Throughout my 15 years as fashion curator at the V&A, I’ve met a number of collectors-a dedicated and passionate group, often deeply knowledgeable about their subject and determined to buy the best. While I was in the process of curating the V&A exhibition, The Glamour of Italian Fashion 1946-2014 (5 April-23 July, 2014), I was serendipitously introduced to the Italian collector Signora Cecilia Matteucci Lavarini.
Matteucci Lavarini’s grandfather was the founder of the Fratelli Lavarini stores in Pistoia. Her husband was a collector of books and stamps. Together, they collected 20th century and contemporary art. She now also collects books about fashion designers and museum fashion collection around the world. Matteucci Lavarini’s impetus to start collecting fashion came from a habit of ‘putting aside’ things from her own wardrobe. At the end of the 1980s she began attending auctions and bought garments that that would be museum-worthy. Her collection now numbers around 3,000 dresses and accessories, including Asian costumes alongside Western high fashion. The latter consists mostly French haute couture which she has studied and researched, a process which she says helped her to recognise quality and high fashion. Matteucci Lavarini has donated over 300 pieces to Galleria del Costume of Palazzo Pitti in Florence. Like some collectors, she occasionally wears designs for which she has particular affinity.
Matteucci Lavarini has a particular affinity for the colour gold (she has a number of dresses in this colour), for the designs of Gianni Versace (she has many of his metallic mesh dresses) and every year she buys a key Prada look from each collection. She loves hats and has donated many to the Galleria del Costume in Florence. In addition to agreeing to lend the V&A a beautiful evening coat designed by Biki and worn by Maria Callas, Matteucci Lavarini generously lent the Museum a stylish red Valentino couture coat with fur trim. Both designs filled important gaps in the exhibition’s object list and because they are well preserved, made from beautiful, vibrantly coloured textiles and have stylish silhouettes, these garments both look beautiful on display.