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Fort Lauderdale gets an Italian fashion makeover

Take your mind back to October 2009 for the “Mad Men” episode titled “When in Rome.” Just typing the sentence makes me so utterly sad that “Mad Men” is no longer with us. In it, Don and Betty (still married) jet off to Rome for the weekend. What I remember most is the magical scene featuring Don and Betty at an al fresco cafe pretending they’re sexy strangers. I suppose that’s one way to sprinkle a little paprika on a cold tuna casserole of a marriage. Betty is a vision straight out of Federico Fellini’s “8½” in a voluminous bouffant, bubble earrings, and a black dress. A perfect black dress.

This is the kind of “La Dolce Vita” chic that goes on display Sunday in “Bellissima: Italy and High Fashion 1945-1968” at the NSU Art Museum Fort Lauderdale. You won’t see Betty’s exact Rome dress, but you will see amazing midcentury fashion from designers such as Sorelle Fontana, Germana Marucelli, Mila Schön, Valentino, Roberto Capucci, Fernanda Gattinoni, Fendi, and, the master of the prints, Emilio Pucci.

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The exhibition features 90 designer garments that range from formal gowns to swinging 1960s cocktail frocks. Wherever there are fashion designers, celebrities are sure to follow, and “Bellissima” includes outfits that were designed specifically for Ava Gardner, Anita Ekberg, Ingrid Bergman, Lana Turner, Kim Novak, and Anna Magnani.

Currated by Maria Luisa Frisa, fashion curator and professor at IUAV University of Venice, Anna Mattirolo, director of MAXXI (museum of contemporary art and architecture), and Stefano Tonchi, editor-in-chief of W magazine, the exhibition goes beyond fashion to show how the couture of the era tied into the culture of the country.

A dress by Sorelle Botti.
A dress by Sorelle Botti.

“They were luxury creations, but nonetheless practical,” said Tonchi in a statement describing the show. “Precious, embroidered textiles that had a certain simplicity; short cocktail dresses that allowed for movement; and warm, roomy coats accompanied by oversized handbags.”

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Prepare yourself for the show by filling your laptop with the films of Luchino Visconti, Vittorio De Sica, and Fellini for the flight south (please put “Boccaccio 70” at the top of your list), and then see the beauty of those garments up close and personal.

NSU ART MUSEUM FORT LAUDERDALE One East Las Olas Boulevard, Ft. Lauderdale, nsuartmuseum.org, 954-525-5500. Admission: $12 adults, $8 seniors, and $5 students.