AND by now a shared opinion that if in Milan we have gone from the BR to the PR, from the tormented and violent 1970s to the festive and kaleidoscopic 1980s, it is (also, indeed above all) thanks to the prêt-à-porter, which made the city an international fashion capital. A system that owed much to communication and public relations: of this complex and complicated art that mixes diplomacy, savoir faire, vision and an excellent network of relationships, she proved to be an authentic queen, right from the start, Barbara Vitti.
Designers, politicians, superintendents, entrepreneurs have knocked on his studio: the use of this verb is not accidental, his motto was “First you call me, then come and ring the bell of my studio and we can talk about work”.
Born in 1939 in Milan, she lived her childhood under fascism. His father, a Jewish student of Fermi, escaped to the United States and remarried. It is her mother Gemma who has made her breathe fashion and journalism since she was a childtaking her with him to the fashion shows and asking her to deliver her articles to the Palazzo della Stampa.
The column on “Grand Hotel”
Debut in public relations, after doing a fashion column on Grand Hoteltakes place in 1965 when he puts his wealth of skills and knowledge at the disposal of Snia Viscosa. Then, in 1971, he undertook to promote the product of Hettemarks, a Swedish brand but with a very Italian factory in Bari.
Before her, the “pierres” were girls of noble extraction who placed their patrician telephone books at the disposal of the couturier who prided himself on having them on his payroll: for the more mischievous the acronym Pr stood for “lunches and receptions”.
That Barbara Vitti’s way of understanding public relations was new, different, effective, is confirmed by being part of the so-called “Group of 5”: she and four other fashion industrialists meet periodically to identify communication strategies and trends to follow, such as the idea of throwing up Friend red jacket fashion which filled, within a few weeks, the windows of all of Italy.
The Armani poster in via Broletto
In 1978 it was the turn of the Gruppo Finanziario Tessile of Turin: to promote the Cori line, concrete clothing intended for women engaged in work, does not choose models e focuses on figures with a defined personality such as Susanna Agnelli, Ottavia Piccolo, Natalia Aspesi and other professionals.
In 1980 he met Sergio Galeotti, partner of Giorgio Armani. Born from mutual sympathy, destined to become a very strong affection, a collaboration that will include several memorable moments. The first is the cover that Time dedicates to the designer in 1982, the equivalent of a coronation, which gets a huge echo. And then there’s that advertising intuition that has come down to the present day: Barbara realizes that fashion is not advertised through posters and proposes this idea to Armani for the Emporio line.
The name, considered unsophisticated, had already been made fun of in the environment, and now the jokes are wasted: come on, as for detergents. In spite of those rumors, the poster posted in Via Broletto (costing 150 million lire and made in Cinecittà) is still today a fixed point in the topography of the Milanese, who happen to meet “at the Armani manifesto”.
This is how Giorgio Armani remembers that collaboration today: «Everything was possible, because everything had to be invented. So while I concentrated on style, Barbara Vitti found the best way to communicate my idea of fashion, against the current and radical, to the press. Barbara was an important figure in my work, and for this she is unforgettable ».
In 1986 he began working for Valentino: in the atelier in Via Gregoriana, in Rome, the international jet set, the divas of Hollywood glamor and the crowned heads meet. Realizing that the designer’s image is too distant from the people, he organizes a fashion show in the central square of his native Voghera: on 11 September 1987 there were 14,000 people to welcome the illustrious citizen back home. Months later, during a party in Beverly Hills with a number of stars that not even an Oscar night would be able to gather, Valentino approaches her ear and whispers: «Beautiful event, for heaven’s sake, but what was Voghera? ».
After Valentino, he moves on to another Made in Italy excellence, Gianni Versace. Of the stylist, unfortunately, he also has to follow the organization of the funeral in the Milan Cathedral, in the summer of 1997. A commitment that would have terrified anyone, given that it is a question of managing a sad social event, crowded with celebrities, rock stars, stylists, supermodels, Princess Diana, big names in politics and industry. But not her.
Then he worked for institutions and figures in his Milanrethinking the traditional inaugurations of 7 December for La Scala, or redesigning, together with Quirino Conti, one of his closest friends, the image of Filippo Penati who is a candidate for the presidency of the Province of Milan.
One might think of a haughty woman, the cliché of the career woman. Far from it. Barbara Vitti had as her very first characteristic a sincere, cordial smile. And a careful look, curious, but also disenchanted and complicit. In addition, an irresistible sympathy, with which he told a thousand tasty anecdotes, such as that of the lost dog (and never found again) in the maze of a Roman atelier and replaced, without the most royal mistress realizing it, with a perfectly identical one.
“Better a smart villain than a moron”
If she didn’t like someone, she didn’t lend herself to gossip: «C’est pas mon genre», and this meant that he would not add anything else on the subject: «I’ve never had any enemies – he proudly affirmed – except cretins: I can’t stand those. I prefer a smart villain to a cretin.”
With his inimitable “r” he uttered affectionate phrases, he made himself available without sparing himself. If a young reporter told her he couldn’t interview someone unreachable, she was already on the phone with the person in question: “Honey, how are you? I’m here with this journalist who seems very good to me. May I put you in touch?’
To contain all of Barbara Vitti’s intuitions, successes and collaborations, an entire publication would be needed (the writer loved her very much, which is of no help in the enterprise). She took care of it, at the end of her career, with a gesture of enormous generosity, donating his entire archive to the “Fashion Image Costume” interdepartmental center of the University of Milan: catalogues, samples, proofs, photos, sketches, albums, faxes, even return slips.
In 2011 that archive was studied and cataloged by Maria Canella and Elena Puccinelli who published the volume for Skira Profession Pr in which, for the first time, the birth of public relations in Milan is documented.
Three brothers in America
In recent years, he kept in touch with old and new friends through social media. Without ever separating from his beloved dog Rana, he allowed himself the usual holidays in Sestri Levante, he recounted with undiminished amazement the discovery that he had three brothers in Americafollowed her daughter Emma’s communications career and her grandchildren’s achievements as a proud mother and grandmother.
«Barbara isn’t here, she closed the house and left» sang Piero Ciampi. And she did just that: in 2015 he closed his beautiful house from which one had the impression of dominating Milan to move to Acireale with his familybut his delicate health deteriorates, culminating in a heart attack.
She had lived the equivalent of four lives, and this had deluded those who loved her, those who had admired her, those who had learned from her, that they could still face as many, claiming that she was eternal. Just like the myth of Italian fashion, which in some way was also one of her creations and owes her a lot in terms of communication.
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