our relatives would say to us. In the end, Zoe and I, the two eldest, won out. In life, you cannot stay in one place. You have to move forward.”At the end of December 1950, just two months from the final date, Giorgini had convinced one or two theoretical agreements to participate and several maybes. It was that letter that definitively anointed the thirteen apostles of Italian fashion, converting them to the credo of a possible “red, white, and green” style. There were nine names in the field of high fashion — Simonetta, Fabiani, Fontana, Schuber, and Carosa, from Rome; Marucelli, Veneziani, Noberasco, and Vanna, from Milan. There were four in the area of “boutique fashion”: Emilio Pucci, who agreed to participate, though he held his presentation in his own Florentine palazzo, Avolio, Bertoli, and “Tessitrice dell’Isola.” And they were converted in a hurry, because the times were truly ripe for an “1848” of Italian fashion, a younger fashion, against the occupying and oppressive foreign fashion, for a war of independence against the French. The letter of exhortation was dated 28 December 1950. On 3 January 1951, Simonetta replied that she “accepted with enthusiasm” and, on the same date, Casa Fontana replied: “We will participate with pleasure in your praiseworthy undertaking. We have taken careful note of the program in the certainty that the common effort will be crowned by the much sought after recognition of Italian creative capacity.” The timing involved some second thoughts for the Fontana sisters. On 13 January, they announced that the invitation “has been considered with great attention by our House and the Houses of Schubert and Carosa.” They gave a tentative agreement, for themselves and for the “other Houses mentioned,” and asked for an assurance that “there would be at least seven or eight representatives of American department stores, willing and ready to buy.”That was a guarantee that Giorgini could not provide. He had only obtained some vague promises from buyers who were preparing for their trip to France to attend the runway presentations in Paris — it was almost a “yes,” but strictly as a favor for a friend. The announcement of Italian fashion did not arouse their curiosity. They were sceptical. Everything hovered in uncertainty. On 24 May 1951, Noberasco announced: “We will participate with four morning outfits, four afternoon outfits, six mid-evening outfits, four gala outfits, and two models.” But the organizer was still on the phone, to ensure that the buyers would not jilt him, and that they really would make that “detour” to Florence. “I remember long phone calls,” says Matilde Giorgini. “I remember one phrase perfectly. ‘Be my doctors. Come to take my temperature, by all means come.'” Altman himself had some doubts, and he would not give permission to his buyer Gertrude Ziminsky, who wanted to make her friend Giorgini happy. No one would confirm their participation. “I convinced them to participate fraudulently,” Giorgini admitted to Oriana Fallaci in 1959. “I assured each one that their direct rival would be present.” All of the rest was ready and planned out, according to a program that cunningly joined work with socializing in a setting that would tickle the snobbish weaknesses of the American guests. On 12 February, day wear, sportswear, boutique fashion, and accessories would be presented; the 13th would be a day of relaxation and leisure; and the 14th, between a cocktail party and a grand ball, the evening wear would be presented. Giorgini had invited to the ball, along with his guests the buyers, and the fashion journalists, all of the Florentine aristocracy. In the invitation, the following phrase appeared: “The purpose of the evening is to promote Italian fashion. The ladies are therefore sincerely requested to wear clothing of pure Italian inspiration.”In the first week of that February, Giorgini intensified his phone calls to the buyers who were in Paris, spending their last dollars on orders from Patou, Dior, Molineux, Fath. He was practically begging them. In the end, they arrived. They were Stella Hanania for “I. Magnin” of San Francisco; Gertrude Ziminsky of “B. Altman & Co.,” of New York; Ethel Francau, Jessica Daves, and Julia Trissel of “Bergdorf-Goodman” of New York; John Nixon of “Henry Morgan,” of Montreal — only a few persons, but extremely important ones.If they had a negative opinion, it would have destroyed the undertaking immediately, constituting a precedent that would have taken years to erase. They arrived in Florence on the evening of 11 February. “Practically making fun of me and emphasizing how much of a favor they had done by coming to Florence,” as Giorgini was to say. They were skeptical and their budgets had been sucked dry by their purchases of Parisian fashion. Along with the group that was coming to Casa Giorgini the next day, to attend the first (and in their minds, they probably expected it to be the last) Italian fashion show, there were a few uninvited guests — Hannah Troy, a famous designer from Seventh Avenue, in New York, Martin Cole of Leto Cohn-Lo, Balbo and Ann Roberts, importers who just happened to be in Florence.There was no catwalk in the neoclassical salon of Villa Torrigiani in Via Serragli. The Italian fashion came to life at parquet level (but it was the same in Parisian ateliers), following a short path among chairs and armchairs. It was a domestic exhibition, rigorous, very well organized, but forcefully primitive: the library had been turned into a studio for the last-minute dressmakers’ touches, and the guests’ bedroom into a storeroom for accessories, shoes, hats, and bijoux. There was a piano and a pianist. The library also served as make-up room and locker room for the models. The buyers arrived all together. There was no crowd of journalists, partly because at the time there were only a few fashion magazines and also because Giorgini had limited the invitations. It was a test. And if the test had failed, it would have been better to avoid