Chelsea Market shoppers who wander into the “L’Eleganza del Cibo” exhibition may get a kick out of Gattinoni’s “Bread Suit” with its pretzel-and-cracker encrusted pant legs. But this Italian Trade Commission-led collaboration is meant to strengthen Italian exports for fashion and food.
Following a private opening-night party on June 23 in Chelsea Market, the pop-up exhibition will be housed in a 4,000-square-foot space on the main concourse that is usually used for the sample sales. Open to the public through July 4, more than 120,000 people are expected to review the looks from the 58 designers — exceeding the 100,000 who checked out another version of the exhibition in Rome.
The ITC-supported exhibition was organized with Unindustria. It was displayed last year in the archaeological complex of the Trajan’s Market in Rome last year. In an interview Monday, co-curator Stefano Dominella said he only had two and a half months to pull everything together, and considered ditching the whole project because it was so complicated. Deciding it was too interesting and compelling no to do, he soldiered on, poring over historical books, archives and catalogs, and traveling nonstop for the past month to see each of the garments that was being considered. He personally contacted all of the designers he hoped to include in the show and Giorgio Armani was the first to agree, providing a 2014 Privé dress made with bamboo and black crystals embroidery.
In addition to Etro, Valentino, Gucci, Romeo Gigli, Gattinoni, Salvatore Ferragamo, Moschino and Laura Biagiotti, the New York version will feature work from a few up-and-coming designers like Gianni De Benedittis, who created a necklace with a fork clasp for the New York show. “There is definitely a surreal aspect to this. All of these things are not what people would normally see on clothes,” Dominella said.
With $67.7 billion in exports annually, fashion is Italy’s leading industry for exports. Food ranks third with $45.1 billion (of which $20.3 billion is for wine.) Interior design is the second-strongest category with $50.1 billion, Dominella said. The concept for “L’Eleganza del Cibo” stemmed from a nutrition-themed fashion exhibition that Dominella was asked to do last year by Milan Expo’s organizers and by Unindustria.
Another designer Tiziano Guardini created a customized piece — an 1800s-inspired dress accented with olive branches and leaves. And Italo Marseglia created a cloudlike dress, which initially befuddled Dominella until the designer explained, “If it doesn’t rain, food doesn’t grow.” The New York edition will feature all Italian resources except for the American-born Ken Scott, who lived in Italy and had a boutique in Milan in the Sixties and Seventies. He also once showed one of his collections in Rome in a circus tent complete with jugglers, acrobats, a fire eater and a llama. More recently, Dominella had his own logistics to coordinate. “I knew this was going to be challenging and I like to take on impossible challenges. This was something that was almost impossible to put together the way we wanted to do it, which made me want to do it more.”
The opening night party will also double as the final shoot for the documentary about “L’Eleganza del Cibo” that Dominella has been working on with the Italian director Dario Carrarini.