Zoe, Micol and Giovanna, three names forever imprinted in the Italian fashion history, known as Sorelle Fontana. This is not just the story of another fashion design brand. This is a page from the history of women’s emancipation, of their struggle to succeed in a world that has opposed their professional evolution, trying to limit their role and contribution to the society to that of mother or wife.
Their story is all the more impressive, given the fact that they came from a small town, where women’s work opportunities were even more limited. The Fontana sisters inherited the passion for tailoring from the women in their family, who each at their own time, have sewed and managed the small tailoring shop in Traversetolo, in Parma. Although devoted to their family, the sisters were dreaming bigger than the boundaries of their hometown. And one day, with their family’s support (uncommon for these times), they decided to try their luck in a city with more opportunities. In 1937, without a particular city in mind, almost at the flip of a coin, Zoe, the elder sister, went to the train station and took the first train to arrive. Destination: Rome.
Zoe had no difficulty finding a job in a fashion house and was able to bring her sisters along, reuniting with them in the roman capital that would bring them worldwide fame. The three Fontana sisters worked tirelessly for several years, asserting themselves through talent and creativity and thus expanding their list of elite clients. But the turning point of their career would be the year 1949 when actress Linda Christian married American idol Tyrone Power and chose Atelier Sorelle Fontana to design her wedding dress. From that moment on, Sorelle Fontana achieved what no one had done before: to impose the Made in Italy style in a fashion world dominated by French designers for hundreds of years. Once they conquered the Italian fashion stage, they moved to the United States, in 1951, to become an immediate success. Fontana designs are sensual, a celebration of femininity and grace. The dresses follow the natural curves of the body, wrapping it in luxurious fabrics, made for a niche clientele: Hollywood stars.
Their creations were worn by acclaimed actresses like Anita Ekberg in the legendary movie La Dolce Vita or Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday. Rita Hayworth, Mirna Loy, Anita Ekberg, Sophia Loren, Elizabeth Taylor, Grace Kelly, Barbara Stanwyck, or Vivian Leigh are just a few of the notorious stars that chose Fontana for their movies, or events where they needed to shine.
Ava Gardner was their most loyal client and model for their dresses, and Fontana was always the primary choice for her movie wardrobe. Perhaps their boldest creation (given the times) was the 1956 Pretino (little priest) dress, designed for Ava Gardner, who modeled the collection Cardinal Line. A cardinal attire inspired the dress, and it was frowned upon at the time. And amazingly enough (unthinkable today), the Fontana sisters actually asked and received the church’s approval for designing the Pretino.
Sorelle Fontana remains the name that best expresses the Made in Italy concept. The designers that followed after them continued on the path they opened, unable to realize today what it took for that incredible journey. Their Atelier is still there, in Piazza di Spagna, witness of history made in Rome, the eternal city. This was not just another fashion design story. Sorelle Fontana is the legend from which the stories are born.
Article edit by Claudia Ciclovan