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‘Made in Italy’: The Most Iconic Dresses of Hollywood, Now on View in Madrid

‘Made in Italy’: The Most Iconic Dresses of Hollywood, Now on View in Madrid

Welcome to The Director’s Cut, an interactive column featuring fashion, beauty and career advice from RGNN Director and Founder, @isabelevabohrer.

And there she was – Sophia Loren, in her low-cut, slightly off-the-shoulder, rich red dress, dancing the Italian Mambo. The ruffles on the A-line silhouette moved back and forth perfectly; it’s a classic Hollywood scene from Dino Risi’s 1955 film, “Pane, Amore e…” I wasn’t wearing a frilled dress, and much less in such a striking red, but I couldn’t help but try to dance like her, too…

On the right, the red dress worn by Sophia Loren in “Pane, Amore…” (1955) | Photo credit:

Dancing (almost!) like Sophia Loren | Video credit:

The Italian Cultural Institute of Madrid has brought together 38 of Hollywood’s most iconic dresses in an exhibition celebrating the liaison of cinema and fashion. Titled “Photograms of Italian fashion: since the 50s, Italy that dresses international cinema,” the exhibit honors the height of Italian couture, which gave birth to the ‘Made in Italy’ phenomenon in the 1950s.

The location itself is perfect for this occasion; the Italian Cultural Institute is housed in the Palacio de Abrantes, a 17th century palace steeped deep in Spanish, and subsequently, Italian, history. If you’ve always wanted to walk up a red carpet, here is a chance to do so; the palace’s opulent, recently renovated staircase, with its sumptuous yellow and white decorations, is donned with a burgundy stair runner that will lead you all the way up to the exhibit.

At the top of the opulent staircase leading to the Made in Italy’ exhibit | Photo credit:
Arriving at the Abrantes Palace | Video credit:
A ‘Made in Italy’ exhibit calls for ‘Made in Italy’ boots, my Paris Texas boots | Photo credit:

Projections of the film scenes in which the divas wore them are placed side by side with the actual dresses. The legendary designs, including masterpieces by Laura Biagiotti, Renato Balestra and Alessandro Dell’Acqua, are all from private collections.

To further animate the scenes, fans are hidden behind the projectors, and a slight breeze makes thin white curtains blow back and forth. It’s a magical feeling; if we all had big blowout hair like the Hollywood divas on screen, our strands would be whirling around as if we were in the actual movies. Or perhaps, the fans help keep the clothes cool, literally; Stefano Dominella, Honorary President of the Gattinoni Maison, who curated the exhibit under the auspices of the Italian Embassy, was quoted in a RTVE interview explaining that the dresses need to carefully conserved at 15 degrees Celsius (59 degrees Fahrenheit), no humidity – and a significant insurance!

As you stroll and admire the costumes of Elizabeth Taylor, Kim Novak, Penelope Cruz, Lana Turner, Monica Bellucci, and more. Some of my personal favorites: Audrey Hepburn’s ankle-length, strapless, A-line gown, delicately embroidered at the bust with baby pink and blue horses, outlined in silver beads. She wore it in “War and Peace” in 1956, and the dress is officially protected as National Heritage of Italy now.

Embroidery details on the dress Audrey Hepburn wore in “War and Peace” (1956) | Photo credit:

Or Anita Ekberg’s infamous black mermaid dress, in which she stood under the Fontana di Trevi fountain in Rome. The most voluptuous bath of cinematic history; the eminent scene from none other than “La Dolce Vita,” directed by Federico Fellini in 1960. Did you know that this dress needed to be dried by hand in between takes, to get the perfect shot?

Anita Ekberg’s black mermaid dress from the Fontana di Trevi fountain scene in “Dolce Vita” (1960) | Photo credit:

And then, amongst the multitude of evening dresses, the little surprise, this two-piece ivory suit, lavishly embellished with red beads and sequins. Read the explanation label down below; this is actually a pyjama that Claudia Cardinale wore in the 1963 “The Pink Panther” film.

Pyjama worn by actress Claudia Cardinale in “The Pink Panther” (1963) | Photo credits:

‘Made in Italy’ glamour at its finest – no wonder so many of these Hollywood actresses became fashion icons that still inspire our Pinterest boards today. As Audrey Hepburn famously remarked, “Life is a party. Dress for it.”

Come see for yourself in Madrid until January 13, 2024. Next stop for the exhibition: Bangkok.

One last moment for the beautiful staircase of the Abrantes Palace | Video credit:

Plan your visit

Italian Cultural Institute of Madrid.

Palacio de Abrantes. Calle Mayor 86. 28013 Madrid.

  • Opening hours: Tuesday through Saturday, 12.00 noon to 8.00 p.m. Last entry at 7.15 p.m. Closed on Monday, Sundays and holidays.
  • Entrance is free.
  • Until January 13, 2024.

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