Anecdotal comments about the effects of pasta on the Italian's matron's figure are legend, and based on fact. It is true, and one may observe in several Italian actresses in their 40's, that a very delicate age is entered where the body may either grow old, thin and haggard, or balloon into the Italian 'mama'. I hasten to add  that Miss Loren, who graces this page, has avoided these pitfalls and is an example to us all.


My husband recalls the film “the Millionairess” (1960) that starred Peter Sellers and Sophia Loren. Miss Loren famously disrobes in front of Peter Sellers (playing the part of an Indian doctor) to reveal her black corset. Critics of the film suggested that the corset she wore was a piece of frivolous lingerie designed to titillate, and that no women in 1960 would wear such a garment. But in Italy, fashionable women did wear such corsets, they were Victorian in style, and they were black. (There are any number of photos of the stunning Miss Loren in her corset. Even today, this magnificent lady obviously has not succumbed to pasta inflation).  


Again, it is my husband who remembers quite clearly visiting the Italian resort of Via Reggio in 1965. In one back street shop was a corsetry display quite unlike any other he had ever seen. It was a collection of corsets, as close to Victorian in style as he had ever seen; however, these were not vintage garments, it was what the shop specialised in making, apparently for wealthy and fashionable clients. I suppose like the Norwegian corset described in the Scandinavian section, once you have invested money in a corset that is strong enough, your clothes will fit for ever more; pasta or no pasta!


However, these classic photographs are very revealing about Italian corsetry, and not just literally. The sultry pose of Miss Loren (left) is well-known to millions, however, the back view is less well regarded. If one does, it is apparent that the corset was never Miss Loren's own, her shoulders that aided her hour-glass figure are too broad for the corset as the diverging eyelets reveal. The corset is so small that even with the lacing fully extended across the top, Miss Loren's flesh is squeezed into two bulges that no corsetičre would ever condone. Presumably Miss Loren wished to breathe during the scene! Nevertheless, when this film was made, many Italian women wore corsets like this, and the diplomatic gatherings and social weddings were populated by typically immaculate Italian women, all beautifully attired and perhaps all breathing with just a little difficulty.


Elsewhere in Europe during the 1960's, as traditional foundations gave way to the panty-girdle (or no foundation at all), the Italian Mama could still be relied upon to wear a good girdle or corset. Even their teenage daughters were persuaded that long-line brassieres and girdles were mandatory wear for any girl seeking to retain her morality in a world hell-bent on decadence. Even today, there are more Italian websites dedicated to 'shapewear' than in most countries.



Another very famous, corset-wearing Italian actress is Gina Lollobrigida.


La Lollo on the left and another Italian actress on the right. The pose on the right is reminiscent of Victorian poses where women lay across couches since they could not sit up straight in their corsets.

I think this Italian miss has the same problem, but for the true Italiana, to suffer for the sake of beauty is simply what one does.



Italian Corsetry of the Past




The Berné range of corsets stands as a special example of Italian corsetry to the extent that books have been published regarding its history.


The brand Berné was formed in the 1930s to produce lingerie and corsetry. After the Second World War, the brand focused on the production of swimsuits in the highly-specialized, D+ segment of the market. It is still active today, but not making corsetry any more.



Whatever, the advertising, the old man with the beard features regularly. Did he start the company? Whatever, the spooky professor even appears inside your favourite girdle.




The ruched material seems to be a hallmark of Berné corsets and girdles.



The Italian imagination ran riot in these Berné corsets (below right). I suppose in a nation that is (a), very stylish, and (b), prone to, let us say, the excesses of pasta, substantial engineering is going to be required to render Mama's figure into a shape suitable for Rome's fashions. The lady on the left above demonstrates that you simply cannot have enough fan-lacers on your corset!


According to the advertising "

The model avoids pain and disturbance of the nervous system, it harmonizes with the living tissues; it follows the direction of the great oblique and transverse and muscles of the abdomen."



In 1936, Berné's catalogues show styles typical of that period with, once again, that touch of Italian flair.



