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

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This post is a continuation of a discussion about the work of Roberto Capucci, and will explore the designer’s transition from high fashion to high art.

Adieu Paris

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Dress, 1972, silk georgette with bamboo (N.136) Photography by Claudia Primangeli/ L.e. via Philadelphia Museum of Art

By his return from Paris, Capucci’s creativity was at a low. “The happiest moment is the moment of creation,” the designer said in an interview. “But a creator isn’t free to design what he likes any more. It is very sad.” Capucci was still designing for celebrities at this time, which gave him an international presence. One of his most well-known celebrity wearers was the French-Italian actress Catherine Spaak, who was married to his brother Fabrizio Capucci from 1963 to 1971.

As soon as he reached Italy, he escaped on a trip to India that boosted his creativity. The Philadelphia Museum of Art states that this trip led him to “explore new colors and fabrics that resulted in a more poetic and fanciful aesthetic.”

After this trip, Capucci’s work moved from unusual silhouettes to unconventional materials, and by the 1970s, he was combining pebbles and straw with fine fabrics. This 1972 silk georgette gown housed at the Philadelphia Museum of Art embraces Capucci’s change by combining the fine green fabric with bamboo.

In An Unconventional Fashion

Even today, clothing made from unconventional fabrics is not a mass accepted fashion and often falls under couture or fine art. By the early 1980s, Capucci was finding himself in this conundrum and had to choose between creating ready-to-wear, a growing field, or quit creating haute couture, which was not commercially viable. Capucci was Similar to his mindset during his leave of Paris, Capucci was unsatisfied with the fashion industry and needed a change. He chose to resign from the couture calendar and present his work once a year. This change was not just in venue, but in aesthetic. Capucci chose to forgo his fashion designer status for that of a textile artist.

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FW 17 Capucci via

Capucci continued with his fine art work, but by the early Aughtes he returned to ready-to-wear with the line, Capucci. The fashion collection was designed both by himself and other designers, including Bernhard Willhel, Sybilla, Tara Subkoff, and Franca Maria Carraro for the shoeline. The line does not replicate the designer’s three-dimensional aesthetic, but blends geometric and colorful prints in wearable sportswear.

On Display
Cappuci’s later years have been filled with museum exhibits and fine art shows. He has been honored in a number of museum exhibits and was invited to show at the Forty-Sixth Venice Biennale. He created the Fondazione Roberto Capucci in 2005 with a museum filled with his works, and in 2007 the exhibition Ritorno alle origini (Return to Origins) at the Museo della Fondazione Roberto Capucci featured eight new sculptures of his work that was inspired by his beloved muse, nature. Another exhibit and publication was created by the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 2011 that followed his career from his beginnings in Italy to his journey into fine art.

For more on Roberto Capucci’s career and his work today, visit his website


The Fashionable Women of Pan Yuliang


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Self-Portrait (1936), Pan Yuliang via

Pan Yuliang (1895-1977) was a Chinese Modernist artist known for her female nudes. Although Yuliang’s work is often praised for its lack of clothing, there are a number of artworks and self-portraits that feature female fashions from the early to mid 20th century. These pieces of art in Yuliang’s work not only display clothing items, but also reveal two cultures that the artist identified with: one of birth and the other of refuge.

Early Life

Yuliang’s life began as an orphan who was sold into sex slavery at age 14. She was then “bought” by a general who made her his second wife. The man encouraged her to paint, which lead her to attend the prestigious Shanghai Art School, and later, fellowships in Paris and Rome.

Pan Yuliang found success after returning to China, but the nudity in her artwork caused scandal. By 1937, she left China after the invasion by the Japanese. She sought refuge in Paris and continued to work as an artist. She passed away in 1977 with a legacy as a renowned artist whose work continues to garner exhibitions and international auctions.

The Yuliang Beauty

Yuliang’s art was noted by art historian Phyllis Teo as a “flux of transformations where conflicting dichotomies of East and West, tradition and modernity, male chauvinism and emerging feminism co-existed.” Her clothed figures were feminine and were created in an idealized image: well-manicured young women in brightly colored qipao blouses and dresses with heavily applied makeup.

