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First Italian Fashion Show
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The First Italian High Fashion Show

The fine dressing and style of Italian fashion houses are renowned worldwide, unmatched by any other. But have you ever wondered how this achievement was reached? Did Italian fashion emerge from the ingenuity of a forward-thinking genius or is it the result of centuries of history? The evolution of this tradition intertwines with the life of a Tuscan entrepreneur born in the late 1800s, who ushered in a true social and cultural change amidst political maneuvering, genius, and good taste. This is the story of the first Italian High Fashion Show and the mastermind behind its scenes, Giovanni Battista Giorgini (1898-1971).

G.B. Giorgini: A visionary’s story

G.B Giorgini

Giovanni was a great visionary before he was a diplomat and an exceptional businessman. At a very young age, he found himself managing the family’s marble quarries due to his father’s death and he was the first to grasp their true commercial potential on a large scale. Among other things, the family produced sculptures and garden furniture. At the age of 25, he moved to Florence, founding G.B. Giorgini & Co. Import-export to promote the exportation of family products abroad, eventually crossing the ocean.

But those years were truly tough, even for him, as he struggled to break free from the classic stereotype of Italian immigrants in America being associated with assassins, mafiosos, or anarchists. Giovanni’s plan struggled to stay afloat but ultimately sank with the economic crash of ’29, forcing him to close his New York office.

The golden intuition and great success

A skilled businessman always has an ace up his sleeve. Upon returning home, Giovanni immediately sensed the enormous potential of Italian fashion. He began to conceive of the idea that Italian fashion could somehow be a good calling card to showcase Italy’s true identity to the world.

With this vision for change and driven by the strong intuition that always characterized him, Giorgini put forth a proposal. He wanted to organize an Italian high fashion show in the United States, on a rival stage but one that would attract numerous enthusiasts.

G.B. Giorgini during the Fashion Show
G.B. Giorgini during the Fashion Show (1951) | Credit

The first Italian High Fashion Show

After a flat-out rejection due to excessive costs for organization, Giovanni dropped a bombshell: the Italian fashion week would take place at his own home, Villa Torrigiani. It was February 12, 1951.

He invited the press and several overseas buyers for the occasion, creating unprecedented hype. His trademark was to create an ideal, an all-Italian story blending high-fashion shows and his family’s craftsmanship. Under his guidance, Made in Italy conquered the world and boosted the value of Italian exports. G.B. Giorgini created a dense commercial network, linking enthusiasts of good taste and lovers of the idea of Italian beauty.

The first Italian high fashion show threatened Paris; its resonance was unprecedented. The day after the show, the French newspaper Paris-Press wrote: “The bomb from Florence shook the salons of Parisian haute couture and threatened their monopoly.” The arrow shot by the Italian entrepreneur hit its mark. The legacy left by the fashion show at Villa Torrigiani spoke for itself: in just one year, the value of Italian exports soared from $125,000 to $1.5 million.

Italian High Fashion Show in Villa Torrigiani
Italian High Fashion Show in Villa Torrigiani (1951) | Credit

Brilliant marketing and an exceptional cast

Since 1951, his project has come a long way. In 1956, a magnificent advertising stunt was organized onboard the transatlantic liner Cristoforo Colombo. Eight women on board were tasked with wearing Made in Italy clothing to showcase Italian tailoring to travelers. This intuition was a winner. Just think: upon their arrival, the models participated in gala events alongside Marilyn Monroe and Salvador Dalí.

Giovanni Battista Giorgini died where it all began, in his beloved Florence, in 1971. If today the world of Italian tailoring enjoys very bright spotlights, we certainly owe it to him as well. He sensed the great potential of the Made in Italy product and, above all, managed to bring the bright lights of overseas to the peninsula.

Plaque in memory of G.B. Giorgini

Since 2009, the facade of Villa Torrigiani has been hung in memory of Giovanni Battista Giorgini, this marble plaque with written (translated). “In his house inside this garden Giovanni Battista Giorgini (1898-1971) organized the first Italian Haute Couture Show on 12 February 1951.The municipality of Florence Posted in the year 2009”.

A thank you to G.B. Giorgini

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