However, in translating the text, some of that flair seems to have been lost:


"The Berné house achieves the ideal goals of the most dignified and elevated with rational and ferocious activity and does not hesitate to recommend the new lastex girdles even to large-bodied ladies. They exert an equal compression on all parts of the body and envelop the living body like a second skin. They confer harmony of beauty which are the signs of perfection and nobility of our race. Do you have a very pronounced stomach with pendulous breasts and want to shape your hips for your most beautiful clothes? Wear the 434 model or the 599 model which, thanks to the admirable combination of an original technical conception and an exemplary manufacturing method, gives the woman the sign of a flexible slenderness."




An amazing feature that I have never seen before is the corselette (above right) when you can zip out the bust section and replace it with another thus converting a conventional bra into a strapless bra.







These remarkable feats of engineering were undoubtedly successful and probably widely worn in the decades post-War. Very few ever make it to auction, partly because not all women pass on such garments, but also because these garments would have been worn to destruction.


On a less specialized front, Italians girls were not relieved of their girdles and long-line brassieres until well after their Anglo-Saxon sisters, and like the Germans, specialised firms still manufacture traditional models in quality materials.


Many of these garments are referred to 'orthopedica, paramedico' and the like, but this is simply a re-emergence of the term surgical corset. Women feel better if their need to wear substantial corsetry can somehow be related to a medical affliction rather than sheer weight!


A very rare surviving Berné corset is shown to the left. This was for no overweight Mama. The scant girdle can't even fit on a size 8 mannequin!



Below are some real examples of the lovely foundation garments from Berné:



This fabulous corset (above) shows the intricate fan-lacing, but wouldn't that lacing simply expand the elastic rear of the corset?















Sadly, no longer in production, Masserini sold really firm, traditional foundation garments with that touch of class, the choice of material.






Victoria Corsetteria" was founded by Peter Lanzani. Twenty-two years after his death, a staff member remembers Peter Lanzani, painter and sculptor of great talent from Seregno (near Milano). Peter Lanzani was an artist; he "photographed" the beauty of the landscape and Monza of the most famous seaside resorts of the French Riviera, Umbria and Puglia where are the obvious influences of the great Fauvist painting by Henri Matisse and Raoul Dufy. "Everything under the rule of a sun of the Mediterranean in August - with a joyful chromatic lying on the broad, thick brushstrokes with speed and safety, building an essential synthetic structure." Peter Lanzani was not only a painter. He wrote several works of theater in which showed considerable psychological research capabilities by analyzing the behaviors and actions of historical figures such as Stalin or contradictory tragic like Count Cagliostro. His talent allowed him to easily switch from tragedy to comedy in "Under the Lemon Verbena" has demonstrated qualities of refined humorist paraphrasing the evolutionary theory of Charles Darwin. Born in Seregno March 23, 1931, after studying at the Parini High School in Milan Pietro Lanzani in 1947 inherits the corsetry factory from his stepfather, Ovid Pizzo. In the move to Via Umberto, he hires new workers and founds the "Victoria" brand. In 1956 he married Lucia Biffi with whom he had four children. He promotes the Teatro San Rocco and Radio Seregno; is director of the Artistic Family Seregnese and, between 1972 and 1974, he published "A father named Joseph" (Laterza), "Under the lemon verbena", staged at the San Rocco and at the Teatro delle Erbe Milan and "Cagliostro".

He became one of the most important people of Milan. He died on 21st January 1987at just 56 years old, leaving his wife and four children.




Other Brands



"Original and Unique", really, doesn't it look awfully like a CAMP?



CAMP sold its products in Italy, however, noting the complexity of the Berné garments above, that does not surprise me. The garment in the middle is a Swiss made CAMP that was destined for, and sold in Italy. What might surprise readers is that is was for sale in the 1990's. Older ladies in Germany, Switzerland, Italy and even Holland swore by their CAMPs and provided a small market for these girdles well after the majority of their sisters had moved through the panty-girdle era into the 'let it all hang out era' that we deplore today. The corsets on the left are still marketed by Ortopedia Benedetti.




Even today, Italy, like many Latin countries, remains a bastion of traditional corsetry. Lacings are not so common any more outside the bespoke parlours, however, the products from Clara Intimo, for example, are extremely functional and well made, whilst retaining stylish and elegant touches. There are so many of these modern establishments that we have given them their own page.





From the 1964 catalogue.





Modern Italian Foundation Garments