Roberto Capucci: Theatrical Androgyny
Snakes are coiled around athletic bodies. Birds fly, pecking and clawing, setting their vivid plumes against bare human skin. A sculpted butterfly-bow covers the genitals while hands with long, sharp nails lie across the thighs.
The drawings of Roberto Capucci, the legendary Italian couturier, are a sensational surprise from the quiet designer, now age 87, who first took his architectural outfits from Rome to Florence and in the 1960s had a Paris atelier near Coco Chanel.
Since the new millennium, he has concentrated on compelling male drawings focused on ballet. They form an exhibition, “Dionysian Capucci: Theatre Designs”, at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence (until 14th February).
St Valentine’s Day seems an appropriate ending for a show that is all about love and desire. The images appear to move along the walls, legs stretching and leaping, while peacocks prance on each shoulder.
Compared to the spare, architectural tailoring worn in the past by glamorous clients including Marilyn Monroe and Maria Callas, these are fantasies soaring into flight. The colours alone are painterly mixes of plum with orange, shocking pink and yellow, green, purple, blue, orange and red. That conjunction of shades is within a single outfit – if that is the word to describe fabric coiled in exotic swathes around hips and thighs.
“It started as pure imagination,” says Capucci, who dressed for the occasion in lilac. “After nearly 70 years without a break and dedicated to everything female, I thought it was time to think about something for men – not aimed at any particular type, young or professional, rather, a male vision of imagination,” Capucci says. “That is something I never did for women. This collection of designs is a series of images of madness.”
Speaking about “uninhibited and mysterious nature”, Capucci explains that he did not really focus on Dionysius and his metamorphoses, but that his drawings are more of a development of what he has created since his childhood.
This mythology with a poetic license is admired by Eike D. Schmidt, the current Director of the Uffizi Galleries. He compares Capucci’s work to “the flexible stances, richness of colour and decorative motifs” of Leon Bakst’s designs for the Ballets Russes. Schmidt singles out Capucci for the sculptural drawing that often omits the feet, so that the figures seem to be soaring in the air.
“The focal points of each character are mainly heads and hips, where the colour is concentrated, from where puffballs and windmills, feathers and ribbons, helmets and armour grow,” Schmidt says. “Creativity combines with: Capucci is Dionysian, but with strict discipline.”
It certainly must have been with a clear vision and intense concentration that the couturier worked, entirely on his own, to produce these rooms of visionary figures, some even appearing as slides in a dream-like floor projection, accompanied by Stravinsky’s music.
Capucci says that he had one previous attempt at men’s clothing in the 1960s, when he returned to Rome from Paris, but he found that his abstract designs were less comprehensible to men than to women.
The current exploration of men’s ballet costumes is a new adventure, with a similar geometrical design to what he has used previously, but with a more lyrical and dramatic purpose.
“When I draw, I think of the future,” Capucci says. “There are transgressive costumes, with geometric exactness. And when I think of fashion, I think of art without adjectives.”