Well before contemporary designers like Armani and Versace called Milan their home, and the buzz of Fashion Week defined this city, there was Jole Veneziani.
A true fashion pioneer, Veneziani, who rose to fame during Italy’s post-war industrial boom, taught Milanese ladies a little something about elegance.
Known for her lavish cocktail gowns and elaborate bridge-time outfits, Veneziani’s life’s work is on show here in Milan’s Villa Necchi museum estate, through November 24. With its tennis court and outdoor pool, Villa Necchi is a true anomaly in this urban jungle of apartment buildings and commercial businesses. The estate was built in 1932 in Art Deco style and was owned by the Necchi Campiglio sisters, whose family struck its fortune in the sewing machine business.
The Necchi sisters, true style masters in their own right, were exactly the type of clientele Veneziani catered to. Silk, beaded and velvet gowns, as well as frivolous feathered bathrobes and turbans are placed on mannequins and situated throughout the home – in the rooms and seated on the furniture, giving spectators a taste of what it was like to live among Italy’s upper crust during the Dolce Vita days.
“During a moment when bombs were dropping on this city, she went out there and invested and built her business,” said Federico Bano, president of Fondazione Bano which with Milan’s Fondo Ambiente Italiano played a major role in the organization of the exhibition and assembling the Jole Veneziani archive.
Veneziani was born in the southern Italian city of Taranto and moved to Milan as a child. She set up her furrier shop in 1937 and built her dressmaking and Haute Couture business in the mid-1940’s. Her designs were worn by early-20th century divas like Marlene Dietrich and Josephine Baker, as well as Maria Callas and Italian singer Ornella Vanoni. “She wasn’t afraid. She taught us that we need to have courage in a moment of crisis – even like the one we are living in today,” Bano said.
The installation design was spearheaded by Corrado Anselmi, whose aim was to create a harmonious dialogue between Veneziani’s designs and the opulent rooms of Villa Necchi.
The exhibit showcases numerous sketches, photos, films documents and magazine covers.