Interview with the Curator – Italian Style: Fashion Since 1945

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Nicole LaBouff has a very interesting job. Upon reading her scholarly accomplishments online I actually felt nervous to interview her. She’s attended school for decades and has several degrees to show for it. As the Minneapolis Institute of Arts’ curator, she is considered a textile and costume expert. If you’ve visited the MIA recently, you might recognize her latest work, where she put together the exhibit Italian Style: Fashion Since 1945.

Prior to our interview, I scoped out the gallery to get a feel for her work. The exhibit is very well put together; visually appealing and historically grounded. I immediately fell in love with the glamorous, old world feel and felt like I was time traveling to a better time — one where fashion truly lived. The exhibit traces the evolution of Italian design from its origins following WWII. Here, creations of fashion legends such as Gucci, Prada, Missoni, and Versace really come to life. The Star Tribune called it – “Gorgeous, elegant and informative,” and I couldn’t agree more.

If you haven’t caught the exhibit yet, this is a must! Good thing you still have time, it runs through Jan. 4. It turns out Nicole was very easy to talk to — catch my interview with her here, where we discuss Italian design, life as a curator, her LA roots and MN vs. LA style.



The Flyover: How do the Italian styles of this exhibit influence today’s style?

Nicole LaBouff: These are mostly aspirational pieces, they are costly. To own one you would actually have to fly to the atelier in Italy for a fitting. They are mainly couture pieces; in a way these styles are distant – they set trends through a ripple effect.

What are your favorite aspects of Italian design?

I would describe Italian design after WWII as an elegant ease, refined simplicity. This is the essence of Italian design.


© Banca Dati dell’Archivio Storico Foto Locchi Firenze

Who is your favorite Italian designer or textile innovator? Do you have a favorite piece from the exhibit?

Moschino – I really love his playfulness; he’s an ironic and witty designer, with a great sense of humor. There are two pieces second to last in the gallery that are really dedicated to high-end, ready-to-wear fashion. There’s a yellow pages jacket made from pages from the phone book where he labels the garment with his name, poking fun at branding and marketing. One of my other favorite pieces was a dress made out of maps of Italy and labeled – made in Italy.

What is the most interesting fact or story about the exhibit you might tell an outsider who knows nothing about these pieces?

People might be intrigued to know how the museum was actually traveled. The mannequins were all dressed, and there was great care taken in how they were packed. A protective cover was sewn over each mannequin before they were sent over by sea freight. This is the first time the exhibit was traveled in this manner. It is more costly to ship this way, but it minimizes the number of hands on the artwork and cuts down on dressing time.


Tom Ford for Gucci. Photo © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

What do you like most about being a curator?

I love being in contact with objects. I also love public tours and speaking.

How does your work influence the way you dress?

I have to wear comfortable shoes because I am on my feet all day. But, I also have to be presentable and stylish, so there is a fine balance with that. I usually don’t wear jewelry, because it might snag if I’m working with textiles.

An LA native, you moved to MN in 2013. How does LA style differ from MN style?

It’s more casual, because it is summer year round in LA. I think the entertainment industry definitely has an impact on the style. It almost has a rock ‘n’ roll, high-lighted, beachy feel to it.

What do you think about MN or Midwest style, what defines us?

The weather impacts people’s choices, there’s a utilitarian element to how people dress. I’m surprised at how many people actually wear heels in the winter. There is also a straight-edge feel to how the young people dress, although I do see more tattoos and piercings here, maybe I just notice them more.


click for gallery:


Learn more about the exhibit and buy tickets to attend here.

Exhibition organized by the Victoria and Albert Museum,
London. Presented by Nordstrom and the Blythe Brenden-Mann Foundation.

Photo credits for gallery: all © Victoria and Albert Museum, London
except black and white figure photo by Gian Paolo Barbieri for Gianfranco Ferre
and ballroom photo by G.M. Fadigati © Giorgini Archive, Florence

Stefani Arden is a creative writer who loves design, dry humor and all things bohemian. Check out her personal blog here.

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