That tradition lives on as Rome carves out its latest chapter, bringing together two of the city's great loves: fashion and opera.
Valentino Garavani, often referred to as "couture's last emperor," refuses to enjoy the quiet life, coming out of retirement to create dresses for a new edition of Verdi's "La Traviata".
Staged at the Teatro Dell'Opera
, the Italian master set the opera's star, Violetta, in his sights, designing four dresses for soprano Francesca Dotto.
"I start with my sketches and in maybe two hours I did everything," he told CNN Style TV presenter Derek Blasberg
in an interview for this month's episode
. "I always draw because I love to see [a] silhouette in front of me -- new ideas, new dresses.
"You know chance has helped me a lot. I had this big chance to dress the most important women in the world... Jackie [Kennedy], movie stars, royal people, and now sopranos."
A triumphant return
retired from his eponymous label in 2008, leaving his line to designers Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pier Paolo Piccoli. The pair worked on the costumes for all the other characters -- some 200 outfits -- bringing the three designers together for the first time in nearly 10 years.
"We really believed fashion could help opera," said Chiuri. "Opera is something very important, but just a little dusty."
"Honestly my goal with this "Traviata" is to create curiosity in the young generation. I really love the idea that this collaboration with a fashion brand like Valentino could introduce this world [to] a new audience."
In terms of technicality, Chiuri says "it was a great opportunity for us to test ourselves and our style on real people," referring to performers who required much more dynamism from their outfits than the typical runway model.
Valentino and longstanding business partner Giancarlo Giammeti strove for perfection, enlisting the talents of Oscar-nominated director Sofia Coppola.
"She confessed she [didn't] know much about opera, so she approached it in a very simple, shy way in the beginning," said Giammeti, "then she took over and became herself."
"I have to say two days ago it felt like a mess," Coppola confessed on the eve of the first preview. "They said 'Don't worry, don't worry' and at the last minute it all comes together... It happens very last minute in theater, which is very different to film."
Their take on Verdi's 19th-century opera has proved popular, selling out before the opening night, taking $1.3 million in advance ticket sales against a total production cost of $2 million.
Valentino himself describes the business side of things as a "big, big, big success." One suspects he's just as happy to be designing again.
"I was proud to show, not just the four [outfits] I made, but to show to my friends, the beauty of the stage, the beauty of a new 'Traviata.'"
To find out more, tune in to this month's episode of CNN Style launching on June 4 at 1330 BST / 1430 CET on CNN International.