Beauty ideals before Yuliang’s departure from China went from Western-inspired Hollywood looks to the farm workers popularized by Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution. Some Chinese women sought beauty and fashion inspiration from American culture, which was derived from the two countries’ relations during World War II. As Mao gained powered, the farmer became both the political and cultural ideal. Bare face, tan skin, and the utilitarian Zhongshan suit became the new way of adornment for Chinese women, which was meant to deconstruct notions of class, gender, and Western influence.

Yuliang’s Women

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Girl Playing Violin, Pan Yuliang via

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Jeune Femme au Kimono, Pan Yuliang via

Because of her artwork, previous travels, and her ultimate leave of China, it appears Yuliang embrace components of the pre-Revolution Chinese cultural wares, but also that of Western. The pieces analyzed above are women of Chinese origin with pale skin and black hair in either cultural Chinese or Western dress.

In Girl Playing Violin (no date), the seated young woman looks upward with a closed smile while holding a violin. The piece features her with a chin-length hairstyle and lightly applied makeup. She is wearing a Western billowy white blouse and black ensemble that appears as either a black jumper or sleeveless dress.

Jeune Femme au Kimono (no date) also portrays the image of a seated young woman looking off frame, but she is adorned in Eastern fashions. The woman is wearing a black, embroidered qipao jacket over a sea green silver flecked dress. Her hair is curled and pinned with heavily rouged cheeks and lips, over-plucked eyebrows, and painted red nails.

Yuliang’s Self-Portraits


Self-Portrait Dressed in Black (1940), Pan Yuliang via 

©Mingshen Daily


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Window Self-Portrait, Pan Yuliang via

Similar to the figures she created in her artwork, Yuliang also presented an international wardrobe of both Eastern and Western pieces in her self-portraits. Her Self-Portrait Dressed in Black (1940) features the artist in a black qipao gown with dragon detail along the shoulders and collar. She styled her hair in a half pinned, bisected style and makeup that evokes a formal or special occasion.

Yuliang’s Window Self-Portrait (no date) contrasts the previous piece with a short sleeved red day dress with a contrasting pointed collar. She accessorized the look with red pearl necklace and hair styled in victory rolls. The outfit appears in a 1940s Western style, which corresponds with her refuge to France in the late 1930s.

Since there is a lack of information concerning both her self-portraits and her own work, there is no way to make an assumption that she chose to forgo Eastern dress after her asylum to France or vice versa. Or that she opposed the Cultural Revolution dress code by adorning her figures in traditional Chinese and Western clothing. What can be seen is that Yuliang and her women appear as stylish figures who have power and confidence, no matter the origin of their dress.



An Ao Dai and A Jumpsuit: The Fashions of Dang Tuyet Mai

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The third and final subject of Vietnamese First Ladies fashion, Đặng Tuyết Mai was not the wife of a Vietnamese president, but that of a Prime Minister, and later, Vice President. A stylish figure often photographed during the Vietnam War, Mai’s clothing choices mirrored the style of another political wife, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. Both chose clean lines in stylish late 1960s and early 1970s silhouettes that complimented their youthful, but confident, beauty.

Similar to Jacqueline’s departure from politics after the death of her husband, American President John F. Kennedy, Đặng Tuyết Mai ended her role after the Fall of Saigon in 1975 by leaving her home country for the United States. Although she divorced her husband and moved back to Vietnam years later, both she and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis were women who lived under the history of their respective spouses and by their own accord, fashion sense.

Early Life

Đặng Tuyết Mai’s story often begins with her career as a young airline stewardess turned politician wife, but her life in Vietnam started much earlier. She was born in 1942 to an academic family in Bac Ninh, and later, Hanoi. In the 1950s, she became one of the first air hostesses of Air Vietnam Airlines. A stewardess wore an outfit that honored Vietnam’s heritage with a reference to class, by way of an Ao Dai, matching cap, and high heels.

In 1964, she married then Vietnam Air Force Chief of Staff Nguyễn Cao Kỳ, a man known for his penchant for flash. In 1965, the couple was photographed together wearing military jumpsuits, which was a sign of solidarity with military troops as Prime Minister and wife. Even wearing the same outfit as her husband, Đặng Tuyết Mai wore her jumpsuit with a stylish flair by way of a chin-length bob, oversized-square eyeglasses, and a leather handbag.

Fashion Sense

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During her time as the Prime Minister’s wife, Đặng Tuyết Mai was photographed wearing both Western and Vietnamese fashions to events. When in Western attire, she chose elegant eveningwear ensembles, like cap sleeved ball gowns accented with a hand fan or a sleeveless dress with panels over black trousers. For daywear, she was photographed wearing sophisticated French ensembles that embraced texture and color.


