Gianni Versace (portrait)
“I am not interested in the past, except that it is the way to the future.” Gianni Versace
The protagonist of this article is an icon of Italian fashion. “The birth of prêt-à-porter: as a need to express new needs and shape new and different social realities. I founded my company in 1975, Gianni Versace in 1978, as did Gianfranco Ferré. Krizia and the Missonis had already been working for years. (…) Fifteen years after his death, what memories do I have of Gianni Versace? That of a fantastic exuberance, of a sense of gaiety that mixes everything – ideas, trends, memories, art – with a kind of nonchalant vitality. He was a great creator, and the passing of the years only underlines what his talent was.” (1) Giorgio Armani
(Gianni Versace – Valentino – Giorgio Armani – Gianfranco Ferré – Photo courtesy: Pinterest)
In the words of Chiara Baldacci, we describe the lighting project for the Gianni Versace – L’abito per pensare exhibition, held in the Sala della Balla at Milan’s Sforzesco Castle in 1989. Gianni Versace presented himself, his history and his collections in a major anthological exhibition, entrusting the project to architect Gianfranco Cavaglià (Achille Castiglioni’s assistant at Torno). “The most extraordinary thing about the affair was Versace’s courage. He lent himself to being studied,” said Nicoletta Bocca, who with Chiara Buss curated the installation, Piero Castiglioni was in charge of lighting and Heinz Waibl drew up the exhibition’s graphic design. At this time, Architect Piero Castiglioni tells us, the CEO of Gianni Versace was Claudio Luti.
“I am a tailor. When I arrived in Milan from Reggio Calabria, I had to forget everything I had learned from my mother because there were other terms, other technologies. Then I gradually discovered that her teaching was still valid. I discovered that the true artist is the craftsman. Some designers who say they are not tailors make me laugh. Of course, when you see their clothes, it’s immediately obvious. In my opinion, however, the true artist is the one who makes things with his hands. So a designer has to be a tailor”. (2) Gianni Versace, 1990
(1989 – Italy – Milan – Sforzesco Castle – Gianni Versace – L’abito per pensare – Photo courtesy: Piero Castiglioni)
Each museum lighting design project has its own philosophy, history, path, suggestions that lead to the development of a concept, with the aim of always finding non-invasive solutions with respect to the exhibition space, in agreement with other professionals and the client.
“From time to time, someone would create dangerous traffic jams by stopping in front of a particular garment: the dress of memory, for example, the homage that the Calabrian designer dedicated to his mother on the occasion of the exhibition, a long black evening dress, in which Versace wanted to embody the memory of a garment he had seen as a child in his mother’s tailor’s shop. Or the costume designed for Herodias in Richard Strauss’ Salome staged at La Scala in January 1987. Or the brown aniline nappa coat presented by Gianni in the first fashion show with his label”. (3) Guido Vergani
The exhibition is divided into six sections to underline a chronological path. Balla’s room has several constraints: the rectangular plan, large windows allowing daylight to enter, a considerable height (10 m), and the exit coinciding with the entrance. A walkway emphasises the definitive, unique route to lead the visitor without uncertainty, while the large titles of each section provide initial information.
(1989 – Italy – Milan – Sforzesco Castle – Gianni Versace – L’abito per pensare – 1 Photo courtesy: Piero Castiglioni)
“The utopia of the past” is the first section of the exhibition, representing the updated memory of his mother’s tailoring to the first ready-to-wear clothes for the Callaghan, Genny and Complice lines, which are presented on a continuous metal platform and illuminated by a set of Fresnel-lens projector-refractors placed at a height of ten metres near the ceiling of the room and oriented vertically (perpendicular to the ground). This provides zenithal light and homogeneous illumination of the entire exhibition area. The luminaires are kept out of the public’s field of vision and are cancelled out by the great height; any superfluous light beams are controlled by a system of fins. The second section, “The Unknown Masterpiece”, follows a chronological path to underline the existence of a continuity of style and design coherence, as if the collections were pieces of a single, interrupted story. A projector is aimed at each garment with parallel beams, made possible by the great distance of the source (5 m) and the optics of the lamp itself, with no shadows cast as they are absorbed by a metal grid specially positioned on the floor. The extremely well-lit garments seem to emerge from the darkness as isolated protagonists.
In the third section “La mise en scène”, dedicated to theatre and fashion, an attempt was made to obtain a kinetic effect: light in movement to accentuate the characteristic of the costumes inserted in the proscenium and participating in it. Specific (theatrical) lighting fixtures were used to create frontal, cut, flap and backlighting effects to allow the clothes/characters to experience all the suggestions that a stage offers.
(1989 – Italy – Milan – Sforzesco Castle – Gianni Versace – L’abito per pensare – 2 – Photo courtesy: Piero Castiglioni)
The exhibition continues with the following sections: the reinvention of materials (historical-critical analysis of the materials, textile and non-textile, used by the stylist), the form of the project (the dress for thinking). The exhibition continues with the sections: the reinvention of materials (historical-critical analysis of the materials, both textile and non-textile, used by the designer), the form of the project (the paper dress, in the drawing of the design phase, in the pattern that determines the passage from the project to the prototype, in the image that invests it with meanings and messages). A section to follow the path of the dress as an industrial and commercial object) and the stylistic alphabet (a transversal reading that aims to identify Versace‘s stylistic features, the letters that make up his alphabet of expression). For the latter themes, the exhibition design has made a unique choice of display, on a seamless flap, creating a “handrail-mise à distance” around the perimeter of the exhibition spaces with the dual function of protecting the exhibits and supporting the didactic material, on a transparent screen that accompanies the route. This handrail was also given the task of lighting: it contains a continuous row of lamps which remain completely hidden from view, guaranteeing objectivity of vision with the light in front of the spectator and close to his optical axis. (4)
(1) Tony di Corcia. Gianni Versace: the biography, Turin, 2012, Lindau
(2) Minnie Gastel. Il mito Versace, Milan, 2007, Baldini Castoldi Dalai editore
(3) Archive: la Repubblica – 1989.04.14 – Even “L’abito fa pensare” if it is signed by the great designer
(4) Courtesy Chiara Baldacci: article published in Flare – Architectural Lighting Magazine – n°2 – April 1990 – page 6