In Good Shape: The Work of Roberto Capucci (Part One)

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It’s hard for a fashion designer to get the fame or recognition when you have peers like Yves Saint Laurent and Karl Lagerfeld. But for Italian fashion designer Roberto Capucci, recognition plays a minor role to creating sculptural textile art for over sixty plus years.

The Boy Wonder of Couture

Capucci’s design career began in 1950, only twenty years after his 1930 birth in Rome. According to Roberto Capucci: Art into Fashion (2011), his first client was Marcella de Marchis Rossellini, the then wife of Italian film director Roberto Rossellini. From the indication of this famous clientele, it’s no surprise that the young designer gained the attention of Italian fashion promoter Giovanni Battista Giorgini, the man who organized Italy’s first “high fashion” show. Capucci was granted the chance to present a collection for American buyers, which was a part of a larger fashion show that featured more seasoned designers.

As Capucci’s work progressed in the 1950s, it amazed the fashion press. His work was a combination of feminine, “New Look” ball gowns and separates with geographic elements. The New York Times called him the “Boy Wonder of Couture” in 1951, and later in 1952 wrote, “ 21-year-old vest-pocket genius, steals the spotlight from his elders today as the fourth Italian high fashion show opens in Florence.” A year after his debut, the designer was featured for the first time in the September issue of Vogue. His clothing drew the attention of not only those in fashion, but also from style icons like Gloria Swanson and Marilyn Monroe.

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Image: Claudia Primangeli/L.e.C. Service via Philadelphia Museum of Art

However, he often cited nature as his muse than Hollywood stars. His most famous example is the 1956 Nove gonne (Nine dresses) gown. This dress consists of nine skirts cut to look like concentric rings that are formed when a pebble skips across water. The effect was created by tiers that are high in the front and long in the back. The red silk taffeta dress is balanced with a square neckline and knee-length sheath with a red matching belt at the waist. This gown made such an impact that it was featured in an American advertisement for General Motors.

From Paris to Rome

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Image: Stella Kimbrough via TheArtBlog.org

Although Capucci’s reviews were glowing, the designer decided to move his business to Paris in 1962. His first collection Linea Pura, was according to Philadelphia Museum of Art, full of color with clean silhouettes. Capucci’s aesthetic began to embrace more unconventional materials and shapes, as seen with his glow in the dark beaded gowns. These gowns embraced the boxy, tubular styles of 1965, but when in the dark, glowed through ornate beading.

Capucci found the fashion industry as a hinder to his creativity, due to the pressing need to meet the market’s needs. By 1968 he returned to Rome, where he would find the opportunity to turn his work into art.

In the next post on Roberto Capucci, his transition from high fashion to high art will be discussed.

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