Made in Italy is at its core a coming of age story, set against the backdrop of 1970s Milan, a time when the country was going through social change, protests, feminism and a burst of creativity.
Our heroine, Irene Mastrangelo (Greta Ferro) is an art history student. Disenfranchised and frustrated by having her thoughts and ideas dismissed by her male tutors, she takes a leave of absence from her university studies. Irene comes from a working class migrant family, living on the outskirts of the city, and when she tells her father about her plans, he refuses to pay for her education any longer.
Irene, who is both bright and determined, announces that she will get a job to pay her own way. Job ad in hand, she enters the doors of fashion magazine 'Appeal' and her life is changed. Irene is taken under the wing of the intuitive, passionate and intimidating (to some) editor-in-chief Rita Pasini (Margherita Buy), who admires her talent and determination.
Unlike Andy in The Devil Wears Prada, Irene has an immediate respect and wonder for the fashion world (no cerulean monologue needed here, Miranda Priestly). It doesn't take long for Irene to discover her passion for journalism, fashion and the artists behind the designs. Defying gender expectations of the time, she opts to focus on taking the journalism exam and work full time.
It's through Irene's eyes that we are taken into this world – which is in the midst of being transformed – and at the same time are introduced to the legends of Italian fashion. The 1970s were a time of social revolution and a fashion revolution. Italian designers were moving into prêt-à-porter (ready to wear) rather than the exclusive and elusive haute couture collections.
It isn't all photo shoots and runway shows at 'Appeal'; there is also a divide within the company. Rita is one to champion local Italian designers of the day, while others at the magazine wish to continue focusing on French haute couture houses and more conventional designs. In this company some people are driven by money rather than the fashion and those labels that can buy advertising space get preference.
"Some of these pieces have not ever been seen on TV, and they are wondrous"
What makes this show all the more compelling and wonderful to watch is the focus on the designers. The producers wanted the viewers to see the talents and the wonderful creations, to make you want to reach out and touch them somehow, by making those colours, fabrics and cuts that are still beautiful and modern 40 years on, come alive on screen. They were able to do this by gaining the trust of the fashion houses, which is no mean feat. The great fashion houses shared anecdotes, stories and amazingly their archives. Only real vintage pieces for the designers’ atelier pieces were used, the filmmakers flew clothes in from all over the world, including Japan. Some of these pieces have not ever been seen on TV, and they are wondrous. They even filmed in the actual Missoni factory and even through the screen, you can tell it is no imitation.
Made in Italy is a coming of age for not just Irene but Italy and fashion. It feels like a love letter to these pioneers of Italian fashion and Milan too. They take the time to focus on each designer, celebrate their creativity and innovation, give background to their story, make us see fashion through their eyes and the use of archival photos during these vignettes is a beautiful touch. We see the history of the city in this time, the culture, customs and of course it was all shot on location in Milan. You can feel the pride and enthusiasm from the production and it is a joy to watch.
More than just designers these pioneers became known as stylists and transformed the fashion world and industry as we know it today. It is wonderful to see the work of (possibly lesser known designers), the revolutionary father of prêt-à-porter Walter Albini and the mother of hot pants Mariuccia Mandelli, head of Italian fashion house Krizia, celebrated. Plus names synonymous with Italian fashion: Missoni, Armani, Prada, Versace, Fiorucci and with a sneaky trip to Rome, Valentino. Their clothes, words and desire to change the status quo will start a revolution that will forever transform Irene, Milan and Italy. And who doesn't love a clothing label that says "made in Italy"?
Season 1 of Made in Italy now streaming at SBS On Demand.
In another Iso-Playlist, Fiona Zooms across the ditch for a chat with Wellington Paranormal's Karen O'Leary (Officer O'Leary), who is having a very busy lockdown, as the much-memed face of the New Zealand Police Force's Public Service Announcements, in addition to her day job as an early childhood teacher. Elsewhere in the episode: Ben and Fiona review the lively '70s chronicle of the leading lights of the feminist movement (and their foes), Mrs America.