Exhibit of dreamy dresses about to pack up

The Philadelphia Museum of Art is about to close its popular exhibit of dresses by Italian fashion designer Roberto Capucci.

The sculptural gowns resembling plants and architecture have attracted more than 75,000 visitors since the show opened in March. During this, the closing week, the maestro of fashion himself came to town.

Capucci first made waves in the mid-century Italian fashion world with boxy lines and dramatic shapes. For the past two decades, his dresses have moved into the art world where they are regarded as soft sculptures of pleated silk, swooping crepe, and shimmering colors.

Many of his designs are not meant to be worn.

“With today’s world, which is difficult, I create dresses that are abstracted from reality,” said Capucci through an interpreter. “Like being in the world of a dream, like being detached from reality.”

He opened his first boutique in 1950 in Rome where his designs became instant hits, but he never learned to cut cloth or sew. He only sketched.

On Thursday, one of Capucci’s original models, Barbara Manning, came down from New York with her daughter to see the work of her old boss. In 1957, the young Englishwoman was hired to model dresses for prospective clients. She says it lasted six months.

“After a while, I ate too much pasta,” laughed Manning. “The lady who did all the dresses, who really did all the work–he did the drawings and she did the cutting and putting together–she would come in to try the new dresses on you and say, ‘Signorina Barbara, si ingrassa molto,’ meaning, ‘you’re getting fat.'”

Manning recalled the job of house model also including sweeping the floor and making small repairs to the dresses. When she was reunited with Capucci after 54 years at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the fashion designer gasped and pointed out that they now both have gray hair.

The show of 80 dresses, called “Roberto Capucci: Art into Fashion” will close Sunday.

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