By Alyssa Fetera
It took me a while. It took me almost a year: a year to figure out the right school and the right program for study abroad. I knew going into college I would study abroad, but I never actually thought about planning it. My name is Alyssa Fetera, and I am a junior at Lasell College. To be more specific, I am a fashion design major. Most people would assume any type of fashion student, if presented with the opportunity, would choose to study abroad in Italy or France. Milan or Paris would have to be the best places to study. Of course, Milan is Italy’s fashion capital, but what most people don’t realize is that the Italian style and the “Made in Italy” reputation were born in Florence. I took the less obvious path and decided on Florence as my destination. In spite of the exposure and glamour of Milan’s world of fashion, I realized how much Florence’s history has contributed to the creation of this global brand. It seems like a forgotten time, but it deserves the same acknowledgment that the world now accords to Italian style.
Florence is most often associated with its artistic Renaissance history; here, tourists can view Michelangelo’s David and Botticelli’s Birth of Venus. More important to our topic, it is also known for its textile history, which is truly the foundation of Italian fashion. Florence is home to the leather district as well as the wool and silk guilds that so many legendary designers have drawn from. Salvatore Ferragamo chose to settle and create his shoes here because of the impressive skills and strong craft trades the Florentines offered. Guccio Gucci even founded his famous brand right here in Florence. I know that you all have seen that famous logo on a bag or belt.
When I was first introduced to Via De Tornabuoni, my first thought was Fifth Avenue, but better! You can find designer stores everywhere. Gucci, Prada, Pucci, Ferragamo, and many more famous Italian designers line the street with displays, one after another, of new fashion trends. Somehow, the fashions seem to have so much more significance in their birthplace. Even the Italian people live by the fashion the city has created. Both men and women bring a sense of sophistication and power to the streets of Florence in their clothing.
High fashion brands aren’t the only style to be found in Florence. Many family-owned shops fill the streets. Nearly everything is handmade and, let’s be honest, when was the last time you bought something made by the person working in the shop? With this advantage, everything is unique as well, and each store has its own personality. Shops flourish with sales of jewelry, flowers, tassels, and much more. Everywhere you walk you are embraced by a sense of creativity and inspiration.
To understand why Florence is the birthplace of fashion, a historical overview is needed. Giovan Giorgini organized the first Italian fashion show at his villa in Florence in 1951. He had a second and then a third show at the Pitti Palace, which is now a museum dedicated to the preservation of paintings, sculptures, and its own costume collection. Each show brought in more buyers and journalists. The third show is considered the actual “birth of Italian fashion,” because at this point there were nine high-fashion houses participating and sixteen houses of sportswear and boutique styles. People were really interested in what Italy had to offer. From that moment on, Italian fashion would never be the same.
What does all this have to do with us? Ever since the first Italian fashion show, America has been sitting in the front row. Americans loved the Italian style and adopted it as their own, as we still do today. Because of America’s love for creativity and casual comfort, they embraced Italian fashion. From an economic perspective, they greatly contributed to the rise of Italian fashion.
Florence did not remain Italy’s fashion capital, because of the rapid boom in the industry. There wasn’t room to accommodate the trade among countries. The fashion industry moved to Milan, where the space to hold events like Fashion Week was available. At this point, the industry had rapidly grown into a business that would soon become an empire.
Walking through cobblestone alleyways and streets, I saw firsthand the profound effect fashion has on life in Italy. The Renaissance architecture and Tuscan scenery present so much beauty and inspiration that flow into the fashion. I have come to appreciate the gift that Italian legends have brought and continue to bring to society. It is incredible that a small city in the heart of Tuscany has filled the Hollywood red carpets with so many glamorous gowns. It seems that anything can be accomplished if you have dedication and passion. I have now returned to Lasell College and, looking back on everything, I cannot think of any place where I could have experienced so much. No other country does what Italy can do.
It’s fascinating, the way that certain experiences can lead to greater opportunities. During my stay in Europe, I was offered a chance to attend London Fashion Week. I had met Carlotta Gherzi, the designer of the up-and-coming Sado Fashion House; she shared her knowledge of the industry and offered interesting advice for new designers. At the end of our conversation, she offered the greatest gift any design student could imagine: She personally presented an invitation to help backstage at her show during London Fashion Week. To a fashion student, this is the Super Bowl of fashion, the Golden Globe, and the World Cup combined.
I returned from London recently with a real image of a part of the industry. Granted, this is more the glamorous aspect; I was able to see the intensity backstage as well as the final outcome on the runway. It is impressive to see the number of people working vigorously in the back for one ten-minute showcase. They have a common passion and no matter the stress or the pressure, they strive toward their shared goal. Why would they want to be anywhere else?