Sorelle Fontana, the birth of style

Rome. The triumph of crepe de chine, taffeta, silk velvet, organza, shantung, colored and embroidered satin in different shades gives the clothes a distinct character, sometimes inconsistent, like some of the ladies for whom they were designed and made to order by the Fontane sisters. . “A haute couture dress is very individual,” explains Roberta Giusti Fontana, daughter of Giovanna (1915–2004), the youngest of the Fontana sisters who, with Zoe (1911–1979) and Micol (1913–2015), created the famous fashion. house. Together, they appear in various photographic portraits, including photographs taken by Arturo Gergo in the 1950s. In 1936, following the elders, they left Traversetolo (their hometown in the province of Parma) for Rome, holding in their hands the craft that Amabile had learned from her mother. In the documentary filmed by Ray, Micol herself, author of the autobiographical novel Specchio a tre luci (1991) that inspired the television miniseries Atelier Fontana – The Sisters Fashion (2011), recounts a version of her adventure, recalling how, after fifth grade, they started sewing “because studying was too much of a luxury.”

Mother was a seamstress and dressed the peasant women of the village “we tried on clothes after mass at 5 am on Sundays, buyers came to us to try on clothes, I was ten years old and yes and no. My mom made me point out the edges, but she certainly didn’t make me do the sleeves. It was my sister Zoya who said that if we were going to do something important, we should go to a big city, and we all agreed.” At the station, not knowing whether to go to Milan or the capital, they decided to take the first train that arrived. “The train to Rome has left.” In 1943, they organized themselves, opening first a workshop house, and then immediately an atelier in an aristocratic building on Via Liguria, where public relations was mainly handled by a concierge whose daughter was one of their employees. In the name of simplicity, the Fontana sisters created a universal dress that immediately captivated the Roman nobility and ladies from high society, and then expanded their horizons abroad.

In 1949, for the “fairy tale of the century” – the wedding of Linda Christian and Tyrone Powell, celebrated in Rome in the Basilica of Santa Francesca Romana – a white wedding dress with embroidered lace was created, which hit the front pages of newspapers around the world. world . From the remnants of the fabric, the dress of the doll, displayed on the shelf, was sewn at the headquarters of the Micol Fontana Foundation on Via San Sebastianello, next to the Spanish Steps, where the atelier moved in 1957. “Aunt Mikol became a very good friend of Linda Christian, Romina Power’s godmother. We have postcards of Linda and Tyrone from Morocco, where he made Black Rose, and from other places. Linda painted a portrait of my aunt, and when she saw a porcelain doll in a dress my grandmother made from a piece of her wedding dress, she wanted to paint it,” recalls Roberta Giusti Fontana.
In 1951, the creations of the Fontana sisters were paraded in the Sala Bianchi of Palazzo Pitti, marking the official birth of Italian fashion. “Being sisters was their great strength”, the connection to their land was also fundamental. “At home, we always ate Emiliano, of all the sisters, the only one who knew how to cook was my mother. In the villa in Saxa Rubra, her appetizers of fried pie, pumpkin tortelli were famous… Big parcels with butter and pumpkin came from Parma, and she cooked for friends, relatives, journalists. All three sisters spoke in a very strict dialect, especially when they quarreled.”

Another family friend was Ava Gardner, who often started cooking between fittings. “He made a terrible chili fried chicken.” For the American actress of great sex appeal, the Fontane sisters also created the evening gown she wears in the 1954 film The Barefoot Countess (donated by Micol Fontana to the Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection today at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York). and others dressed for scenes from The Sun Rises Again and The Bible. Also famous is the “pretino” model worn by Ava Gardner for the fall/winter 1955/56 collection (“linea cardinale”), a perfect synthesis of the sacred and the profane that caused quite a stir. On a tight-fitting dress, reminiscent of the lines of seminarians’ tunics with a church collar, complemented by a monsignor’s hat with tassels, the chain with a large cross loses its significance as a religious item, becoming an iconic jewel, the forerunner of those that would be worn after Madonna and Lady Gaga. In the film La Dolce Vita (1960), Anita Ekberg wears a very similar dress, designed without the knowledge of the Fontana sisters, who apparently had completely unconventional visual acuity.
“Aunt Zoe always said that the dressing room is a confessional where a woman goes in and wants to come out beautiful.” This is certainly a gift that many celebrities have not lacked, including crowned heads and Hollywood stars and Cinecitta, who crossed the threshold of Via San Sebastianello. 6: Audrey Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor, Marilyn Monroe, Grace Kelly, Rita Hayworth, Soraya, Margaret Truman, Maria Pia di Savoia, Marella Agnelli, Angelita Trujillo… Listening to stories and anecdotes about them is fascinating, especially in the presence of original clothes. the main characters themselves. “Clothing never dies, it has its own story that continues.”

It also happened that one day, opening the door of the atelier, the Fontana sisters found themselves face to face with President John Fitzgerald Kennedy and his wife Jackie: she had clear thoughts, but he, in any case, did not spare advice. on outfits to choose from for different occasions. “Fashion is made with pins, with a needle,” continues the daughter of Giovanna Fontana. She is also part of the Fondazione Micol Fontana, a non-profit association created in 1994 and declared of “significant historical interest” by the Ministry of Culture with her over 300 dresses, as well as accessories, memorabilia, and paper and photographic records from 1940 to 1990 and more 6,000 drawings were donated to the Historical Archive of CSAC – the Learning Center and Communication Archive of the University of Parma. “What’s in fashion? What suits you, Aunt Mikol said.

The creations of the Fontana sisters are presented at the exhibition “Italia Cinquanta. Fashion and design. The Birth of a Style”, curated by Carla Cerutti, Enrico Minio Cappucci and Raffaella Sgubin, promoted and organized by ERPAC FVG (Regional Authority for the Cultural Heritage of Friuli-Venezia Giulia) – Museum of Fashion and Applied Arts of Gorizia in the halls of Palazzo Attems Petzenstein, Gorizia (until 27 August) .

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