What is the Week of the Italian Language in the World? It is an event that has taken place every year all over the world since 2001. Francesco Sabatini, the president of the Accademia della Crusca at that time, created and developed this project, now in its sixteenth edition. At its core is the idea of promoting and spreading culture, values, and heritage of the Italian language.
This year, for the very first time, fashion and the made in Italy were counted among the defining traits of the Italian national identity for the events of La Settimana della Lingua Italiana nel Mondo. It is not only a celebration of both but also an acknowledgement of the importance they have gained for Italian society and the nation’s economy.
It is not by chance that Eugenia Paulicelli and Francesca Malagnini were the invited guests at the event organized by the Italian Cultural Institute and IACE (Italian American Committee on Education) under the patronage of the President of the Italian Republic.
In addition to being a full professor of Italian Studies at CUNY Queens College, Eugenia Paulicelli is among the leading experts in Fashion Studies in the United States. She is a pioneer of scientific research on fashion and both founder and director of the Fashion Studies program at CUNY Graduate Center. Francesca Malagnini is the director of the program in Promozione dell’Italia all’Estero at the University for Foreigners of Perugia and also a fine linguist and scholar interested in Medieval texts.
After welcoming the large audience with a video on the characteristics of Italian design, Maria Teresa Cometto, journalist for Il Corriere della Sera and IACE vice-president, made some introductory remarks about the event and both guest speakers.
Eugenia Paulicelli’s talk, Fashion and Italian Style between identity and culture, was clear and enlightening. Known for her copious contribution to Fashion Studies, her works include Fashion under Fascism. Beyond the Black Shirt, Writing Fashion in Early Modern Italy: From Sprezzatura to Satire (2014), La Moda è una cosa seria (2015) and her new book, Italian Style: Fashion & Film from Early Cinema to the Digital Age (2016). In her remarks, she gave the audience a full spectrum of the fundamental link between fashion and (national) identity.
Three keywords summed up her talk: fashion, identity, and culture. How are these three words related? Professor Paulicelli stated that Fashion and language are alike. Fashion has its own grammar, codes, narratives, tropes and so on. As a language, fashion is a communicative and semiotic machine: Clothes possess and create meanings, express and convey messages, and have strong symbolic power. When clothes are worn, the body establishes a direct connection with them. Also, by wearing clothes, humans send messages to the outside world and provide a profound link between the inner level – that of the individual – and the outer level – that between individuals. This feature has important consequences: fashion is the fil rouge that links the sphere of the individual to that of economy, society and politics. In addition, fashion serves as a resource for the characterization of individual and collective traits. This way, fashion is a common ground that helps define Italian national character and identity. Consequently, the connection between fashion and the notion of made in Italy is strong. Among the strong claims made by the made in Italy is its authenticity. Indeed, the bond that ties together the craftsmanship of the Italian ‘fine working hand’ and the territory where products are made is strong. This way, the plurilingualism of fashion and the made in Italy mirrors that of Italy. The chorus of multifarious voices sings its rich variety but celebrates in unison the Italian artisanship they contribute to creating. Multivocality equals multi-locality. The urge to map out the trends of Italian fashion matches the mapping of a social and human geography of Italy itself.
Professor Paulicelli, after this thorough explanation, concluded her talk with a significant wish: that the gap between the made in Italy and Humanities become ever narrower. In the end, they belong to each other.