HomeFashionRoberto Cavalli, Italian fashion designer of flamboyant style, dies at 83

Roberto Cavalli, Italian fashion designer of flamboyant style, dies at 83


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Roberto Cavalli, an Italian designer known for a flamboyant and glamorous style, and especially for popularizing animal prints, who once described extravagance as the soul of fashion, has died at 83.

His company announced the death but did not provide any further details.

Since the 1970s, Mr. Cavalli sought to capture the “dolce vita” spirit of postwar Italy as he experimented with fabrics and printing methods. At his fashion house, Mr. Cavalli patented a new printing method for leather and in 1972 debuted the patchwork denim that became one of his trademarks. Mr. Cavalli opened a boutique in Saint-Tropez on the French Riviera, finding clients such as actresses Brigitte Bardot and Sophia Loren.

He later created a sandblasting technique to give denim a distressed look and added Lycra to jeans, which were given an international boost when model Naomi Campbell wore a pair in a runway show in 1993.

He took frequent inspiration from the natural world, featuring animal prints and fish-scale sequins. The “Cavalli woman” ranged from hippie to slick rocker, in diaphanous gowns that caught the air, seductive beaded dresses or sexy skinny suits.

Even as style trends increasingly moved toward simpler lines and more minimalistic looks, Mr. Cavalli never considered toning down his work. “Fashion that is not crazy,” he said at lecture at the University of Oxford in 2013, “is not fashion.”

Writing in London’s Observer, fashion critic Polly Vernon once termed Mr. Cavalli the “king of bling,” describing his styles as sometimes seeming to be lost in another era. Mr. Cavalli’s called himself an “animalier” who drew inspiration from the natural world. “I copy the dress of an animal because I love to copy God,” he said. “I think God is the most fantastic designer.”

In the 1990s, his signature zebra-print designs were worn by celebrities including singers Jennifer Lopez and Christina Aguilera. “The celebrity connection is very important … It’s important because it’s adrenaline, and that’s what starts creativity,” Mr. Cavalli told Women’s Wear Daily.

He stepped back from designing about a decade ago, after ceding 90 percent of the company to the Clessidra private equity group. The company is now controlled by Auriel Investment.

“Don’t call me a designer. My talent is rather finding what makes a fabric, a dress, a woman special, thinking always of fashion as if it is dream of ready-to-wear, something ready to be worn,” he wrote in his autobiography, “Just Me,” published in 2013.

He told the Associated Press in an interview that the woman he dressed was “a woman who believes a lot in herself. A woman who can show she is strong but at the same time soft and romantic.”

Roberto Cavalli was born on Nov. 15, 1940, in Florence. His father was a mining company surveyor, and his mother was a seamstress who worked from home.

In 1944, in retaliation for an attack on German soldiers by Italian resistance forces, Mr. Cavalli’s father was rounded up with other local men and shot by German troops in what was known as the Cavriglia massacre.

Mr. Cavalli attended the Istituto d’Arte in Florence. His maternal grandfather, Giuseppe Rossi, was a renowned impressionist-style painter whose works are part of collections including that of Florence’s famed Uffizi.

Mr. Cavalli took an early interest in print designs, creating T-shirts and sweaters in the 1960s that were sold to fashion houses such as Hermès. He began collaborations with Mario Valentino, a Naples-based designer specializing in leathers and suedes. “I had this idea to print on leather,” Mr. Cavalli told Britain’s Evening Standard newspaper. “I used glove skin from a French tannery, and when I started to print, I saw it was possible to make evening gowns in leather … in pink. Unbelievable.”

Survivors include model Sandra Nilsson, who has been his partner since 2014; and six children.

Mr. Cavalli said he intentionally sought to cultivate a personal brand to match his designs, including piloting a purple helicopter and owning a boat outfitted with zebra-print furnishings.

“I want to get across that behind the fabulous yacht, the champagne, the parties, there’s a man called Roberto Cavalli,” he told Women’s Wear Daily in 2013, “who worked very, very hard to create this wonderful life.”

Washington Post staff contributed to this report.

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