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A history of the Made in Italy culture

A book that discusses how the image of national industrial knowledge took shape

Good corporate culture also produces beauty. This can express itself in many ways, each making its mark not only on production but also related areas. This is also the sense of what is called Made in Italy (always stated in English) which has been the subject of so many writings and ideas, and which obviously plays a vital economic role, beyond any cultural meaning. However, Made in Italy was inspired primarily by a distinct production culture. It is important to understand the history of this culture in order to keep sight of its possible evolution.

This is precisely what Carlo Marco Belfanti (Full Professor of History of Economics at the University of Brescia) has done with ‘Storia culturale del Made in Italy’ (‘The Cultural History of Made in Italy‘ . Indeed, the book is a true history of the links between Italian culture and Italian production, but it also tells the story of the interlinkings that over centuries gave life to what is now called Made in Italy, which was born in the fashion industry, but not solely.

But why write a cultural history? Belfanti himself answers that question at the start of his book, explaining: ‘It is a cultural history because the forging of the image of Made in Italy deserves as much attention as that dedicated to production dynamics. It represents the way that Italy’s cultural capital, both material and intangible, found a form of valorisation, and perhaps this is the true element of continuity.’

The book thus opens with the Renaissance, before passing on to the Italian peninsula’s period of economic decline and discovery of its resilience. It then moves on to the 19th century when historians shaped a certain idea of the Renaissance which spread, especially in America, feeding a strong drive to collect Italian objects and works of art. The book then goes on to discuss the situation after the Second World War in depth, with the birth of the Italian fashion industry.

Although Belfanti’s arguments and narrative are mainly grounded in fashion as the paradigm of Made in Italy,, the elements of his discussion can to a certain extent be transferred to other national production sectors. What emerges overall is the sense of a production culture described and traced through a range of narratives which, in turn, reflect the high points of Italian manufacturing and industrial knowledge. Despite a writing style that is not always simple and sections that are perhaps overly complex, Belfanti’s latest book is a must read to understand fully and deeply the true nature of Made in Italy, in our days as well.

Storia culturale del Made in Italy (The Cultural History of Made in Italy)

Carlo Marco Belfanti

Il Mulino, 2019