The Art of Fashion at the Bardini Villa

I wandered around Florence on Mother’s Day, 2011. It’s my last day in Florence, so I’m trying to see all the things I missed on my first visit from two years ago. One of those things was the Villa Bardini, a 17th century mansion and gardens, located a short distance from Palazzo Pitti and the Forte di Belvedere.

After some time, I think I’m lost, so I stop at a grocer and buy a picnic lunch, which I enjoy in the solitude of the steps of an old fortress wall, which turns out to be the Belvedere Fortress which surrounds the Bardini mansion and its gardens!

I enter the Villa and find the paintings I’m looking for. The hallways are lined with paintings and lead to galleries with lights on motion sensors. It was an interesting experience because I didn’t know what I was walking into until I entered a gallery and triggered the lights. So imagine my utter surprise, when after viewing several paintings that barely held my attention, I walked into a dark gallery, and the lights came on and exposed this…

Part of the Capucci exhibit
PHOTOGRAPH BY Heather Daveno

It’s a Roberto Capucci exhibit. I don’t know anything about this designer, but his work is super impressive in both design and detail. It was a real treat being able to walk completely around the mannequins and absorb all of the detail.

The first room I walked into, contained this single dress, titled “Giorgini.” Capucci created this ‘fabric sculpture’ in honor of his mentor, Giovanni Battista Giorgini, who is considered the father of Italian fashion. Born in 1898, Giorgini started in the early 1920’s to promote “Made in Italy” by opening a buying office in Florence and catering to American department store customers, offering products of Italian high crafts in silver, leather, Florentine straws, Murano glass and Faenza ceramics. After surviving the Depression and WWII, in 1945 he organized the Allied Gift Shops across Italy, and brought an exhibition titled “Italy at Work” to Chicago in 1947.

In January 1951, Giorgini gathered together all of the most important Italian designers of the time, and a 20 year old beginner – Roberto Capucci. This collective produced the first Italian High Fashion Show the following month (and I believe) launched Capucci’s career in fashion design.

The “Red Bride” was my favorite from this exhibit. Capucci crafted this garment in 2009 from a fabric called ‘mikado.’ The bodice is embroidered with red and gold crystal beads, and the dress itself is made by a series of trapezium shaped elements in two alternating shades of red which form the side wings and train. Capucci was influenced by a number of historical and cultural elements for this gown. Brides wore red in Europe until the second part of the 17th century, as well as brides in India, China and Byzantium. The gold veil was intended not to obscure the bride, but to “exalt the preciousness of the person…” and to indicate that the bride was the mistress of herself and of her future.

The "Red Bride"
PHOTOGRAPH BY Heather Daveno

The next gallery included sketches of several of the gowns. I’m always interested in seeing how an artist’s sketch translates into a finished garment. I was also quite taken with the detailing on this leather skirt overlaid on a silk shift.

Leather skirt detail
PHOTOGRAPH BY Heather Daveno
Leather skirt sketch
PHOTOGRAPH BY Heather Daveno

A gallery beyond that contained about a dozen gowns that were architectural.

Gallery of gowns
PHOTOGRAPH BY Heather Daveno

If you visit the Villa Bardini, be sure to ask a docent to unlock the door to the balcony on the third floor, which affords you the absolute best panoramic view of the city.

View from the third floor
PHOTOGRAPH BY Heather Daveno

You will also want to allow yourself about an hour to enjoy the gardens, and to grab a cup of tea in the rustic teahouse at the top of one of the knolls in the garden.

The Villa Bardini reopened in late April 2021. Their hours until May 31:

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Heather Daveno

Heather Daveno is from Seattle, Washington, where she works as an office manager by day and a self taught hatmaker by night. She spent most of her pandemic lockdown in 2020-2021 creating 800 masks for the Masks4Millions project.

In a normal year, her travels inspire her hats, which she handcrafts from reclaimed textiles and found objects. You can find her hats and masks for sale at August Phoenix Hats. She is currently reissuing her original journals as “Director’s Cuts” with expanded text and previously unpublished photos, which you can read for free at Daveno Travels.