Clothes like sculptures, fabric and embroidery like paintings: everything in the rooms of the Museum of Costume and Fashion in Pitti Palace helps to recreate a kind of zoological stroll amid the creations of contemporary designers conjuring up the most unexpected of animal worlds. From France and Italy to China and Russia, the clothing on display provides visitors with an astonishing overview of what Nature has to offer Haute Couture in terms of inspiration and atmospherics, and Art as a product of imagination and creativity. Fashion can take us by surprise, it can unleash our imagination, it can involve us in a new game of identification and suggestion.
We should expect not leopard's spots but babirusa teeth; zebra stripes and tiger stripes are totally absent, making way instead for insects, hedgehogs, swans, lobsters, snakes, shells, fish and corals, telling us that Fashion is Art and that, in that capacity, it "apes Nature". The exhibition explores the relationship that fashion establishes with animals in an entertaining and poetic manner, yet at the same time it sounds an alarm bell at a time when climate change and the superpowers' dwindling interest in environmental issues are endangering countless species.
Thus "Animalia Fashion" is one of the most surprising and evocative installations in the field of Haute Couture, pure poetry in the juxtapositions proposed, yet at the same time an invitation to reflect on the wonders of the universe, if we consider the arrangement conceived as a fantastic, hyperbolic natural history museum. Clothing, accessories and jewels become an experience, a journey of exploration probing the history of zoological science but, above all, a discovery of shapes and colours that conjure up images of animals both common and rare. Contemporary style – the exhibition showcases items created between 2000 and 2018, loaned by famous fashion houses and emerging stylists alike – expresses its outstanding creative power thanks also to unexpected juxtapositions in the museum rooms, with real stuffed animals and snakes in formaldehyde loaned by Florence's Museo di Storia Naturale La Specola and spiders (in showcases) loaned by the Associazione Italiana di Aracnologia, but also with old master paintings and exhibits from the Museo di Antropologia ed Etnografia and with reproductions of drawings taken from old bestiaries and pages from medieval tacuina sanitatis.
The 18 rooms over which the exhibition is spread open with a section devoted to spiders and continue with sections devoted to swans, shells, hedgehogs, fish, coral, parrots, lobsters, babirusa, porcupinefish, snakes, beetles, flies, bees and crocodiles, winding up with butterflies.
"In this array of almost 100 pieces ranging from dresses and handbags to shoes, jewels and accessories, Haute Couture interprets a fabulous universe in which mannequins become the creatures of a modern and poetic bestiary. It is also a tribute to the artistic and technical qualities of contemporary fashion, an industry to which the Museum of Costume and Fashion in Pitti Palace is devoting fresh energy and attention", said Eike Schmidt, Director of the Uffizi Galleries. Curator Patricia Lurati, who devised the exhibition as the setting for an imaginary museum, added: "In an emotional dialogue with this zoo of fabrics, feathers, leathers and more, the visitor is surprised and involved in the discovery of the wonders of the animal world, which becomes a source of inspiration for designers and creates unexpected juxtapositions in the observer's imagination".