MILAN – Haute couture designer Micol Fontana died in Rome on Friday at age 102. With her late sisters Zoe and Giovanna, she was one of the pioneers contributing to the Made in Italy label and the country’s fashion history.
She was born in the small town of Traversetolo, near Italy’s Parma, into a family of dressmakers. With her sisters, she moved to Rome, opening the Sorelle Fontana [Fontana Sisters] atelier in 1943, after a few stints with other laboratories in the Italian capital. Their beautifully executed tailored looks and delicately embellished dresses caught the attention of Hollywood star Linda Christian. The actress, wearing a golden satin Sorelle Fontana dress to marry Tyrone Power in Rome in 1949, boosted the career of the Fontana sisters. Their designs were also favored by the likes of Audrey Hepburn, who wore their costumes in “Roman Holiday”; Jacqueline Kennedy, and Ava Gardner. The Sorelle Fontana’s iconic “pretino” dress, based on a priest’s cassock, was worn by Gardner in “The Barefoot Contessa,” and was revisited by Federico Fellini for Anita Ekberg in “La Dolce Vita.” They also created Gardner’s costumes for “The Sun Also Rises,” becoming part of the “Hollywood on the Tiber” period.
Mario Boselli, honorary president of the Italian Chamber of Fashion, touted Fontana’s role as a “protagonist of the first great phase of Italian fashion, that of Rome. She was an incredible seamstress and developed Rome’s haute couture.” Boselli also praised Fontana as “a generous woman” who set up a foundation in her name to promote young designers. “She gave back to the system. I really admired her. Her style was of refined elegance, not Baroque.”
Beppe Modenese, honorary chairman of the Italian Chamber of Fashion, said the Fontana sisters “invented a new style, entirely their own.” He remembered Fontana as “special, with character,” noting how she forged her career and developed the atelier.
In 1951, the Fontana sisters took part in Giovanni Battista Giorgini’s famous Sala Bianca show at Palazzo Pitti in Florence and in 1957, they moved their Roman atelier near the Spanish steps. In 1958, they were invited by the White House as representatives of Italian style at the conference “Fashion of the World.”
In 2011, the sisters’ story was fictionalized in a two-part series on Italian national television.