“FASHION HAS ALLOWED ME to explore the intimate secrets, needs and desires of the wearer, but also a person’s follies, fads and nervous disorders,” Milanese polymath Cinzia Ruggeri said in 2013, six years before her death at the age of seventy-seven years old. “I loved this aspect of fashion because the whole point of my work was not to create in a continuous and bulimic way, but to approach and explore these questions. . . through behavioral clothing. A seductive phrase, “behavioural clothing”; in Italian, behavioral abiti. At Ruggeri, behavioral clothing is emotional, interactive, carefree, serious, funny, joyful, surprising, and above all something to inhabit deeply, intensely.
A white chiffon dress fitted with LED lights that can be turned on and off – for a “shy wearer or a wearer who had some sort of speech impediment to express something and even open up”. Textiles covered with liquid crystals that change color depending on the body temperature of the person wearing them. A white shirt with a collar that unfolds into a tablecloth with utensils. A dress made of salami string to wrap the body like a sausage. A shirt with a tiny dog on a chain by which he can slip from his kennel in appliqué to a nearby embroidered bush. A blue dress and a jacket matching the fabric that ripples like the sea, to wear with a glove with octopus tentacles on one hand. A pair of green leather waders shaped like Italy (get it?), with matching Sicily and Sardinia pouches. A season of clothes with beads and dog treats deliberately hidden in their folds. A round red leather purse with a glove attached to the outside so it can be used in the art of self-defense: Guanto-borsa schiaffo (Slap-Glove Bag), 1983. A black leather handbag in the shape of the beloved Scottish terrier by the designer, Scherzi, whose name means “jokes” or “pranks”. Behavioral clothing knows that it has an impact not only on the wearer but on the world around it, because fashion is not limited to function: it is relational, social, communicative. Behavioral clothing is invested in imagination and innovation because, as Ruggeri said, “we are only allowed to live in the future.”
While her work has spanned decades and disciplines (she had her first art exhibition in 1960 in Milan and her last, an installation of multimedia works, in 2019), Ruggeri is best known for her collections of couture and of ready-to-wear from the 1970s and 80s. After studying fine arts at the Accademia delle Arti Applicate in Milan, she apprenticed at Carven in Paris before returning to work for her father’s company , which produced women’s suits and coats. Like other forms of Italian design, late 1960s fashion was undergoing a profound practical and ideological evolution. New textiles were available, as was high-quality manufacturing on a larger scale. The role of the “stylist” appears as a means of navigating between small boutiques and fashion companies and the latest methods of mass production. At the same time, fashion rubbed shoulders with other creative disciplines as part of an avant-garde that wished to destabilize post-war modernist ideals of “good design”. Rather than plain, simple and effective, Italian “radical design”, according to the coinage of Germano Celant in 1972, was colorful, pompous, irregular, heterogeneous and unpredictable. These works were often critically aimed at domestic spaces and the built urban environment in particular: take, for example, Mario Bellini’s modular sofa, which rejected the home as a fixed social environment, or his “Kar-a-sutra” of 1972, a family a car transformed into an orgy-mobile filled with plush pillows for amorous antics; interiors that displayed ideas of excess and bad taste, like the playful and garish furniture of the Memphis group; or the speculative and futuristic cities of the architectural firm Superstudio, which, existing only in collage or prototype form, never need to be built, the idea being as vital as the material reality.
Behavioral clothing is emotional, interactive, carefree, serious, funny, joyful, surprising, and above all something to inhabit deeply, intensely.
