Capucci and the Birth of Italian Fashion (1951-61)
After the end of World War II, reconstruction programs in Italy focused on the revitalization of the country’s economy--with the resurrection of the Italian textile industry of particular importance. At the same time, Rome was fast becoming the center of a burgeoning Italian filmmaking industry. Stars working on location sought out the city’s leading dressmakers for their private wardrobes, and in turn, both the American and Italian movie industries looked to Italian couturiers to design costumes for their productions. This ideal timing, coupled with the enlightened guidance of Florentine nobleman and businessman Giovanni Battista Giorgini, paved the way for the birth of the modernized Italian fashion industry with the goal of replacing Paris as the world's fashion capital. It was during this time that the young Roberto Capucci began his career.
Born in Rome in 1930, Capucci attended the Liceo Artistico and the Accademia di Belle Arti. He served a brief apprenticeship with the Roman couturier Emilio Schuberth, who was known for his flamboyant and lavishly embroidered evening gowns, and at age twenty, Capucci opened his own atelier in Rome on the Via Sistina. Shortly thereafter Giorgini invited him to present at the second Italian fashion showings in Florence in July 1951.
His fame quickly grew, and both the international and national press hailed his originality and ability to combine the wearability of fashion with virtuoso artistry. His standout creations were truly sculptures in fabric, among them the Nove gonne (Nine Dresses)
dress, a red silk taffeta gown with nine tiered circular skirts that curved high in front over a knee-length sheath and extended to the floor in the back.
Capucci conceived the idea for the Nove gonne
dress after observing the concentric rings that formed when a stone was tossed into still water. It became one of the most celebrated Italian designs of the time, appearing in an American advertisement for the 1957 Cadillac Series 62 convertible as part of a General Motors publicity campaign that paired the latest luxury cars with fashions by the world’s leading couturiers, and even in Mel Casson’s syndicated comic strip It’s Me, Dilly
The "forward-looking and beautiful" pieces Capucci created throughout the 1950s included the innovative box line silhouette in 1958. The square-sided shape was constructed of four flat panels sharply seamed at the front, back, and sides, and marked a significant departure for Capucci as he continued to develop a more architectural and sculptural approach to design.
That same year, in recognition of his creativity and achievements, Capucci received Filene’s Young Talent Design Award along with Pierre Cardin of France and James Galanos of the United States.
Capucci in Paris (1962-67)
In early 1962 Capucci moved to Paris, establishing a couture salon at 4 rue Cambon. His first Paris collection, Linea pura
, was deemed "the most exciting, most youthful and most fresh" shown in the city that season, and his flair for color, whimsy, and clean silhouettes continued to delight critics throughout the decade.
His true creative spirit, however, shone in designs that incorporated unusual materials and techniques such as transparent plastic and glow-in-the-dark beads. His use of strikingly patterned fabrics created from black and white ribbons woven into dizzying patterns was masterful. The resulting effect of vibrating shapes is seen in his Omaggio a Vasarely (Homage to Vasarely)
, a dress that recalls the compositions of acclaimed Op artist Victor Vasarely.
Despite his enormous success, Capucci's time in Paris grew difficult. He struggled with the fickle French press and the changing economics
of high fashion as great political and social upheaval swept through Europe and beyond.
Return to Rome: Experimentation and Discovery (1968-79)
In 1968, Capucci returned to his homeland, later explaining that he had missed the wonderful colors of Rome. He became increasingly disillusioned, however, as high fashion began to sacrifice creativity in order to satisfy the market. In a later interview, he declared, "The happiest moment is the moment of creation, . . . But a creator isn’t free to design what he likes any more. It is very sad."
A 1970 trip to India reinvigorated him, and led him to explore new colors and fabrics that resulted in a more poetic and fanciful aesthetic.
He continued his experiments with unusual materials during the 1970s, for example, pairing luxurious silk chiffons and crepes with bamboo, pebbles, straw, and raffia. Bamboo encircles the cuffs, neckline, and waistline of his 1972 green silk georgette dress, seen at left.
Beyond Fashion (1980-2007)
As fashion buyers continued to embrace ready-to-wear over haute couture in the early '80s, Capucci realized that he had to make a choice--either close or change. He decided not to compromise his artistic vision for commercial success, and in 1980 announced that he would resign from the official couture calendar. Soon after, he began to present his work once a year in grand architectural spaces in major international cities: Milan, Tokyo, Paris, New York, Rome, Munich, Berlin, Vienna, and Graz, Austria.
Capucci's sculpture dresses reveal a wide range of forms and inspiration, from art and architecture to music and nature. In the Arancia
sculpture dress, for example, half circles on a skirt were sliced open, to reveal glimpses of color that suggest segmented fruit. The press lauded the sculptural artistry of Capucci’s extraordinary works as "phantasmagoric shapes that had only a passing relation to the human body."
Capucci the Artist
Removing himself from the seasonal calendar of fashion shows liberated Capucci, and allowed him to truly come into his own as an artist. His renewed creativity did not go unnoticed. In 1995, Capucci received the ultimate honor when he was invited to show at the Forty-Sixth Venice Biennale, marking the first time he presented his stand-alone sculptures in a major international art exhibition.
In 2007, Ritorno alle origini (Return to Origins)
, the inaugural exhibition of the Museo della Fondazione Roberto Capucci in Florence, featured eight new sculptures in which Capucci reinterpreted the forms, materials, techniques, and themes that inspired him throughout his career. Nature, his favorite muse, was represented in a sculpture decorated with silk leaves.
Today, Capucci continues to combine brilliant artistry and masterful craftsmanship in each of his creations. He employs the most talented artisans and seeks the finest materials, consistently striving for perfection and refusing to compromise. As always, he follows his own muse no matter the mood of the times.