The legendary fashion designer, king of animal prints – Roberto Cavalli has died

photo: EPA

Roberto Cavalli, the Italian fashion designer who left his mark on the fashion world with his signature, glamorous animal prints, has died at the age of 83. His namesake brand confirmed the news in a statement shared on social media on Friday afternoon, noting that Cavalli lived a life filled with love.

"Roberto Cavalli's legacy will live on through his creativity," the statement continued, "his love for nature and through his family who nurtured him." CNN. 

photo: EPA

Cavalli was born in Florence in 1940. His grandfather, Giuseppe Rossi, was a famous painter; Cavalli followed in his footsteps by enrolling at the Academy of Art in Florence, where he began experimenting with painting, patchwork and textiles, according to the biography he shared. CNN. 

Over time, he developed an innovative technique for prints on leather materials, which brought him commissions from Hermès and Pierre Cardin and set him on a creative path built on an assertively opulent aesthetic.

"Fashion is part of our life. When you wake up in the morning you say, 'What do I need to wear to look beautiful, fantastic, sexy, special?'" Cavalli told CNN in 2008, adding, "That's the reason I want to be a fashion designer because I can I use it to measure your mood, your life."

He presented his first eponymous collection in Paris in 1970, before debuting on the catwalks of Florence and Milan in 1972. That same year, he opened his first boutique in Saint-Tropez, the seaside French city that would become an international symbol of glamor and luxury.

In 1980, Cavalli married Austrian model Eva Maria Dieringer, who joined his business as creative director. The couple had three children – Cavali already had two from his first marriage – and stayed together for three decades. He welcomed his sixth child with his partner Sandra Nilsson in 2023.

In the mid-1990s, Cavali revolutionized the denim world with a number of innovations, including stretch jeans – he added Lycra to the fabrica. Along with animal prints, denim became a staple of his signature style, leading to the founding of the younger brand, Just Cavalli, in 1998.

In a speech at the University of Oxford in 2013, Cavalli explained his passion for wildlife patterns, which he used on everything from denim to red carpet dresses: “I love nature. Animals have the best dresses. God made them so well clothed. "Women like these designs, they feel natural in them," he said. (He sponsored a 2004 exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, titled WILD: Fashion Untamed, which the museum described as depicting "the human obsession with animalism expressed through clothing.")

In the 2000s, Cavalli opened his first coffee shop in Florence and the Just Cavalli club in Milan, which became a beacon of the city's famous nightlife. He was among the first designers, in 2007, to launch a high street collection, with H&M, as well as expanding into homewares and interiors. Among his various ventures, he launched a vodka brand in the US in 2005.

photo: EPA

Cavali stepped down from active duty at his label in 2015, choosing designer Peter Dundas to succeed him as creative director. Dundas left the job after just three seasons and was succeeded by Paul Surridge, who stayed on until 2019. That same year, after a period of financial difficulties that led to bankruptcy, the business was bought by a Dubai private equity firm, which has since retained designer Fausto Puglisi for its fashion collections and branched out into real estate and hospitality ventures under the Cavalli brand.

Puglisi paid tribute to the designer in the caption of the label's Instagram post.

photo: EPA

"Dear Roberto, you may not be here physically with us anymore, but I know I will always feel your spirit with me. It is the greatest honor of my career to work under your legacy and create for the brand you founded with such vision and style," Puglisi wrote. "Rest in peace, you will be missed and loved so much that your name will live on, a beacon of inspiration to others and especially to me."

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