Roberto Cavalli obituary


As Italian vogue went international within the later twentieth century, it diverged into two colleges: the sensuous, gentle in silhouette and contact, and the boldly sexual, flamboyant to the attention. The primary, and lasting, head of the attractive college was Roberto Cavalli, who has died aged 83.

The fabric bases for each colleges have been the nation’s specialist textiles and leather-based companies: for Cavalli, they delivered figured and lamé leathers, clothes printed after stitching in order that no seams interrupted a design, and lots of materials together with his emphatic prints. These featured animal-skin motifs, Renaissance and Baroque brocades, or, natural-world particulars derived from his digital pictures.

His aesthetic was hectic, blingy, and offered throughout lessons and cultures: these from palazzos may don it paradoxically, whereas these for whom it was streetwear appreciated Cavalli’s celebration of blatant heterosexuality.

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Victoria Beckham sporting Roberto Cavalli in 2005. {Photograph}: Toni Anne Barson Archive/WireImage

From the late Nineteen Nineties, he expanded worldwide by garments, footwear and equipment for girls, males and kids to homewares, fragrance, a bank card, and cafes – in his native Florence, he purchased the unique Caffè Giacosa and Cavalli’ed it.

He sailed the Mediterranean in his purple yacht, and was mobbed in his Manhattan retailer, however his emotional core locale remained Florence. His mom, Marcella, was the daughter of a painter, Giuseppe Rossi; his father, Giorgio Cavalli, a mining engineer, was shot in 1944 with 91 different civilians by German troopers in reprisal for a partisan assault.

Postwar, Marcella scrambled by as a coal seller, then as a dressmaker who handpainted her creations. The boy’s childhood was laborious – he stuttered – however after a lot pleading, he studied at Florence’s Istituto d’Arte (1957-60), though by no means sat his closing examination.

As a substitute, he earned cash. His mom’s painted attire impressed him to widen the thought to a mechanical course of. He travelled to review Como’s many high-end textile companies, and started to print ready-to-wear sweaters for Mariuccia Mandelli of Krizia, who shared his fancy for simulated wild-beast pelts, after which for Hermès. Quickly he had a studio, workers, a longed-for Ferrari and sufficient cash to impress the banker father of Silvanella Giannoni; Cavalli claimed it was to win her hand he had achieved a lot this younger. They married in 1964, and had two youngsters, Tommaso and Cristina, earlier than divorcing in 1974.

Cavalli’s breakthrough to his personal clientele got here in 1969, when he gatecrashed a celebration for the shoe designer Mario Valentino, and talked about to him that he may print on leather-based. He couldn’t, however the subsequent day labored out a method utilizing supple glove child, and returned with samples. Cavalli confirmed his new wares, sewn into clothes, on the Paris Salon du Prêt-à-Porter in 1970. Folks gawped, however didn’t purchase.

What did promote was his subsequent inspiration. At the moment, solely brutal put on and laundering pale, abraded and distressed denim – the large business that will turn out to be stone- and sand-washing, bleaching and shredding denim had not been invented – and any elaborations have been crude. Cavalli ordered a container of soiled worn-out denims from a US jail, and washed, lower and patchworked the items with leather-based and printed textiles for a group proven within the Pitti Palace in 1972. The arte povera supplies had been collaged with Italian craft ability and an artist’s eye, and appealed to the well-heeled within the final section of Boho-hippy-rock-chick stylish.

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A mannequin on the runway in the course of the Roberto Cavalli spring 2000 ready-to-wear assortment in Milan. {Photograph}: Penske Media/Getty Photographs

Cavalli went retail together with his designs by boutiques, opening the primary, Limbo, in St Tropez, and constructed up a world following. As a high-living movie star, and a divorcee with loud enthusiasm for stunning ladies, he was a decide on the 1977 Miss Universe pageant, the place he didn’t vote for Miss Austria, Eva Düringer, 18, to win, as he wished her for himself. After ending her training, she adopted him to Florence, the place they married in 1980; she turned his mannequin, enterprise supervisor, and mom of Robert, Rachele and Daniele. They divorced in 2010.

Cavalli retained shut management of the manufacture of his garments, pleased with the abilities used, and disapproved of licensing offers and manufacturing off-shoring in Italian vogue because it internationalised on the finish of the 70s. He resented the 80s vogue choice for what he known as “minimalism”, however was extra precisely a short lived supremacy for the sensuous college, exemplified by Giorgio Armani’s unstructured tailoring for girls, plus a want to reasonable overt sexiness.

The Cavalli label retained shoppers – rock doesn’t surrender by itself – but he stopped displaying his assortment, and in 1993 supposed to shut the manufacturing unit and beg union assist to re-employ its staff.

He was persuaded to a comeback present at Milan Style Week, and attributed his triumphant second profession afterwards to his inspiration so as to add Lycra to denim to create stretch denims. (Not a brand new concept – Irene Sharaff had denim experimentally woven with Lycra for the dancers’ denims in West Aspect Story, 1961.) Cavalli personally distressed a pair, printed a snake entwining a leg, and displayed them on the right rear of his favorite mannequin, Naomi Campbell.

Throughout Cavalli’s years of retreat, Gianni Versace had taken over a lot of the remaining customized for Italian-originated sexiness, however Versace designs, particularly his prints, had a mad Roman emperor stridency by no means seen within the work of Cavalli, whose leopards and tigers have been for cuddling and stroking, not gladiatorial fight.

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Roberto Cavalli in 2015. {Photograph}: Suki Dhanda/The Observer

Even earlier than Versace’s dying in 1997, Cavalli was within the ascendant once more, in demand on purple carpets, on stage on Jennifer Lopez, Beyoncé, Christina Aguilera, and on display – a giraffe-skin print – on Carrie Bradshaw in Intercourse and the Metropolis: he opened boutiques and cafes world wide for his sex-is-fun, Latin-culture-orientated, garments that suited the temper of extra is success. He was the primary Italian designer to create a group for H&M, a sell-out in 2007. His firm closed in 2014, however was relaunched a yr later, with little enter from Cavalli himself.

In 2002, tax police inspected Cavalli’s extravagant home and property outdoors Florence, together with the purple helicopter he piloted, and charged him with evasion for claiming bills for the property as work premises fairly than a personal residence. Cavalli was discovered responsible and sentenced to 14 months jail, however a superior courtroom annulled the decision.

A son, known as Giorgio after his father, was born to his companion, Sandra Nilsson, a mannequin, in 2023. She and his six youngsters survive him.


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