“There is a signature to Italian fashion that goes beyond a “Made in Italy” label. There is know-how and a level of understanding. That’s why so many fashion prototypes are still made in Italy.” –Stefano Tonchi, editor of W magazine and curator

Known as the fashion capital of the world, Milan plays an ever important role in the history of design in Italy, as well as internationally. This year, as Milan Fashion Week kicked off, so did a ground breaking exhibition chronicling three decades of Italian fashion and fashion photography. ITALIANA: Italy Through the Lens of Fashion, which is located in the Palazzo Reale, opened on February 22nd and runs until May 6th. The exhibition is curated by Stefano Tonchi, editor of W magazine, and Maria Luisa Frisa, an Italian fashion scholar. The space is full of incredible fashion gems and Italian art, with tickets priced specifically to allow students, fashion schools, and aspiring young designers a chance to appreciate the ingenuity of the past.

The curators have chosen to frame the exhibition between two important dates: 1971, which marks a time when clothing in Italy moved away from focusing on high fashion and the starting point of Italian ready-to-wear; and 2001, when the terrorist attacks in New York began a worldwide change. Despite this time frame, the exhibition moves through nine rooms, not by date, but by theme: Identity, Democracy, Logomania, Diorama, Project Room, Bazaar, Post-Production, Global, and the Italy of Objects. Additionally, the focus is not specifically on famous Italian designers, but on the artists, craftsman, and workers who make up the production pipeline in the industry.

It was important to Tonchi and Frisa that the work emphasize the speed at which Italian fashion has responded to social changes through promoting democracy and tackling issues such as gender identity, feminism, and homosexuality. For them, showcasing the history of Italian fashion will shine a light on the future as well.

“It’s a starting point for a conversation on the history of Italian fashion. It’s also a way to weigh in on its qualities and its flaws. Sometimes, some of its qualities have been perceived as being flaws instead! For instance, its democratic spirit, its worldwide success, its marketing abilities, the idea of making luxury accessible to vast audiences—it has been perceived as too commercial. On the contrary, this was the real big challenge and strength of the made-in-Italy process: to provide a slice of luxury for everyone. It’s a very Italian mind-set. Here, everyone has to be well dressed with good quality fabrics and good style. It’s ingrained in our culture.” –Stefano Tonchi

With approximately 130 pieces, the exhibit brings visitors into every beautiful detail. Ultimately, Tronchi and Frisa hope viewers leave with an understanding of the intuitive creativity in Italian fashion. While manufacturers in other parts of the world may turn down ideas, in Italy there is never a no.

“Italian fashion is not only about dreams, it also has a deep impact on daily life.” –Maria Luisa Frisa