It might perhaps not seem surprising, but last year I got involved for the first time in my life with tailors. The reason was rather romantic: for our marriage I wanted to order a suit in a style fashionable around 1820. My fiancé appeared in a Jane Austen outfit on our day of days, suiting her wonderfully. Alas, my quest didn’t turn out well. Except for some nice sewing patterns and a quite a psychological blow when learning the price of the whole affair.
Surfing around, I stumbled upon loads of information and I had to agree that, although I am very much in love with the early 19th century, later on that centennial man’s fashion seems to evolve towards a far more interesting style. The blessed tuxedo was invented for example. For I truly hate ties, scarfs, foulards, and other neck-decorations for men. Though I can live with a bow potentionally, because of it’s ‘bunny’ like cuteness. All the rest of these incredibly complex folded silk affairs from the regency period: may they burn for ever in a good old-fashioned coal heated hell!
But what probably impressed me the most, was the apparent endless differences in conceptions about historical fashion. Broadly speaking there are two schools: those caring about perfection and historical authenticity and those fooling around a bit with historical traits and styles. For the first school it is not about what we might appreciate today, for the second it is just about that. “La Machine à Recoudre le temps” is choosing the first way, the second way is that more of people like Viona Ieleghems aka Viona Art.
The trouble is that the followers of the authentic school are often constrained by concepts of fashion people tend to believe to be authentic. These concepts and images are created via the media in general. Film is of course one of the most important sources. Producers of historical drama are mad about them. Consequently one can hardly make statements about – let’s say – fashion in the 20ies, 30ies, 40ies, 50ies, etc. because the commercially shaped images of this areas are so predominant. Most people would think you lied if you even tried to explain what realy existed.
Lucky enough there are exeptions. Elsewhere on this blog I mentioned the incredible realism of the bal-scène in Luigi Visconti’s ‘Il Guatopardo’ (The Leopard). After all these years, still one of the most spectacular examples how one can truly revive an area. Visconti’s boundless dedication to reshape the historical reality of around 1861 is amazing. The bal-scène approaches perfection and it is no coincidence. At least if you know who was working behind the screens.
No one less than Piero Tosi was in charge of costume design. The nice thing about Tosi is that he didn’t made this for the first time. For ages he worked alongside one of the absolute geniuses of historical fashion design, Umberto Tirelli, who prematurely left us in 1990, aged 62. Nonetheless Tirelli’s name wont even appear in the credits at the end of the film. And even that is no coïncidence.
He learned the fashion trade in the capital of fashion, Milano, and moved to Rome to work with the best Italian filmmakers from the post-war area. Beside that he lend his talent for theater- and opera productions at the highest level. But the best is yet to come. Tirelli personally owned about 15.000 pieces – all together 9 industrial halls – of historical fashion dating from 1870 to 1960, one of the largest private collections worldwide, making Tirelli by far the best historically documented experts of the trade.
Thus making it clear once again: real greatness has no secrets. You can only become the best historical couturier if you realy are just that. That said: if a giant like Tirelli decides to work with you, you can be sure that it will inspire the entire crew and drive them to strive for the best and the best only. And if such a guy is not even on the credits, you can be dead sure: he knows that he is essential or ‘incontournable’ as they say in French. Sooner or later they will have to come back to him or his workshop (which still exists). For when perfection is essential to your plans. In all the other cases, lesser gods such as Armani, Versace or Gucci will probably do.