In 1982, when Ruggeri launched her second, eponymous line (she introduced her first, Bloom, with a focus on blouses in 1977), she was also styling covers for the influential Milanese magazine. Domus. Collaborating with collectives like Studio Alchimia on sets and Occhiomagico on photography, Ruggeri shaped wild tableaus that brought together radical design across disciplines, embracing movement’s belief in the total aesthetic environment: each component as vital as the next, all surfaces conveying meaning and interacting with playful complexity. The March 1982 issue – accompanied by an editorial article titled “In Praise of Fabrics” – shows a vortex of purple, mint green and salmon pink, from which emerge three colorful floor lamps and a model in a Ruggeri creation called Statue of Liberty. dress: a short, pink square number with shiny cones of fabric that expand in puffy volumes, thanks to small fans placed inside the garment. May 1982 shows a model reclining on a row of contemporary red lounge chairs in Milan’s futuristic all-glass and steel World Trade Center, with Luigi Colani’s 1977 Megalodon plane taking off in the distance. The model’s dark pantsuit, by Ruggeri, features LED lights along the outer seams of the pants and jacket, as if they were airstrips, and is elaborately titled “Evolution of the Tiered Figure to encourage excursions through winter geometries with light signals for the UFC (Unidentified Flying Clothes).
Domus took fashion seriously, arguing for its importance alongside art, architecture and design and its ability not just to comment or testify but to produce social and cultural change. In 1985, issue no. 660 was accompanied by a Home mode supplement entitled “Art as fashion”. The French art critic Pierre Restany makes an eloquent assertion: “Today, art and fashion appear as existential languages par excellence, whose immediate objectives are to feed the ego and energize consumer behavior. . Fashion, like art, produces complicated images that speak to what it means to exist in the present. We can do, we can even be, an image that reads and interacts like a system of signs, always open to interpretation but never reducible to the surface. “Dressing is the first thing we do in the morning: sloppy, refined, ‘normal'”, wrote Ruggeri in 1983. “Whether we like it or not, clothing is the (always intentional) spectacle of themselves.
Radical Italian designers were image-savvy, often producing and disseminating their ideas via photography and photomontage in the dynamic sphere of magazine publishing. In the October 1985 issue of art forum, Ingrid Sischy presented a project with Ruggeri, describing the artist’s material “polygamy,” his “witty vibe,” and “tinkering ideas” that merge idiosyncratic images, textures, shapes, and associations. Photographs of Ruggeri’s clothing, accessories and objects are pasted on a pale marble background with accents of neon – pink, yellow, orange, green. The famous Ruggeri Tribute to Lévi-Strauss1983–84 (now in the permanent collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London), a fir green double silk dress with a tiered form along one side of the collar and skirt, floats near an evening glove green, chimes hanging from fingertips, and a pair of designer shoes Scale Scarpe (Stairs Shoes), 1984, in powder pink. The second page of the plate juxtaposes the Ziggurat Dress, 1984-85, another tiered form, this time in mesh and wire, which clings to the model’s legs like an architecture independent of the body, with a ziggurat-shaped chalice bearing a crystal pendant meant to clink against the stem with each sip is taken. The layout is a lively, irregular take on what Sischy described as Ruggeri. staircase wit— “the witty retort imagined after the end of the conversation and that we are in the process of descending.
“Cinzia Said. . . ‘, a retrospective traveling this month from the Museo d’Arte Contemporanea Roma to London’s Goldsmiths Center for Contemporary Art, integrates Ruggeri’s extensive fashion archive with his later object-based works, which are equally witty and unusual: a mirror from which the hands reach to embrace the viewer; an anthropomorphic black velvet lounge chair that lies flat on the floor like a cartoon shadow, its arms raised above its head to form a puppet dove; bulbs encased in beads and dangling jewelry. One can establish a historical link between Ruggeri and surrealists like Eileen Agar, Meret Oppenheim and Elsa Schiaparelli, but one can also turn to contemporaries and successors like Jean Paul Gaultier, Rei Kawakubo, Alexander McQueen, Issey Miyake, Yohji Yamamoto and many others. recently, Jonathan Anderson for Loewe and Demna for Balenciaga to see the impact of his reflection on sculpture, performance, technology and clothing in space and movement. For Ruggeri, as for these designers, the way we dress is part of how we live in the world. It speaks powerfully of all that the body, including the mind, can do.
Emily LaBarge is a writer living in London.