Rome, the Eternal City, boasts plenty of attractions. The Vatican. The Spanish Steps. The Coliseum, of course. As of this summer, visitors to Rome can steep themselves in the city’s more recent, cinematic history, at Cinecitta World, a theme park dedicated to Rome’s legendary midcentury film studio. But if you really want to understand the culture of postwar Rome, the must-see is the current exhibition Bellissima: Italy and High Fashion 1945-1968, showing through May 3rd at the Maxxi National Museum of XXI Century Arts.
Curated by Maria Luisa Frisa, Anna Mattirolo and W magazine editor Stefano Tonchi, Bellissima offers a holistic view of the arts in Rome as the city was being rebuilt after the war. Photographs, paintings, tapestries, ceramics and sculpture by celebrated artists of the period have been installed alongside 80 designer outfits, in eight categories ranging from the “arty” to the “exotic.” Some of Valentino’s earliest creations are included in the show; there are also looks from Salvatore Ferragamo, Mila Schön and Emilio Pucci, plus a handful from less well-known designers. Mini-screens playing clips from movies and fashion shows round out the installation, and place the fashion within the larger context of Italy’s midcentury creative renaissance.
Bellissima is the first fashion-themed exhibition at the Zaha Hadid-designed Maxxi, which opened in 2010 with the mission to showcase Italy’s contemporary arts. According to Giovanna Melandri, president of Fondazione MAXXI, the goal of this show was to illustrate the key role played by fashion in the cultural dialogue of postwar Italy. “In those years,” she told Architectural Digest, “the relationship between art and fashion was fluid, with a constant trading of ideas between the two.” For evidence of that, look no further than the red Valentino dress displayed in Bellissima, with its appliquéd roses: The frock is set off by work by Valentino’s contemporary, the artist Alberto Burri, featuring red acrylic roses. Great minds, thinking alike.