NOVE GONNE (Nine Dresses/Skirts) DRESS, 1956, silk taffeta. Photograph by Claudia Primangeli / L.e C. Service. Photograph courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Roberto Capucci

Sculptor of Silk

Long recognized in his native Italy and throughout Europe for his exquisite artistry and bold experimentation with volume, color and form, the couturier Roberto Capucci has remained underappreciated in the United States. The first U.S. survey of his work, Roberto Capucci: Art into Fashion, on display at the Philadelphia Museum of Art from March 16 to June 5, should do much to address this neglect. The more than eighty pieces included in the exhibition, spanning the length and breadth of Capucci’s sixty-year career, amply document the artist’s journey from the “boy wonder” of the Italian fashion world in the early 1950s to the creator of the distinctive “sculpture dresses” of the 1980s onward that have been shown to great acclaim in museums and other venues around the world.

To call Capucci a “fashion designer” is to confine his work to a category from which he has sought, almost from the beginning, to escape. Just as the geometric forms of his dresses, especially since the groundbreaking linea a scatola, or “box line,” in 1958, have been designed to liberate clothing from “the tyranny of the body,” so Capucci has sought to liberate himself and his work from the demands of the fashion market, with its emphasis on mass production and commercial appeal. “If I could, I would ban the word ‘fashion’ from the language,” he has said. “To be ‘in fashion’ is already to be unfashionable and outmoded simply because it becomes a mass phenomenon.”1 Thus, each Capucci is a unique creation, never to be duplicated. In this respect, he is more like a painter or sculptor who has chosen fabric as his medium.


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