Sorelle Fontana (Fontana Sisters)

Italian dressmakers and label. Zoe (1911-1979), Micol (1913), and Giovanna Fontana (1915) were born in Traversetolo in the province of Parma. As young girls, they learned the trade in their mother’s dressmaker’s workshop. Zoe, the eldest, after brief stays in Milan and Paris, arrived in Rome in 1936 (where she was soon joined by her sisters) and after a short while began working for the dressmaker Zecca. Her sister Micol was an apprentice at the dressmaker Battilocchi, while Giovanna sewed dresses at home. In 1943, the three set up on their own, opening a dressmaker’s shop in Via Liguria where they began dressing some of the biggest names among the Roman aristocracy. Elisa Massai, a pioneer of the fashion press, remembers, “They had the knowledge and skill of true craftsmen and the intuition of those who have risen through the ranks. They used and caught on to other people’s designs. Not everything came completely from their own ideas, but they were among the first to create an embryonic type of Italian fashion.” A big break came in 1949 when they designed Linda Christian’s wedding dress for her marriage to Tyrone Power in Rome: it was a front page story and and from that point on they had strong links with the jet-set circles. In 1951 they showed at the first fashion show in Florence organized by Giorgini in front of an audience of international buyers. In 1957, they moved their workshop to a bigger premises at 6 Via San Sebastianello, and the following year they were invited to the White House to represent Italy at the Fashion in the World conference. The haute couture creations of the Fontana sisters stood out, not only for the quality of the dressmaking, but as a result of their 19th-century romantic lines, which they embellished with embroidery and appliquéd strass, pearls, and lace. Their first memorable chief-dressmaker was Armena Carloni, the sister of Maria Carloni, another great dressmaker who worked for Ventura and Irene Galitzine. During the 1950s and 1960s, their clients included Marella Agnelli, Jackie Kennedy, Princess Soraya, Liz Taylor, and movie stars. In 1952, their workshop served as the backdrop to Luciano Emmer’s film Le ragazze di Piazza di Spagna (The Girls from Piazza di Spagna). A short while afterwards, they designed Ava Gardner’s dresses for La contessa scalza (The Barefooted Countess) (1954), Il sole sorgerà ancora (The Sun Will Rise Again) (1957) and L’ultima spiaggia (The Beach) (1959). Again for Gardner, in 1956 they designed one of their most famous dresses — il pretino (the little priest), with its cassock-like shape that was later copied by the costume designer Danilo Donati for Anita Ekberg in a scene in Federico Fellini’s Dolce Vita (1960). In 1960 at the request of US buyers, they launched a ready-to-wear line and later added lines of leather goods, umbrellas, scarves, jewelry, and bath and table linen; the perfume Micol was launched in 1991. In 1972, the Fontana sisters retired from the official haute couture shows, but continued to produce both haute couture and ready-to-wear garments. Their collaborators included: Balestra, de Barentzen, Giulio Coltellacci, Pistolese and Alain Reynaud. In 1992, the company and the Sorelle Fontana label are taken over by an Italian finance group. Micol is still involved in fashion through the Micol Fontana Foundation, set up in 1944, which promotes creativity on the part of young Italian artists by running competitions and awarding bursaries.