About a decade ago, the editor of British GQ got canned for including the Nazis in his list of the best-dressed people of the 20th century, but the Nazi influence on fashion is plain to see. Way less attention had been paid to Benito Mussolini's Italians, though, until Mario Lupano and Alessandra Vaccari put together Fashion at the Time of Fascism, the first visual history of Italian fashion. It's tremendous. We spoke to Mario about these well-dressed fascist pricks.
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Vice: To most people, fascism equals black shirts and uniforms.
Mario Lupano: Right. Our book isn’t about the fascists and their uniforms, but about fashion in the 20 years the Italians lived under fascism. What’s interesting is the way that fascism, modernism, and fashion all influenced each other. We wanted to look at uniformity as an aesthetic and the ways that order, rationality, and technical control became really important. There’s a lot of totalitarianism in fashion: the big dreams and ambitions, the sense of new beginnings, the attempts to define an epoch.
The Italian fascists seemed to be really obsessed with the body.
They were obsessed with measuring bodies. The introduction of standard sizes, the rise of plastic surgery, an upsurge in exercise and an awareness of body image were all part of an attempt to master the body and build the new humanity fascists were dreaming of.
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Italian woman took a very important place under fascism.
The regime pushed the Massaie Rurali, showing women wearing regional costumes and bucolic country-style clothing.
There seems to be an odd mix of influences, from mythology to futurism and machines.
Later in their rule, the fascists condemned cosmopolitan fashion. It was seen as a symbol of extravagant urban and bourgeois lifestyles. Yet the regime also knew it had to update its image.
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A lot of the fashion in the book looks like modern casual wear. Was that invented in the Italian fascist era?
Not really, but both the fascist government and the modernist craze encouraged sport and sports clothes. Modernism embraced the increasing codification of technical clothing like work overalls and tennis, riding, and golf outfits--and that appealed to the fascists.
Was the government actually dictating what the designers could and couldn't design?
Absolutely. Especially in the second half of the 1930s when the Ente Nazionale Della Moda [National Fashion Board of Italy] tried to shut the country off from the influence of French haute couture. Nationalism and an ideological belief in national self-sufficiency were mixed up with propaganda. In 1936 the Commentario Dizionario Italiano Della Moda by Cesare Meano was part of a broader government project to Italianize foreign words. Famous fashion icons of the time--Biki, René Gruau and John Guida--were relabelled Bichi, Renato and Gion.
Did dissident brands exist?
Italian designer Elsa Schiaparelli was maybe the best known. She lived in Paris and declined Mussolini’s invitations when she went back to Rome. Some Italian magazines only dared publish her work anonymously.
ALLISON NELLA FERRERA