SARONNO, Italy - While today’s fashion industry is dominated by Italian designers – Armani, Versace, Valentino, Prada and Gucci to name just a few, a little more than 50 years ago Italian designers were completely overshadowed by the French.
Much of the credit for the transformation has to be given to the Fontana sisters, Zoe, Micol and Giovanna, a trio of dressmaking sisters from Parma. Their first fashion show took place in Florence on 12 February 1951, and in which they showed with Emilio Pucci and four other designers. It was Italy's first official fashion show.
When movie stars Linda Christian and Tyrone Power were married in Rome in 1949, her gown was made by the Fontana sisters, Zoe, Micol and Giovanna, at the small atelier in Rome. The Fontana sisters went on to become one of the most important fashion houses in Italy.
In 1954 British born film star Audrey Hepburn chose this Fontana design for her marriage to James Hanson. Unfortunately for him, Hepburn met movie star Mel Ferrer two weeks before the wedding and James Hanson was left standing at the altar. Hepburn told the Fontana sisters to give her wedding dress to the "most beautiful bride you can find." The gown was eventually sold for $23,000 at an auction in London.
|Margaret Truman in Rome|
The wedding dress became a signature piece for Sorelle Fontana. Most notably the sisters designed wedding dresses for Princess Maria Pia of the House of Savoy and for Margaret Truman, daughter of the President of the United States of America, the latter who also commissioned a special trousseau for the occasion
|Elizabeth Taylor being fitted by the Fontana Sisters|
The link with Hollywood continued and insured the Fontana sisters publicity. They went on to design for Princess Grace of Monaco, Elizabeth Taylor and Jackie Kennedy, all of whom at some time admired themselves in the famous three-panelled mirror in the Fontana atelier fitting room.
|Marella Agnelli of the House of Fiat|
The publicity paid off. Italian and international celebraties began flocking to Rome for the over-the-top gowns the trio of dressmakers were designing.
|Ava Gardner at "Contessa" premier|
In 1953 they began designing costumes for Ava Gardner's role in The Barefoot Contessa. Gardner wore one of their more elaborate designs in the “casino” scene. Gardner loved their dresses so much she wore one to the premier of “The Barefoot Contessa” in 1954.
|The Fontana Sisters|
To mark Micol's 90th birthday, the Capitoline Museum in Rome held a retrospective of Sorelle Fontana's work with dresses on show made from 1949 to 1991. Although Giovanna appeared with her sister, wearing her trademark large glasses and immaculately coiffed hair, it was Micol who gave the interviews, saying that "life begins at 90".
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