Rendezvous with fashion: Inside the life and career of Anna Piaggi

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An assembly of vintage costume-clad women arrived at the Italian Cultural Institute of Chicago Thursday night, paying homage to Anna Piaggi, the late Italian fashion icon and columnist whose extravagant dressing style “doesn’t provoke, but evokes.”

This remark came from fashion titan Karl Lagerfeld, to whom Anna Piaggi was a muse since 1988, her nephew Stefano Piaggi told the audience at Thursday’s presentation. Chicago is the second stop of a U.S. tour that honors her influence on fashion and her “archive of 50 years in journalism,” he said.

Showing pictures of his aunt’s iconic ensemble of blue hair, excessive makeup, statement headwear and a walking cane, Stefano Piaggi said her special sensibility made her a fashion trendsetter.

Stefano Piaggi held up a poster of his aunt in her iconic style ensemble. (Photo by Cyan Zhong)

“When she wears a dress from another period, she wears it with a contemporary spirit, but in a very personal and precise way,” Stefano Piaggi said. “She was able to recover for us a faraway moment in the past.”

Connie Isenbarger, a 65-year-old retiree wearing a vintage pillbox hat, said she admired Anna Piaggi’s authenticity and boldness in style choices.

“She was not there to offend, but this is who she was,” Isenbarger said. “An extremely strong woman. You almost have to be, to carry something like that off.”

Anna Piaggi’s journalism career peaked with her fashion column for Vogue Italia, Doppie Pagine (or “double pages”), which amassed a huge following, her nephew said. She invented her own job because the figure of a fashion editor didn’t exist at the time, he said.

Ironic in writing and rich with visuals, the editor’s column reflected her firm grasp on “social history and broader cultural movements,” emcee of the evening Alex Aubry said. He directs the Fashion Resource Center at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, a co-organizer of this event.

“She was fashion’s unofficial historian, and she made us realize that fashion isn’t just about the clothes we wear,” Aubry said. “It’s about looking at the world in more nuanced, subtle ways.”

A screening of the documentary “Anna Piaggi: Fashion Visionary” gave the audience a more intimate look into her life and career. Alina Marazzi, the director, said she was fascinated by Anna Piaggi’s eclectic writing style and her ability to create collages.

“She was mixing up things and genres, subverting languages and codes in a way that’s also what I do in my montage films,” Marazzi said.

Part of Alina Marazzi’s documentary “Anna Piaggi: Fashion Visionary” was screened on Thursday following the presentation. (Photo by Cyan Zhong)

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