the media outcry. It already seemed risky that Women’s Wear Daily, Daily New Record and Retailing Daily, all belonging to the Fairchild group, had announced in small paragraphs, the Florentine debut. Only five journalists were invited to the occasion: Elisa Massai, Elsa Robiola, director of Bellezza and correspondent for the weekly Tempo with the illustrator Gemma Vitti of Corriere Lombardo, Vera Rossi of Novità, Misia Armani of the periodical I Tessuti Nuovi and Sandra Bartolomei Corsi of the Secolo XIX. Except for the final ball, the event had been organized as a serious work conference and a low profile was expressly maintained in order to prevent any Italian newspaper printing something about the exhibition. On the other hand, Giorgini had certainly not given up directing the event. The sequence and contents of the shows had been carefully studied as to obtain the maximum result. “All the stakes had to be played immediately, at the first blow, on 12 February,” wrote Roberta Orsi Landini, a scholar of the Italian fashion phenomenon. “No surprises had to be postponed to the 14th to the presentation of evening gears and to the grand ball. The buyers’ interest had to be stirred immediately, on the first day, so that the in-between break turned into a curious waiting and not time for second thoughts or tedious expectation. What they had to see and learn immediately was the difference from Paris — the fact that it was a totally different fashion. On February 12 before the presentation of the morning dresses, the boutique styles and the sport and leisurewear were exhibited. This was a kind of Collection that Paris did not have and did not appear in the sophisticated fashion magazines of the French capital. The garments were unexpected, fresh, young, and wearable. It was a triumph of colors. The quality was surprising, the prices incredibly interesting. The buyers understood that it was going to open a market of wide perspectives. They immediately intuited that business was to come and kept their eyes open also in front of high fashion creations, in which the alternative features and the rebellion against the old submission to Paris were less evident.” That coup de theater was the result of a deep, multi-decennial knowledge of the American market. “Giorgini,” wrote Roberta Orsi Landini, “had intuited those that would become the winning characteristics of a possible Italian fashion: clothes, lines and trends careful to the changes of a world quickly in progress.”“Nowadays it can seem a poor thing,” said Elisa Massai, a direct observer of the debut, “but, for those times, the idea to open the exhibition with that apparently minor, informal fashion was a brave and intelligent idea. Bringing under the spotlights, the knitwear, the beachwear, the fashion-boutique was like desecrating the tradition, the rite of high fashion. Giorgini did it and this was a sign of talent and intuition. He knew that those proposals were in line with the taste and costume, with the lifestyle of Americans. In May 1950 I had wrote an article about Olga di Gresy, the patron director of Mirsia, a knitwear company that already had a staff of 100 workers. I had been introduced to her by Bebe Kuster, director of Novità, and had drawn an article for Women’s Wear Daily. Bista read it and immediately called me to know more about it. There result was under our eyes during that first exhibition. But, under the lights, there were also Franco Bertoli, Clarette Gallotti, Avolio and, in the rooms of Villa Torrigiani, even accessories had their fame: the bijoux by Giuliano Fratti, hats by Projetti, Gallia & Peter, the creative intuitions of Luciana Reutern, Romagnoli and Canessa, of the Florentine Biancalani. On the show menu, the not-exactly academic fashion was much more than a stimulating appetizer.” There was great interest in the Fontana sisters, Jole Veneziani, Simonetta, Fabiani, Marucelli, Noberasco, Carosa, Schuberth, and Vanna, who the journalists of elegance defined as “creative designers.” It was the first example of multiple alliances in a rather whimsical world, all presenting their designs together. Every brand, every studio, every personality had his own story, his own little glory in his past and everyone has risked something. In the library in Giorgini’s residence, among small workshops awkwardly created for the nine ateliers, diverse stories, lives, characters, experiences, births endured together the anguish of the challenge; the aristocratic fiery nature of Simonetta and Giovanna Caracciolo together with the determination, the country people’s intelligence of Zoe and Micol Fontana, the popular touch of Germana Marucelli, and the bourgeois character of Jole Veneziani; the irony and detachment of Fabiani mixed with the gold, the foundation cream, and the toupee of Schuberth. The anguish was as high as the stakes, aswell as the terrifying certainty of having the Parisian house as new enemies. “Loredana Taparelli, Yan Sprague, Franchina Novati, the models, came back and forth in a short tour of the exhibition,” recalled Matilde Giorgini. “There was an absolute and indecipherable silence. Was it seriousness, attention or embarrassment? Not a word, nor an applause or a nod of approbation or boredom. Nothing could be said of the scarce movements, of the impassive faces of the guests. My father was standing near the door of the library-locker room. Mom occupied another strategic position. They disoriented. They couldn’t understand how things were going on.” After the last model left the applause came. But it still wasn’t evident. It could have been an applause of esteem, as it happens in theater when an excellent actor has a bad evening. Giorgini approached the buyers: “Does it work? Which is your impression?” Stella Hanania, the buyer for I. Magnin said: “Paris didn’t move us like this.” Gertrude Ziminsky of B. Altman: “It was worth coming.” Designers, dressmakers, ironers, dressers, they all looked radiantly at the exhibition. The Italian fashion was born.