Image via Life by way of Elle Vietnam

She also wore Aio Dais, which connected her sense of style to national pride. Her ensembles included a beige, pastel floral silk gown and a pink and white piece with a strand of pearls. No matter her dress origin, she always chose ladylike accessories like pearls and a pocketbook. Her hair was styled in some sweeping style, whether in a bob or bouffant style, and she lined her eyes in thick, pointed eyeliner with rose petal lipstick.

Mai’s style changed years later with a more expensive and daring flair. She showed more skin in tight fitting dresses, displayed brightly colored jewels, and kept her penchant for a well-coiffed face and hair. Before her death in 2016, she was photographed looking ageless in a black bikini and gold accessories.

Vietnam today is known for their growing textile industry, but there’s a fascinating history of style influencers that should not be forgotten. For more on Vietnamese fashion, visit these articles of Madame Nhu and Nam Phuong.

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.


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


Image: Stella Kimbrough via

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.

The Nhu Look: The Fashions of Madame Nhu

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The next woman in the Vietnamese First Lady series blended fashion and power like no other. Madame Nhu was known for her quick, and at times harmful mouth, alongside her stunning beauty. She was a unique political figure of the Vietnam War for challenged anything that got in her way.

The Woman of Many Names

Although she was born Trần Lệ Xuân, Madame Nhu was a woman known under many names. She was also called “Tiger Lady” and “Dragon Lady,” which the latter was based on a racist Asian character from the U.S. cartoon, “Terry and the Pirates.” This name was due to her blunt personality and cutting remarks, but also her glamorous appearance.

Nhu was the de-facto First Lady of South Vietnam from 1955 to 1963, which was the early years of the Vietnam War. She was both a feminist who supported women’s rights, but also a fierce Christian who promoted laws that restricted females. She was protective of her people, but then made scathing statements about Vietnamese Buddhist monks who self-immolated in protest.

The Nhu Life

Nhu was born in 1924 to a wealthy Buddhist family in Vietnam who descended from royalty. Her life consisted of rare privilege during the 1920s and 1930s, where she took French and ballet lessons and was assisted by several servants.

As a teen, she rebelled against her controlling family by refusing an arranged marriage and dropping out of a prestigious school.  She married politician and archivist Ngô Đình Nhu in 1943, who was her mother’s friend and fifteen years her senior. In order to marry, the young bride converted to her husband’s Roman Catholicism and changed her name to Madame Nhu, which went against Vietnamese tradition.

Early in the couple’s marriage, Vietnam fell to Communist power. Nhu and her child were captured and held against their will. They faced harsh and restrictive conditions, but she was allowed one coat to wear, which according to Nhu, was “a very fashionable wasp-waisted number from Paris.”

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The Nhu Law

In 1955 Nhu’s brother-in-law Ngô Đình Diệm became the first president of the Republic of Vietnam. Since Diệm was unmarried, Nhu became the de-facto first lady. As a public figure, she was not afraid to voice her opinion of American involvement in the Vietnam War or against her critics.

Nhu’s fierce persona often overshadowed the change she initiated in Vietnam. She developed a female militia, and proposed the Family Law in 1958 that banned polygamy, gave women the right to joint property ownership, and made divorce difficult to attain. Although the latter would be seen against women’s rights in Western eyes, divorce at that time in Vietnam stigmatized women and could ruin their future.

However, Nhu’s Roman Catholic views drove her to promote laws that shamed women. She attempted to outlaw padded brassieres, abortion, and called the popular dance “the Twist” as an unhealthy activity.

The Nhu Look

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Like many public figures, Madame Nhu had a signature uniform. She wore a modified ao dai (Vietnamese national dress) that was fitted at the bodice with necklines that included boatneck and Mandarin collars. Alike her statements, her clothing was considered controversial for its focus on the female form.

Nhu complimented her look with other 1950s trends, including a beehive bouffant, winged eyeliner, and feminine accents like a purse in snakeskin or pearl jewelry. Apart of why she was named the “Dragon Lady” moniker, was due to her pointed nails, which are referred today as stiletto nails. Her ultra-feminine look only strengthened her fierce persona, which was a rarity for any First Lady during the mid-twentieth century.