50+ Anni di Moda Italiana

A new exhibition at Vienna’s quartier21 takes visitors through the history of past and future Italian fashion. Dazed Digital spoke to one of the young designers featured, Karisia Paponi.

Text by Anna Battista

In the aftermath of the Second World War Italian fashion was finding new strengths: the small fashion houses founded in the early 40s that had managed to survive throughout the war were slowly changing, turning from independent businesses into parts of a larger dynamic industry. Yet the birth of the so-called “Made in Italy” was still a few years away. Fashion historians offer a precise date, 12th February 1951, a glamorous location, Florence-based Villa Torrigiani, and even a father, Giovanni Battista “Bista” Giorgini. A buyer working for American department stores, Giorgini organised a three-day event in his own villa, with catwalk shows by Italian fashion houses such as Carosa, Fabiani, Simonetta, Emilio Schuberth, the Fontana Sisters, Veneziani and Emilio Pucci. There were only eight American buyers and a few members of the Italian press, but the event was so successful that, in July of the following year, it moved to a bigger location. As the decades passed fashion became one of the main industries of the country, catwalk shows moved to Milan where new designers, from Armani to Gianfranco Ferré and
Versace, renewed the Italian traditions with their ready-to-wear collections.

A recently opened exhibition entitled “50+ Anni di Moda Italiana” (+50 Years of Italian Fashion) organised at Vienna’s quartier21 and co-curated by Angelika Höckner, Gerald Moser, Fiorella Galgano and Alessia Tota, takes the visitors back to the golden age of Italian high fashion and ready-to-wear through designs by Armani, Moschino, Prada, Valentino and even the much forgotten Walter Albini. The exhibition allows visitors to see also a glimpse of the future through the creations of five young designers, Michela Carraro, Valeria Farina, Maria Girelli, and quartier21’s current artists-in-residence Karisia Paponi and Antonio Piccirilli.

Paponi originally hails from the Marche region, a famous footwear district, where she studied shoe design before moving to Antwerp’s Royal Academy of Fine Arts where she focused on fashion design. Winner of the 2008 Mittelmoda Award, a finalist at the ITS#8 and the recipient of the 2009 A Shaded View on Fashion Award at the Royal Academy Show, Paponi is exhibiting in Vienna both her third and fourth year collections.

How do you feel about your designs being showcased in this exhibition and have you enjoyed your residency at quartier21 so far?
Karisia Paponi: I’m honoured. The exhibition features famous and established designers, but the curators and the MuseumsQuartier director decided to offer a lot of space to young designers as well, some of them from my same school. This choice is perfectly summarised by the title of the exhibition that invites the visitors to look back at fashion 50 years ago and to project towards the future as well, looking at the next five decades through the work of young designers. I respect the past and the designers who came before us, but I think that opening up to innovative artists is a wonderful idea and I’m also very honoured they chose my work to be featured on the exhibition poster. The artist-in-residence experience has so far been a great opportunity for me: I arrived at the beginning of November and have been working on the exhibition and on a new collection as well. We’re based inside the MuseumsQuartier Wien, the museum district, and that’s simply wonderful since we’re surrounded all the time by a very inspirational atmosphere also thanks to the different artists - from photographers to video artists - who work here.

Among the Italian designers featured in this exhibition which one inspires you the most?
Karisia Paponi: I’ve always liked Etro and I have seen a beautiful fur and a skirt exhibited here, you can spot in them a certain continuity and coherence between Etro’s early days and its more recent creations. I also like Marras a lot, his work is unmistakeably striking and here you will be able to admire a dress with a black veil that looks rather theatrical and is obviously inspired by his Sardinian origins. There are also some very interesting creations by Valentino, Ferré and Missoni. Though these designers are very different one from the other they have something in common, quality, attention for details and amazing choice of fabrics, elements that helped “made in Italy” fashion achieving a legendary status.

The main designs featured in the exhibition are displayed on a platform shaped like the Italian boot: what does your exhibition space look like?
Karisia Paponi: I have covered up an entire room in white paper, then projected a few images on the walls and reproduced on the paper these images as if they were drawings taken from colouring pages for kids. My main aim was creating a sort of shared background for my third and fourth year collections and I thought that a surreal cartoon-like environment based on children’s drawings would have been perfect.

Though some of your pieces from your latest collection look rather heavy and as rigid as porcelain they are actually really light, what’s the secret behind them?
Karisia Paponi: The twelve designs from this collection were inspired by the works I saw in the volume Fragiles: Porcelain, Ceramics and Glass. I made them using Eva-form, a thermo-reactive material. I originally created wooden moulds, then applied the Eva-form and my printed textiles upon them and put everything in an oven, so that the Eva-form took the shape I wanted. Though they look rather rigid, the structures are actually light and empty but the effect and the Rococo-inspired decorations perfectly evoke the consistency, brightness and look of porcelain pieces.

Some of your designs look rather sculptural, do you feel more like an artist when you design?
Karisia Paponi: I like working with different materials as if I were an architect of a sculptor. Yet I always have a very linear approach and tend to combine two almost dichotomic aspects in my works: my prints are very decorative, while the shapes and silhouettes are very simple, almost basic. In the case of my porcelain inspired collection some pieces, like the dish-like coat, were based on a sort of revised and folded up circle, a jacket was instead inspired by a flattened out gift box.

Can you give us a few insights on the new collection on which you have been working while at quartier21?
Karisia Paponi: I’m focusing on more wearable designs at the moment and I have recently been working on an experimental draping technique. I’m trying to turn draping into a more contemporary element of fashion design. I’m experimenting at the moment with an innovative system that would allow a dress to drape by itself on the wearer’s body. Print-wise the new collection will be inspired by tarot cards that symbolise how human beings often resemble playing cards: we pretend we are as neutral and emotionless as cards, hiding our feelings, but deep down in our hearts we feel angry, sad or maybe crazily in love.

Your family works in the footwear business, do you feel that somehow your background helped you becoming a fashion designer?
Karisia Paponi: I grew up in a fashion environment and I think my family helped me to understand what I wanted to do with my life. I’m obsessed with shoes and maybe one day I will also work on an accessory line, but I must admit clothes allow me to give full rein to my creativity. Shoes are more complex and technical in many ways because they must respect the shape and silhouette of the foot, while you can create clothes that do not respect the shape of the human body.

You will stay in Vienna until the end of the year: what will you cherish of this experience and what plans do you have for the future?
Karisia Paponi: I’ve been very lucky to be able to take part in this project and to live this unique experience and I hope that, in future, I’ll be able to give the same chance to another person, maybe helping a young artist one day to develop his or her passions. For what regards the future, while I’ve always felt a great desire to start working for myself, I feel I’m not ready yet to launch my own label. So I think I’ll take part in a few more competitions such as the Hyères Festival as they are always good platforms to develop your knowledge and I’m also pondering at the moment on the possibility of doing an internship in New York at Proenza Schouler’s.

“50+ Anni di Moda Italiana” is at quartier21, Vienna, until 20th January 2010.

© by DazedDigital

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