In this post I will introduce you to one of the most cultured and pleasant person I’ve ever met.
Roberta Orsi Landini is a fashion historian, she collaborates with the Costume Gallery of Palazzo Pitti and she’s in charge of the workshops, organized by Foundation of Roberto Capucci.
She’s also one of the lecturers during these lessons and it’s in that particular occasion that I had the chance to meet her. She has a peculiar teaching style, very direct and ironic.
In the following answers to my questions, I’ve found these same characteristic and I hope you’ll be amused as much as I’ve been, while being one her students.
Q: What is your current role and how did you get there?
A: I’m a fashion historian and a freelancer. Playing these two roles together, it wasn’t easy at all. No one needs historians, people devoted to study, except universities. Let alone when your expertise is in a subject as ancient fabrics; on the other hand fashion offers more chances.
I got a degree in philosophy, I taught at high schools and in the meantime I dedicated my free time to a passion, fabrics, that appeared as a matter of personal curiosity.
I had the chance to start working (for free of course) on a collection of ancient fabrics at Palazzo Pitti in Florence. I studied and increased my knowledge, dedicating my time to manufacturing techniques, which are now my expertise.
From 1983, when the Costume Gallery of Palazzo Pitti opened, I got fascinated by ancient fashion, and over time I’ve always worked for the Gallery as well as for other institutions and museums.
Q: What has been the most rewarding project you have worked on?
A: I worked on a few rewarding projects. The first exhibition, for example, about the sketches of ”livree granducali”, opened for the inauguration of the Costume Gallery. But also my two books “Fashion in Florence 1540-1580″, a detailed description, day by day, of the wardrobes of Eleonora di Toledo and her husband, Cosimo I de’ Medici.
The books represented the opportunity to establish a close connection with those two great personalities, through their relation with their wardrobe and their public and private image.
Q: How does fashion history influence modern fashion?
A: Ancient fashion has always influenced modern trends, but there’s a difference now.
In the past designers were looking at history for those values that they wanted to affirm in the present, looking at previous fashion for visual evidence to express them, such as rationality or rigor or virility.
During Neoclassicism, for example, dresses were inspired by the past. With their graceful silhouette they revealed a real body, not an imagined one. They were a powerful way to establish the freedom of women’s body.
Throughout the Nineteenth Century there was a ceaseless inspiration from ancient silhouettes, but their significance has been diluted as it now becomes merely an expression of that “novelty”, that is the quintessence of fashion.
Nowadays it is common to dig into what have been made before to fuel our own creativity, usually without a proper direction. But maybe this behavior as well has a meaning, in affirming a new sensibility, very different from that of the past.
Q: Do you have any tips you can give to people who wants to study this vast subject?
A: It’s difficult to offer suggestions. Anyway, in fashion, as in other fields, what really matters is to never give up studying. Not only the specific subject, but also all the subjects related to it (fashion is the expression of so many aspects of life, as political, economical, social and cultural). You have to be curious and modest, be able to read what others have written and never overestimate your work.
Q: My blog tells the stories that made the history of fashion an inspiring journey through time. Is there a story would you like to tell?
A: I have a lot of stories to tell you, but there are two of them that moved me particularly.
I heard about them during my researches for the exhibition in 1985 titled “I principi bambini. Abbigliamento e infanzia nel Seicento”.
They’re both sad stories of little princesses, but they’re not specifically about clothes.
The first story is about the firstborn child of Cosimo II de’ Medici, Maria Cristina. When she’s still a little baby, she get engaged to the Duke of Parma, but while growing, her little body gets deformed, making her “unable to be married.” Consequently she was locked up in a convent against her own will, without taking vows.
“The princess feels terribly bad, locked up”, you can read in old documents.
She wished se could marry the Duke of Parma, as she has been promised, but Instead of her, the Duke ended up marrying the younger and more beautiful sister, Margherita. In a series of portraits of Maria Cristina and her brothers and sisters, the girls used to wear the same dresses. Maria Cristina seems to be “normal” and she’s adorned with beautiful and expensive jewels.
She died when she was 19 and her belongings came back to the palace. Among those things there was a book, written by Cristofano Bronzini and dedicated to the mom and grandmother of Maria Cristina. The book is called “Della Dignità e Nobiltà delle Donne”. The author praised all the women of the Medici family, included Margherita, who is described as a smart, beautiful and cultured lady. The only princess, who’s not named in the book is Maria Cristina.
I think that giving her this book while she was in convent can be considered unprecedentedly cruel.
The other story is about Maria Maddalena, the illegitimate daughter of a prince (maybe the Granduca) of the Medici family. The little girl was brought to a convent when she was only 5, with her little dresses, her toys and dolls. She had her own room, with the emblem of the Medici family and remarkable furniture. Three aristocratic nuns were in charge of her education and she received from the Palace confetti, cakes, fruits and snacks. When she was 9, she was brought to the Palace, where she lived for two years with her family. But after these 2 years, she was brought back to the convent with great emphasis, finally taking the vows at 14 years of age.
From that moment on nobody knows her story.
My Final Thoughts
I really appreciate Roberta Orsi Landini’s answers and the time she has dedicated to them.
She has a smart and complete perception of the mechanism behind the world of fashion. A sophisticated and unexpected vision, made possible by a lifetime dedicated to studies and researches. She offers you new ways for thinking at fashion as an elemental factor of human behavior, with its revolutionary and evolutionary characteristics, elevating the concept of fashion, without forgetting its frivolous, glossy and graceful nature.
She dedicated her life to it and she loves fashion history.