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BRACCIANO, Italy (Reuters Life!) - A 15th century lakeside castle comes alive in a swirl of brightly colored taffeta and pleats in a new exhibit showcasing Italian designer Roberto Capucci's "fashion sculpture" gowns.
Capucci, who dressed the likes of Marilyn Monroe and Jacqueline Kennedy, shot to fame during Rome's golden post-war era of haute couture with his innovative box line gowns and dresses featuring extravagant curls and pleats.
The exhibit at the Odescalchi castle -- where Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes tied the knot in 2006 -- features 66 such lavish creations, all worn by bald mannequins placed among medieval armor and trunks in various rooms.
"I design what I feel inside me, my ideas just come from within," the 78-year old Capucci told Reuters at the exhibit's inauguration on Thursday, where fashionistas sipped Prosecco and dined on fried zucchini out of small tin buckets.
The Roman couturier withdrew from the hectic fashion world of runway shows and seasonal collections years ago but continues to design and sell outfits from his atelier.
Never one to bother with designing daily wear, Capucci once remarked: "Frankly, I have never let myself be influenced by the idea of 'but when will I wear this, where will I go?'"
The exhibit attests to that spirit with gowns boasting improbably huge waves and cascades of pleated fabric belong to another era, like one high-necked burgundy number with large ruffles swirling up the floor.
In the castle's hall of arms, seven wedding gowns with large embroidered trains take center-stage, including a candy-floss pink caped dress and a bright red pleated number.
Other highlights include strapless gold and silver gowns with giant butterfly bows and multi-colored taffeta gowns with waves of fabric cascading from the shoulders or hips.
"People keep asking me who wears these outfits -- well, obviously my clients do, because they're buying them," retorted Capucci when asked where one was expected to wear such gowns.
A long-sleeved velvet gown worn by Italian Senator Rita Levi Montalcini when she won the Nobel prize for medicine in 1986 and a series of theater costume sketches that offer a glimpse into Capucci's artistic genius round out the collection.
"Visiting the show will be like reliving an era of balls and courts," said Maria Pace Odescalchi, a loyal Capucci client who hails from one of Italy's most ancient noble families and owns the castle featuring the exhibit.
Editing by Paul Casciato