Italian women have long led the world of fashion, their obsession with la bella figura second to none. Though Italy has had a strong reputation of luxury goods and garments since the 11th century, modern Italian women's fashion only took off in the 1900s with designers like Sorelle Fontana and then Elsa Schiaparelli.
While Sorelle Fontana became the couturier to the stars, Schiaparelli went on to become one of the most influential designers of the 20th century, with the help of her shocking designs created under the influence of her Surrealist friends and acquaintances.
Italian Women's Fashion: Elsa Schiaparelli
The atelier Sorelle Fontana made its way into the hearts of Italian aristocracy and the rich and famous all over the world through a groundbreaking fashion show in 1951 held in a palace by Count Giorgini. After this, the Fontana sisters went on to dress Anita Ekberg in Fellini's film, La Dolce Vita, which portrayed the decadent lifestyle of the high-living, rich and idle 'jet set'.
The young and gracious Audrey Hepburn wore their clothes in Roman Holiday, making Sorelle Fontana the dressmakers for royalty all over the world. It also set the easy grace of Italian women's fashion as a viable alternative to the constricted lines from Paris at the time.
Jacqueline Onassis in Valentino
Italian women's fashion continued to do well into the 60s, promoting a sort of leisure chic in America, and throughout Europe. Eveningwear got a new look thanks to Valentino, who dressed Jacqueline Onassis for her wedding in 1968, making Italian fashion a household name across the continents.
In the 1970's, women's fashion in Italy took a turn towards prêt-à-porter, because fashion had to be made available to the masses if money was to be made from the business of dressing people.
Updated Armani Power Suit 2009
Designers like Armani, Versace, and Missoni created and followed the trends. Through advertising and promotion, they were able to sell the Italian fashion image to Italian women and women worldwide.
In the 1980's, power suits, pioneered by Armani but later adopted all over the world, gave rise to unisex fashion. Dolce e Gabbana broke into the "Made in Italy" band of designers at this time, taking sexy edginess to the next level, both in their evening and casual collections.
Italian Women's Fashion: Benetton
The 1990's brought the sportswear and casual chic of Italian fashion houses like Diesel and Benetton to the fore. At the same time Tom Ford at Gucci called high-octane sexuality and luxury back into Italian women's fashion.
Miuccia Prada, meanwhile, turned the staid Prada brand into awomen's fashion powerhouse after her first prêt-à-porter collection hit the ramps in 1989. Italian women suddenly had too many gorgeous clothes to choose from.