Veneziani

Jole (1901-1988). Italian fashion designer and furrier. She had her atelier at number 8 in Milan’s Via Montenapoleone and from the courtyard a strong scent of caramel would always waft up, a pleasant gift from the Caffè Pasticceria Cova whose kitchens faced that courtyard. There was a large eighteenth-century hall, all grey and gold: painted panels; dressing rooms with large wall mirrors and heavy curtains to muffle the voices and preserve absolute discretion on the choices of the clients, all jealous, all rivals. She, the Milanese Jole, would be seated on her throne: dressed in a light pastel blue, her white hair still cut like a child’s, her pink, mother-of-pearl complexion, her courteous smile. Before she had a cataract operation and “miraculously” regained her sight, she wore a pair of important-looking, ostentatious, aggressive, glittering eyeglasses that she had designed for herself. Her hands were pudgy, adorned with precious red pearls and sapphires; those “very special” hands for which, in all the countless articles written about her, she was always dubbed “velvet paws.” I myself coined this term for her, because of my astonishment at seeing those hands as they palpated, caressed, rubbed against the grain those magnificent pelts of sable, not only with unrivaled competence, but almost with a sensual pleasure. In terms of her knowledge and familiarity with furs, her creative fantasy, her quest for new ideas, her courage — a great courage — Jole Veneziani was a pioneer, perhaps without parallels. In contrast with many fashion designers, there was no early predestination underlying her decision on a profession, no foreshadowings of her later success. She was born in Taranto into a cultural and artistic milieu, her father was a lawyer and a writer, her mother was a great classical music lover, her brother Carlo was an acclaimed playwright. And it was with him, in Milan, that this little, lively, fanciful, and generous-spirited young girl tried acting, and then journalism. After the death of her father and the sudden change in the family’s fortunes, she revealed her exceptional strength of character, a combination of determination, practicality, imagination, and willingness to run risks. She became an administrator in a major French company that dealth in furs and she immediately discovered her true passion. While the bombs that would cause destruction in Milan were falling, she opened her first atelier in the Via Nirone: “When I decide to do something, I do it right away. I don’t know the word tomorrow.” There was something different about her furs, and so they were sought after by the major dressmakers to be worn by their models in the runway presentations. From this first contact with high fashion another atelier was immediately established, where she herself would create the fashion from then on, with astrakhan, chincilla, seal, and mink. The war came to an end, Italian fashion made its first appearance, and she immediately became an international celebrity: covers of Life, Harper’s Bazaar, Vogue with headlines reading: Italy evening bravura of Veneziani; C’est la dernière folie européenne, la plus belle (NB: European, not just Italian), and there was a hail of prizes and awards. She was a courageous gambler, and on the international markets she always managed to secure the most exclusive shipments of furs, leaving American and French giants empty-handed; after she signed a contract for an especially remarkable group of sables, the Soviets insisted on giving her a diamond brooch. And in turn, she gave it to Anna Bonomi, who had purchased the coat that she had made from those sables. She was the queen of the Frankfurt fur fairs, the most important international fur marketplace. I witnessed one of those fairs, massive, ostentatiously rich in the German way, with more than ten nations presenting their products. At the Veneziani runway presentation, not included in the official program, the applause filled the room, as frenzied as at a rock concert, until, when the last white and black minks left the runway, the room erupted in a cry of “Viva l’Italia!” In the years from 1955 to 1968, J. V. was not only a great fashion designer, not only did she create furs worthy of a museum for the most important women in the world and entire dynasties, not only was she a pioneer of color, of tweed techniques and processes to take pounds and pounds off the weight of these fur coats, not only was she the first to create an industrial collection for Eurofur, with two-tone sports jackets, and not only was she the consultant who changed the dark colors of the Alfa Romeo to other, bright, more feminine colors, as well as an adviser to many other textile manufacturers. She was all this, but, in her work and in her social life, she was the true representative, the true interpreter of the years of the Italian economic miracle, that boom that may have been reckless but which was also vital and magical in its vigorous rude creativity. Her right hand-woman was Sandra Boghossian, a former fashion model, helped by Giuliana Cova Radius. When I dragged him to Pitti in 1963, Dino Buzzati wrote in the Corriere della Sera: “Jole Veneziani unfurled the banner, especially the banner so beloved by women everywhere, and she did not wait for the finale; from the very first notes she waved the fatal flag, the objective of a thousand dreams, the classic emblem of social triumph, of economic security, of luxury, of the Dolce Vita, his majesty, the mink.” And he added: “There was a little festival on the runways of Pitti of the economic miracle, so open and amusing that it could hardly scandalize anyone.” The scandal would only come later, in 1968, when the rotten eggs and lurid tomatoes would splatter against those furs at the opening of La Scala on the inaugural evening of 7 December. That marked the end of a Milanese era and the beginning of the decline of the star of Jole.