Isabella Rossellini and the Italian Trade Commission were hosts of a cocktail party Tuesday to toast the debut of “Global Travel,” an exhibition featuring the work of Rhode Island School of Design students.

This story first appeared in the March 14, 2008 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

“I wanted to become a costume designer for films,” Rossellini told the students. “I did exactly what you did — I went to design school, but I wasn’t as good as you are.”

Afterward, the actress said costume design seemed like a good match, since she was from a family of actors and the industry is highly regarded in Italy, thanks to Dante Ferretti, Gabriella Pescucci and others. That pursuit went by the wayside after Bruce Weber spotted her and asked to photograph her, followed soon after by Richard Avedon and Irving Penn.

Italian fashion and textile designers as well as artisans need support, said Rossellini, who was asked by the ITC not to identify which designer provided her navy silk pantsuit. “I’m not speaking of Armani, Versace and Dolce & Gabbana. They don’t need support. We need to remind people there are a lot of other designers in Italy,” she said. “We don’t have any gold in Italy or raw diamonds. But we have style and art. That has become a tradition. That’s what many people come to see in Italy.”

Having worked with the ITC on many occasions, Bergdorf Goodman president and chief executive officer Jim Gold said it is important to promote innovation and Made in Italy products. “It’s important to continue to do innovative things. Ultimately we have got to compete on the basis of quality and innovation. It’s our lifeblood. We have got to have new things to show our clients that are wonderful and unexpected.”

It’s safe to say Bergdorf Goodman shoppers have been surprised to see the students’ one-of-a-kind creations on display on the third floor not far from Calvin Klein Collection and Yohji Yamamoto. For this collaboration, the ITC lined up 22 Italian fabric and yarn mills with 20 RISD students in apparel and textiles. Many of the students designed their own fabrics as well as pieces within a 12-week span.