Moda y Fascismo

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Fashion Under Fascism: Beyond the Black Shirt by Eugenia Paulicelli
By Vince Carducci 15 June 2004
Mussolini's Willing Fashion Victims
The Italian woman must follow Italian fashion. Taste, elegance and originality have demonstrated that this initiative can and must be successful.
— Fascist Party Edict, 1933

Back in my not-so-distant “suit” days, I took up Italian-made clothing as a protestagainst the button-down Anglophilia of the “dress for success” regimens of Corporate America. My favorite “power meeting” outfit was a Valentino Uomo three-button suit tailored in lustrous black end-on-end-woven silk and wool fabric, which I wore with a charcoal gray shirt and tone-on-tone silver tie, Il Duce style. Mussolini’s attempt to use fashion as an ideological and economic weapon is thesubject of Eugenia Paulicelli’s Fashion under Fascism: Beyond the Black Shirt. In this first-ever study of its kind in English, Paulicelli traces the origins of the modern Italian fashion industry in the ideals of the nation’s unification movement and their subsequent cooptation by the Fascist Party in the years leading up to the Second World War.

The role of the Garibaldi of Italian fashion wasplayed by Rosa Genoni. Through her writings and classes, she taught in Milan on fashion theory and history during the first quarter of the 20th century. Genoni proselytized on the need for Italian designers and consumers to declare independence from the domination of French couturiers. The unofficial house organ of the movement to develop a specifically Italian sense of fashion was themagazine Lidel, founded in 1919 with the goal of propagating the ideals of Italian identity and nationhood.

The Fascists took up the fashion industry cause as part of their agenda of managing cultural expressions of nation, class and gender in the construction of a New Italy and New Italians. They sought to tie the ruling order to the timeless values of antiquity and the land. The first was embodied inthe Golden Age of the Italian Renaissance, the second in the provincial domain of the peasant. The Ideal Woman of Fascism rejected the gender-bending ways of la maschietta (the tomboy), the Italian version of the Roaring ‘20s flapper. Instead, the New Italian Woman would be the model of femininity as represented by the body-emphasizing cuts of knitted sportswear, and she would accept her place inthe patriarchal family, bound up in the hand-tatted lace and embroidered aprons of traditional matronly attire. In 1939, Mussolini himself organized “The Great Parade of the Female Forces,” a spectacle of feminine Fascist solidarity that was filmed and then screened around the nation as an Italian version of Leni Reifenstahl’s 1934 documentary on Hitler, Triumph of the Will.

The Fascist fashionprogram took on economic significance after the invasion of Ethiopia in 1935, when international sanctions were put on Italy by the League of Nations. The fashion industry had been brought together three years earlier with the formation of the Entre Nazionale della Moda(National Fashion Body), or ENM, in 1932. ENM was charged with coordinating all aspects of fashion production and consumption inthe period when Italy was forced to adopt the policy of self-reliance due to import restrictions.

One of the major areas of concern was the textile industry, the foundation as it were of Italian fashion. For many years, Italian silk produced by the artisans of Como (who had mastered the printing and dying techniques Marco Polo brought back from China long ago) were exported at low cost to France,only to be substantially marked up when shipped back to Italy in the form of manufactured apparel. To combat this, ENM mounted “buy Italian” campaigns to increase the market penetration of domestically made products. (Although Mussolini’s mistress Margherita Sarfatti managed to slip off to Paris whenever she felt the urge to buy couture outfits for her trips abroad.) Italy was also one of the...
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