MILAN — “I really like eccentricity because it gives you a sense of freedom, which to be honest few people have,” offered Beppe Modenese in a new documentary dedicated to his charismatic persona that premiered on Tuesday at the Triennale Milano design and art museum.
Dubbed “the Prime Minister of Fashion” in 1983 by then-WWD publisher John B. Fairchild, Modenese died last year at 92. He was most recently honorary chairman of the Italian Fashion Chamber, which he contributed to establishing, playing a key role in the affirmation of Milan as the capital of fashion as well as in the rise of new talents in the city.
“What we’re showing tonight is a tribute to an extraordinary personality of the history of culture and not only of Italian and international fashion,” said Triennale Milano’s president and acclaimed architect Stefano Boeri before the screening.
“Few people have been able to combine the skill of being excellent talent scouts and to be extraordinary talents themselves like Modenese. It’s thanks to him and few others if Milan is still to this moment one of the world’s fashion capitals,” he added.
Titled “Beppe Modenese. History of a gentleman,” the short film was directed by Uberto Frigerio and Giovanni Gastel, the renowned Italian photographer who died earlier this year at 65 due to COVID-19-related complications.
“This [event] has a double commemorative value… We have lost too much in these few past months, we lost essential pieces of our history and heart, and Giovanni [Gastel] is one of them,” said a moved Boeri. He additionally revealed that on Dec. 1 the Triennale location will showcase Gastel’s exhibition “The people I like,” which was staged at the MAXXI museum in Rome last year.
“I never found myself commemorating two people I loved very much at the same moment before,” added Rita Airaghi, director of the Gianfranco Ferrè Foundation, further underscoring the similarities between the two personalities in terms of “elegance, quite an eccentric one; savoir-faire; research of beauty and love for culture.”
Interviewed at his exquisitely furnished home, the documentary retraced different episodes of Modenese’s professional and personal journey, offering a glimpse of his encyclopedic fashion knowledge, his elegance, sense of humor and wit, which he was best known for.
His career in fashion started in the ’50s in Florence working with Giovanni Battista Giorgini. Together they organized the historic show at Palazzo Pitti’s Sala Bianca in 1952, which saw the participation of Roberto Capucci and Emilio Pucci, among others. The following year, he was among the founders of the Sindacato Italiano Alta Moda that later became the Italian Chamber of Fashion, which he led for many years.
“Giorgini has been the real founder of Italian fashion. When people tell me that I have been the one to establish it, that’s not true. I just contributed to that,” Modenese candidly said in the short film.
Among many anecdotes, the documentary indulged in retracing his key intuition of contacting institutions of the Milan’s fairgrounds “to get some of the pavilions for free to do what I had in mind to do, which was to move fashion from Florence and bring it to Milan,” recalled Modenese. “Not all designers immediately joined, but I identified a person that could be decisive, which was Mariuccia Mandelli [Krizia] because I understood she was the strongest of that group and the most determined,” he added.
During the narration, Modenese offered thoughts on many other personalities he met during his career, including Esteé Lauder, which he defined “a woman with an iron will,” as well as insight into his personal life shared with longtime partner, architect Piero Pinto, who passed away in 2018. “We’ve been together 63 years. We both thought in the same way and I’ve learned a lot from him, especially on the cultural front,” said Modenese.
In the short film, he appeared impeccably dressed, as always, pairing a navy blazer, striped shirt and tie with beige pants and his signature red socks peeking under them.
“Red took over me,” he joked toward the end of the video. “But I don’t want to become just the man wearing red socks. And as a matter of fact, I put this color everywhere,” he smiled.
The documentary follows another tribute released earlier this year, when the February edition of Milan Fashion Week kicked off with a short film directed by Beniamino Barrese, which was shown on Camera della Moda’s online platform.