As the birth place of the Renaissance, Florence is not short of cultural sites worthy of visiting; the surfeit of historically pivotal artworks or architectural feats is responsible even today for what the 19th century author Stendhal described as a quickening of the pulse, a dizziness, a shortness of breath. ‘Stendahlismo’, as the psychosomatic illness is known, is particularly prevalent when looking at great works of art. I am almost certain I have experienced this. An antidote to an overindulgence is a visit to the Museo Ferragamo, located within the Ferragamo building and next door to the store. This is no fusty museum of shoes, however. Rather it offers a regular schedule of brilliant exhibitions curated in part from the brand’s considerable archive in collaboration frequently with other institutions and loans from private collectors.
The name Ferragamo is synonymous with Florence; the company owns four hotels there and occupies vast real estate. Founded in 1927, the brand has made shoes for just about every famous celebrity or actor from Marilyn Monroe (the subject of a significant Museo Ferragamo survey in 2012) to the Pope. They are to shoes what Botticelli is to Venus. Well, that might be hyperbole, but it is a brand committed to investing in the cultural fabric of the city that made them. In 2016 it announced a commitment of €2 million towards the restoration of the city’s first fountain commissioned in 1547 by Cosimo de Medici, the Fontana di Neptuno. The company is recognised for its cultural philanthropy, but also for its interest in preserving the history of the brand and something of the idea of Italian luxury fashion.
The museum is currently showing a thorough and considered exhibition devoted to art and fashion, Across Art and Fashion, a cleverly comprehensive look at some of the most famous collaborations and collusions, not the least of which is the inclusion of Elsa Schiaparelli’s iconic 1937 ‘Lobster’ dress embellished by Salvador Dali and on loan from the Philadelphia Museum of Art. There are much earlier examples, too, of how fashion looked to art in the 1865 photographs by Dante Gabriel Rossetti of Jane Morris in pre-Raphaelite garb, and an exquisite dress by Rosa Genoni from 1906 directly inspired by Botticellis’ beautiful Primavera of 1842, housed fittingly in Florence’s Uffizi.
The exhibition tracks the ever changing relationship between art and fashion through the stunning examples of Madame Fortuny’s ‘Delphos’ dresses from 1911, Sonia Delaunay’s beautiful abstarction, right through to Andy Warhol’s fashion illustration for the likes of I.Magnin displayed alongside his photographs in drag, as well as Yves Saint Laurent’s ‘Mondrian’ dress. These are interspersed with Ferragamo’s engagements with fashion, exemplified by its 1958 shoe Tirassegno which took its inspiration from the work of American painter Kenneth Nolan and more recently their collaboration with artist Lee Seahyun. Across Art and Fashion is replete with superb examples of work, such as Issey Miyake’s collaborations with Yasumasa Morimura, and asks difficult questions about when does fashion become art, with the inclusion of couture pieces from Viktor and Rolf, Gareth Pugh, Hussein Chalayan and Alexander McQueen alongside the work of artists whose project involves an engagement with fashion. There are several brilliant Nick Cave Sound Suits and a Yinka Shonibare installation, too.
The exhibition features rigorous curation, with didactic panels and the inclusion of a great deal of support material in the form of historically relevant photographs for example. A Magazine has created a bespoke video room that recreates a kind of moving moodboard, bringing the idea of art and fashion firmly into the 21st century. Across Art and Fashion runs until April 2017 so there is ample time to see it in Florence, as well as it companion venues across Florence and Prato, and take in an aperol spritz at Hotel Lungarno afterwards.