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Piero Tosi: costume designer, icon-maker

Piero Tosi is one of the most celebrated Italian costume designer. With his creations not only he greatly contributed to the image of the Golden Age of Italian cinema, developing costumes for movies whose style is one of the main features of their enduring fame.

Costume designed by Piero Tosi and worn by Isabelle Huppert in La Signora delle Camelie, by Mauro Bolognini, 1981, Courtesy Galleria del Costume di Palazzo Pitti, All Rights Reserved

Piero Tosi, born in 1927 in Sesto Fiorentino, near Florence, studied with painter Ottone Rosai. It was legendary director Luchino Visconti who gave him his first job in 1951, when Tosi moved from Florence to Rome to pursue a career in the movie industry. The collaboration with Visconti was one of the most fruitful of his career; together, they made: Bellissima, Senso, The Leopard, The Stranger, Death in Venice, Ludwig and The Innocent. Tosi did not stop to cinema; he also worked for the opera and theatre. In participating to this rich season for the movie industry – the season, we could argue, where icons were made primarily by their look on the screen – Tosi dressed actors as Romi Schneider, Laura Antonelli, Silvana Mangano, Anna Magnani. He also dressed Maria Callas for her role of Medeain the eponymous movie shot by Pier Paolo Pasolini in 1969.

Costume designed by Piero Tosi and worn by Maria Callas in Medea, by Pier Paolo Pasolini, 1969, Courtesy Galleria del Costume di Palazzo Pitti, All Rights Reserved

His talent consisted in materially building the vision each director had of the personages and their character. These ‘constructions’, imagined by the designer, were made in collaboration with Sartoria Tirelli, one of the most famous tailor shop in Rome, where most of the costumes for Cinecittà were produced.
Tosi has been nominated for the Academy Award for Costume Design five times: The Leopard, Death in Venice, Ludwig, La Cage aux Folles, La Traviata. He won both the David di Donatello for Best Costumes (La storia vera della signora delle Camelie and Storia di una capinera) and the BAFTA Award for Best Costume Design twice, as well as the 50th Anniversary David in 2006. In 2013 he was awarded an Academy Honorary Award For his personal achievements in costume design over 75 years of activity.

Costume designed by Piero Tosi and worn by Laura Antonelli in Il malato immaginario, by Tonino Cervi, 1979, Courtesy Galleria del Costume di Palazzo Pitti, All Rights Reserved

Today his designs are preserved in archives as material traces of a not so distant past we can hardly picture. His practice is historically located in a period in which the practice of costume design was harder, given the different access to information, both visual and conceptual, from the one we imagine today. His costumes bear the effort of representing a place, an era or a feeling and propose it to a public not only to make them dream, but also to tell them something relevant about the story and its context.

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