On the death of Roberto Cavalli: When the word “sexy” didn’t sound outdated yet

WITHScenes like this didn’t happen often at fashion shows. When Roberto Cavalli showed his new collection in Milan in the 2000s, he suddenly came out from behind the scenes, walked along the front row, shook everyone’s hands and kissed the Italian women. The French, American, German and British guests looked at each other in amazement: the Italian fashion star descended from the heavens and greeted the earthlings as if he were one of them. Only after this did the performance begin.

Roberto Cavalli was indeed one of them. This is evidenced by all the expressions of grief that arose after the news of his death. Late Friday, his company announced that the designer died on Friday in Florence at the age of 83. And soon Instagram was filled with farewell posts.

He satisfied his desire with art

Roberto Cavalli was born on November 15, 1940. His early childhood was overshadowed by the death of his father. Along with 172 other men from his village of Cavriglia and elsewhere in Tuscany, he was shot and burned by Wehrmacht soldiers on July 4, 1944, as a German response to attacks by Italian partisans. “When the soldiers came at dawn, he didn’t hide, he didn’t run away,” Roberto Cavalli told Stern about his father in 2009. “We never found his body.”

The boy spent the following years with his mother and sister in poor conditions on the outskirts of Florence. He told Stern that his childhood gave him, first of all, melancholy. So this man started life with a Fiat 500 and finally rode off into the sunset in a Ferrari.

He satisfied his desire with art – his grandfather was already a famous artist. Cavalli studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in his hometown of Florence, experimented with materials and printing techniques, founded his own fashion brand in 1970, presented his first collection in Paris and opened a boutique in Saint-Tropez.

Looks like it was made for the 1970s

His fashion, with its array of lightweight silk dresses, animal prints and leather patchwork, was tailor-made for the laid-back Seventies. Ultimately, he always retained an easy look from a time when the word “sexy” didn’t sound cliché. His success proved him right, with stars such as Lenny Kravitz, Charlize Theron, Taylor Swift and Jennifer Lopez bringing him into the spotlight. The day before his death, Madonna attended her son Rocco’s art exhibition wearing a green Cavalli pantsuit.

His style, which he expanded to include jeans embroidered with rhinestones and pearls, earned him one of H&M’s lucrative design contracts in 2007. This is how he won over a new generation of customers. When the designer stepped out of a limousine in front of H&M’s Fifth Avenue store with a cigar in hand on the morning of November 9, 2007, on its first day of sales, Women’s Wear Daily reported at the time that a young woman who had been there since the night before shouted, waiting, “U I have a Roberto cigar! “He fell while he was standing here.” She picked it up and put it in a plastic bag. “I sell them on eBay.”

A successful man was a “playboy,” although even that word didn’t sound sleazy. This apparently allowed Roberto Cavalli to serve on the jury of the 1977 Miss Universe pageant in the Dominican Republic. There he fell in love with Miss Austria Eva Maria Dühringer, whom he married in 1980. His most important collaborator, Eva Cavalli, with whom he had children Rachelle, Daniele and Robin, became his brand’s creative director in 1994.

Roberto Cavalli in Vienna in 2013 with German model Eva Padberg (left) and her Italian colleague Eva Riccobono.

The practical Austrian, born in Dornbirn, not only had to come to terms with two children, Tommaso and Christiana, from Cavalli’s first marriage to Silvanella Giannoni. The tireless Italian fell in love with the Swedish model Sandra Nilsson Bergman several years ago, and in early 2023, at the age of 82, Cavalli became the father of a little boy. “I named him Giorgio,” he told an Italian magazine, “in honor of my father, who was shot by the Nazis during the Cavriglia massacre.”

“Excess is success”

The fashion designer’s obituary now states that art and animals were among his greatest passions. Such interests certainly provided a wonderfully eclectic backdrop for his Milan apartment and villa in the hills above Florence. But his motto, “Excess is success,” often had questionable consequences from an aesthetic point of view. For the minimalist fans who dominate the fashion scene outside Italy, the glitz and glamor were too much. The necklines were too low, the prints too bright, the fur too thick, the performances too cheap – these were the verdicts often handed down after the Milan shows. His second line Just Cavalli and many products under his name, such as furniture, wallpaper, tiles and home textiles, also did not improve his reputation.

He didn’t mind because he was already a myth. That’s why Cavalli has been able to cope well with the fact that his company has changed hands twice in the past few years. In 2015, he sold 90 percent of his brand to Italian investment fund Clessidra, sending the company back into the red. The founder was followed as designer by Peter Dundas, who continued the glamorous style. In 2019, its place was taken by the current owner, Vision Investment Co. LLC from Dubai. The collections are now designed by the brilliant fashion designer Fausto Puglisi, whose intellectual maximalism almost approaches the hugely successful aesthetic of Schiaparelli.

Roberto Cavalli is dead, but at least his name continues to shine.

Source: Frantfurter Allgemeine

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