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Three sisters with the passion for fashion

Updated: Feb 27, 2023

The successful story behind "Sorelle Fontana Atelier": from Rome to Hollywood and the beginning of the "Made in Italy" concept.

Today, I want to write about the Sorelle Fontana Atelier. A successful story of three Italian sisters who turned their great passion for fashion into a profitable business during the 1940s. The story of the Fontana sisters is first of all a story of strong women, of entrepreneurship and sartorial mastery. The main characters of this real-life fairy tale are Zoe, Micol and Giovanna, three women coming from a small town who have been able to create an empire from the ground up in the field of fashion in a world and time that have opposed their professional evolution, trying to limit their role and contribution to the society to that of mother or wife. Three names forever imprinted in the Italian fashion history, they were the first to give a real boost to Italian fashion, making "Made in Italy" famous all over the world.

Three beautiful sisters, lucky enough to have a stable and close family behind them. And everything started from there, the center of their lives, their strength.

Zoe, Micol and Giovanna were born between 1911 and 1915 in Traversetolo, a small town in the outskirts of Parma, in northern Italy. When they were little girls they used to help their seamstress mother in her small atelier of repairs and bespoke creations, and after finishing their studies they decided to follow their mother's footsteps and started working in the atelier.

Although they loved their family, their dreams were obviously too big for their small hometown. In 1937 with their family’s support, they decided to try their luck in a city with definitely more opportunities for them. So they went to the train station and took the first train to Rome. They had no difficulty in finding a job in a fashion house in such a big city: Zoe began working in the Zecca boutique, one of the most famous at the time, Micol began an apprenticeship at Battilocchi tailoring whereas Giovanna sewed clothes at home.

The three Fontana sisters worked tirelessly for several years. In 1939 they started their own business and created a first house-atelier in via Emilia called «Fontana», in which there was a concierge who indicated to the various customers the presence in the building of 5 seamstresses dedicated to repairs.

The activity was carried on even during WW2: in 1943 they decided to move to Via Liguria, inside Palazzo Orsini, renting 3 communicating apartments (laboratory on the second floor, dressing rooms and living room on the first floor). They changed their name from Fontana to Sorelle Fontana hiring about 20 workers in 1946. By this time, they made a name for themselves making clothes for the rich Roman bourgeoisie, asserting themselves through talent and creativity and thus expanding their list of elite clients. Marquis, countesses, princesses become the ambassadors of their style.

The Fontana sister: Zoe, Giovanna and Micol

In 1949 they took part in the fashion show organised by the Ente Italiano Moda in Venice during the Film Festival.

Actress Loretta Young striking a pose at Venice Film Festival wearing a Sorelle Fontana dress, 1949

They created the dress for actress Linda Christian' wedding with Tyrone Power. This was the most famous celebrity couple at the time and their wedding in Rome was exclusively documented on "Life" magazine. Needless to say, the Sorelle Fontana thus become famous among celebrities and their atelier was flooded with American actresses and the international jet set.

Micol and Giovanna Fontana working on Linda Christian wedding dress in their atelier

Actress Linda Christian trying on her wedding dress at Sorelle Fontana Atelier in Rome

Actress Linda Christian and Tyrone Power on their wedding day. Rome, 1949

Linda Christian and Tyrone Power, Rome, 1949

However, the turning point for them came on the occasion of an important défilé in Florence on February 12, 1951 at Villa Torrigiani. It was the first fashion show in the history of fashion as we know it today and it was organised by the entrepreneur Giovanni Battista Giorgini with the purpose of gathering the 10 most important Italian fashion houses in a single event, Sorelle Fontana included, of course. The press, buyers and industry experts attended the show too.

It was the beginning of the made in Italy and the following year they would be regular guests in such important event organised by the Marquis Giorgini at Palazzo Pitti.

They were acclaimed. Their creations were worn by actresses like Anita Ekberg in the legendary movie La Dolce Vita or Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday. Rita Hayworth, Mirna Loy, Anita Ekberg, Sophia Loren, Elizabeth Taylor, Grace Kelly, Barbara Stanwyck, or Vivian Leigh are just a few of the notorious stars that chose Fontana for their movies, or events where they needed to shine.

Evening dress for actress Linda Christian, Sorelle Fontana, 1948

Anita Ekberg on the set of the movie "La Dolce Vita"

Audrey Hepburn trying on her Sorelle Fontana wedding dress

Ava Gardner shooting wearing a Sorelle Fontana dress

Micol Fontana and Ava Gardner. The actress was a loyal customer of the fashion house.

Ava Gardner wearing the "Pretino" dress by Sorelle Fontana

Grace Kelly in a Sorelle Fontana dress

A very elegant Myrna Loy, on the set of movie "Sunset of love" directed by Gregory Ratoff. She demanded her stage costumes be made by the Fontana sisters, 1949

Rita Hayworth during her stay in Rome in 1950 personally chose two evening dresses at the Sorelle Fontana atelier

Actress Barbara Stanwyck wearing a Sorelle Fontana dress at the maison in Rome, 1950

Zoe Fontana with actress Lucia Bosé in the fitting room of the atelier trying on the dress for the movie "Le Ragazze di Piazza di Spagna" (Three Girls from Rome), 1951

Liz Taylor visiting the atelier, 1954

They also became official stylists for the Italian airline Alitalia, producing suits and outfits for the crew.

The most elegant flight attendants of the time. Alitalia's crew uniforms were especially created by Sorelle Fontana in the 1950s. So chic!

In 1953 they founded, together with other leading personalities of the industry, the Italian High Fashion Syndicate which over the years has turned into the current National Chamber of Italian Fashion.

From a small atelier to the big market. In 1960 the Fontana sisters built the first “high ready to wear” factory and opened about 100 stores in America and 120 in Italy.

Sorelle Fontana factory building, 1965

Their dresses featuring a simple yet elegant line, the search for fabrics, tight bustiers and never-above-the-knee wide skirts are still today the hallmark of one of the maison that has made the history of Italian fashion.



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