In observation of the success many other countries encumbered as pivotal fixtures of modern industrialization, a group of Italian artists and writers moved to assimilate Italy into the new age of the machine. Futurists, a cult of the modern, supported the advancement of industry and aimed to reform the consciousness of a nation dilatory to the rest of the world’s technological pursuits. Officially launched in 1909 as a response to Filippo Tommaso Marinetti’s manifesto “Founding and Manifesto of Futurism,” Futurism uplifted Italian youth by encouraging them indulge in modernity and the now. Deriving from characteristics of cubism and divisionism, those engulfed in this form of expression placed a landmark on their viewpoints by producing prolific, avant-garde poems, journals, and novels. The underlying aggression within these subversive texts eventually translated to disruptive paintings, sculptures, and other forms of visual art. Spanning over 40 years, from the early nineteen hundreds to right before the end of World War II, Futurism is ingrained into early 20th century art history as a highly respected, albeit, extremely politicized mode of expression. At its peak, Futurism was revered less by its artistic influence, but more so by its enthusiastic stance toward fascist rhetoric. However, even beyond its troubling political association, Futurism is still viewed as a vital precursor to modern contemporary art and fashion. Its cult-like influence has resonated over multiple creative platforms and is celebrated as the ideological premise of our crafting a collective vision of the not-so-distant future.
Giacoma Balla, one of Futurism’s founding fathers, was also one of the first to define clothing as being synonymous to objects. His goal was to create attire that moved through space in the same fashion as the human body without the unnatural obstruction constricting garments placed on the human form. Balla established guidelines supporting these ethics and created utilitarian garments prototyping his ideas of progressive societal dress.
Moving to “correct” the confines of common dress, Balla pushed the depths of early 20th century aesthetic expression. Inherently aggressive in their suggestions of radical experimentation within certain visual mediums, Futurists made many educated guesses toward how fashion would be comprehended through the advancement of time. Beginning with mourning attire: typically a drab, darkly overbearing style that is obviously depressive, Balla’s rubric supported the addition of asymmetry, movement, and color into the stiff conventions plaguing fashion at the time. These modifications functioned as reason to celebrate the expanse of life rather than dwell on the despair of death. Bright colors and bold patterns further conceded to this counter-culture of dress. Colors falling into the black, brown, and grey spectrum were considered homely and traditional, while clothing made with fabrics of the most exuberant, phosphorescent quality were seen as fully embodying the spirit of Futurist expression.
Futurism introduced exotic shapes to the ubiquitously contrived form of early 20th century garments with a sense of purpose unbeknownst to previous generations. The artistic inspirations at work led those practicing within this movement to impede upon sartorial tradition, promoting the construction of clothing made to revolutionize the conventions of preferred fashion. This new dynamic approach not only widened the scope of certain attired circumvention, but altered their significance within these environments as well.
Also on a mission to fill the void of dynamism lacking in aesthetic dress was Ernesto Michahelles, the artist and designer more formally known as THAYAHT. In 1919, with the help of his brother RAM, he designed the Tuta, an early rendition of what is known today as coveralls. The Tuta was a comfortable, unisex pantsuit THAYAHT dubbed as “the most innovative, futuristic garment ever produced in the history of Italian fashion.” THAYAHT wanted the Tuta to be adopted as a practical garment incorporated into everyday life so he published the pattern for his garment in the Italian newspaper “La Nazione”. From this, the Tuta did gain notoriety, but not to the urgent degree Michahelles had hoped for.
Gaining traction alongside the flapper era, an epoch rich in its exploration of ideas around gender play and proportion in dress, Balla also began reconstructing the foundation of women’s clothing. A general love of conflict indicted Futurists to indulge in the feminist movement because they viewed the current rhetoric of female oppression to be outdated and moved to undermine anything distinctly traditional. How futurists felt about the civil rights of women is, however, not so easy to determine. Balla’s own investment in womenswear came secondary to the steady Futurist comparison of “masculine strength to feminine weakness.” Another manifesto was written in 1920, after fascism and Mussolini had both risen to power. This text Manifesto della moda femminile futurista officially attached women to the Futurist movement. Vincenzo Fani acclaimed the female body as an innately progressive “conduit for advanced telecommunications”. However, even in this attempt to be radical, this example is still from the perspective of men speaking to the way they believe women are to be obliged and this sentiment alone only perpetuated the relegated role of women under fascist rule.
Beyond exploring and exploiting the characteristics men and women were resigned to in an increasingly fascist society, Futurists were also quite capable of thinking outside of their socially disruptive pursuits. Another manifesto, this one around the identity of the Italian Hat, was less politically tact in its affirmations and instead focused on all the things a hat could be in a more Utopian society. 1930’s II manifesto futurista del cappello italiano was a greater display of intrinsic interest in style and mobility. It is more expressive of how clothing is thought of today: as functional personal style options modeling the most aspiration version of the current self.
The reformist ambitions of Futurism are almost solely responsible for the modern fashion revolution. Until this moment in time, most people dressed quite modestly and from person-to-person there was very little distinction in point of view. Fashion was very slow to progress and any change in attire was dictated by a monarchy or liturgy. For the first time in history, the citizens rebelled against the hierarchy and created a style of dress that spoke to what they believed the world should decree as acceptable. This was the most revolutionary shift in fashion to date and the success of such a defining era in visual arts owes much of its accolades to the invention of cameras. Document this enterprising perspective, then being able to share said progress with the world is more than supplemental in exalting defiant cognizance within a seemingly complacent nation. These Italian anarchists redefined what it meant to be stylish, as well as the intentions behind said style, and made choices that changed the course of history rather than succumbing to the procedures assigned to them.
- Paulicelli, Eugenia. “Fashion and Futurism: Performing Dress.” Annali D’Italianistica 27 (2009): 187-207. Web.
- Braun, Emily. “Futurist Fashion: Three Manifestoes.” Art Journal 54.1 (1995): 34-41. Web.
- Cassandra Gero. “Futurism in fashion.” Grove Art Online. Oxford Art Online. Oxford University Press. Web. 23 May. 2016.
- Apollonio, Umbro, ed. Documents of 20th Century Art: Futurist Manifestos. Brain, Robert, R.W. Flint, J.C. Higgitt, and Caroline Tisdall, trans. New York: Viking Press, 1973. 197-200.