Italian high fashion glitters  at NSU Art Museum

By Michelle F. Solomon 

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Pasquale De Antonis’ 1947 photo of a Sorelle Botti design at the Galleria Borghese in Rome.

Elizabeth Taylor once remarked: “I feel as though I’m only the custodian of my jewelry. When I die and they go off to auction, I hope whoever buys them gives them a good home.” A good home, indeed. Much of her jewelry is now part of Bulgari’s Heritage Collection, where some 760 pieces show the importance of the high-end jeweler throughout Italian fashion history.

While the Heritage Collection is housed in Italy, visitors that go to the NSU Art Museum Fort Lauderdale exhibit, “Bellissima: Italy and High Fashion 1945-1968,” presented by Bulgari, can see 18 selected works from the time period, including a pair of pendant earrings that previously belonged to Taylor.

“We wanted to find something unique, rare and unusual for this exhibit,” says Lucia Boscaini, Bulgari’s brand and heritage curator. While Bulgari owns a number of Taylor’s pieces (the fashion house bought back a portion of the actress’ collection in 2011), these particular platinum earrings with canary-yellow and white diamonds, circa 1963, are on loan from an American collector and are rarely exhibited in public.

Dresses on display for “Bellissima: Italy and High Fashion 1945-1968.” Photo by Luca Palmer.

Dresses on display for “Bellissima: Italy and High Fashion 1945-1968.” Photo by Luca Palmer.

On view from Feb. 7 through June 5, the NSU exhibit also acknowledges Italy as an epicenter of high fashion. In addition to the pieces from the Bulgari Heritage Collection, there are more than 200 designer garments, from elegant cocktail dresses to creations made for actresses such as Ava Gardner, Ingrid Bergman and Kim Novak, plus made-in-Italy accessories from Ferragamo, Fragiacomo, Gucci and Roberta di Camerino. The exhibition, a project by MAXXI: National Museum of the XXI Century Arts in Rome, also doesn’t dismiss the importance of fashion and its connectivity to Italy’s architecture, photography, theater and cinematic arts. Paintings by Lucio Fontana, whose slashed and pierced canvases inspired fashion designer Mila Schön, and filmmaker Federico Fellini, whose 1960 “La Dolce Vita” is credited with reinvigorating interest in the Italian city, are given their rightly due in the exhibition.

Bulgari’s five showcases of breathtaking jewels add to the context of Italy’s importance in high fashion circles. “We selected very important pieces for this exhibition,” says Boscaini. “We identified the most representative jewels related to Bulgari in the time frame in which ‘Bellissima’ is focused.”

Gold necklace with emeralds, rubies, sapphires and diamonds, 1967, Bulgari Heritage Collection. Photo by Antonio Barrella, Studio Orizzonte Roma.

Gold necklace with emeralds, rubies, sapphires and diamonds, 1967, Bulgari Heritage Collection.
Photo by Antonio Barrella, Studio Orizzonte Roma.

Regina Relang’s 1952 photo of a Sorelle Fontana design, photographed at the Musei Capitolini in Rome.

Regina Relang’s 1952 photo of a Sorelle Fontana design, photographed at the Musei Capitolini in Rome.

The groupings tell stories in style, evolution and especially their place in history. There are stunners: A platinum necklace with white diamonds was a favorite of actress Gina Lollobrigida – a “convertible” necklace, which can be split into two pieces then worn as two bracelets. A vintage Bib necklace, which Boscaini refers to as “a perfect combination of color,” is notable in its unusual and stunning use of yellow gold, diamonds, turquoises, amethysts and emeralds. It was previously owned by Lyn Revson, the wife of Charles Revson, Revlon’s founder.

Other pieces include Serpenti bracelets and watches, first introduced in 1949 and now a signature icon for Bulgari. There’s even an evening bag with an exterior made from pure gold. “It’s supple and feels like silk,” says Boscaini. As if it being made from gold wasn’t enough, the circa-1963 bag is encrusted with cabochon turquoise and 30 round, brilliant-cut diamonds.

“All of the jewelry is a work of art and perfectly at home in a museum,” says Boscaini. 

Elizabeth Taylor’s yellow-diamond earrings, 1962, private collection.

Elizabeth Taylor’s yellow-diamond earrings, 1962, private collection.

For more information, visit nsumuseum.org.