Flamboyant finesse

Flamboyant finesse

No thanks to chintzy embellishments, OTT fabrications (full-fur, full-leather, animal-everything!) and second-skin silhouettes, Italian fashion has in recent decades been synonymous with flamboyance, rather than recherche style.

And as the Japanese rolled out their avant-garde designs, Belgians unleashed their brand of cerebral minimalism and the French continued to refine their forte in enduring elegance - Italian fashion seemed to have lagged behind.

It no longer had the cool cred, its flashy aesthetics appealing to the nouveau riche rather than the really discerning.

But with at least three new Italian brands setting up shop here in October alone, as well as the opening of a 1,647 sq ft flagship dedicated to the prince of leopard prints himself, Roberto Cavalli, at Marina Bay Sands in September, Italian fashion is certainly sizzling again.

In fact, shopping mall Scotts Square has just unveiled an exhibition telling the story of Italian fashion from its birth in 1951 Florence to the present day.

Called 60 Years of Made In Italy, it showcases Italian fashion from the haute couture era to the pret-a-porter creations of today, including Fernanda Gattinoni's "Impero" dress, worn by Audrey Hepburn in War and Peace (1956), a dress which earned the Lombardy-born designer an Oscar nomination for Best Costume.

"It's not right to say that Italian fashion is well-known only for extravagance. In fact, Italian fashion is 'elegance'," declares Alessia Tota, a fashion journalist who has curated the exhibition.

"Some good examples would be pret-a-porter brands such as Versace, Dolce & Gabbana, Moschino, Roberto Cavalli and many others that are renowned for their extravagant designs and have pushed the meaning of elegance to a new level for a modern age."

While the high fashion world is rife with talk about Milan Fashion Week losing its cachet, what with powerhouse editors such as Anna Wintour skipping the tail-end of the fashion capital's presentation to head to Paris's flurry of shows, most retailers are still bullish about moving their high-quality, statement products - in spite of the country's slow recovery from recession.

"If New York, Paris and London are the best locations to launch new designers, Milan Fashion week is always the highest value one and gathers most of the brands," asserts Eros Pennacchioni, chief executive officer of 40-year-old Italian leather goods brand Giudi.

"It would be incorrect to assume that Italian fashion is slowing down. Its history and tradition are alive and well. The quality, originality and avant-garde of Italian fashion have not been affected by the economic crisis."

Having just opened its first boutique here at Mandarin Gallery, Giudi offers a taste of Italian craftsmanship at relatively attainable prices: handbags start from S$600 and cost no more than S$2,000.

Another Italian brand that prides itself on affordable luxury is Boggi Milano, which officially unveils its store at The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands in two weeks.

"Consumers tend to, in fact, mix high-end products with mid-tier ones," says Paolo Selva Mario, business development manager for the classic Italian menswear brand.

"This can be the case of seeing people wearing a Zara dress with a Prada bag. Luxury is changing and that is where Boggi, which offers very good quality at reasonable prices, steps in."

Indeed, with the exception of Cavalli, these new-to-market labels aren't trying to usurp the heavyweights of fashion with gowns dripped in bling or three-piece vicuna suits.

They are about offering real-world chic to down-to-earth dressers. After all, these are the very people who pioneered the concept of sprezzatura, a studied nonchalance that often translated into effortless chic.

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