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Roberto Cavalli, Icon of Italian Fashion and Champion of Maximalism, Dies at 83

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FLORENCE, Italy – Roberto Cavalli, the celebrated Italian fashion designer known for his vibrant, pattern-rich designs and luxurious lifestyle, has passed away at the age of 83.

His fashion house announced the news on Instagram, though details surrounding his death were not disclosed.

 

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Mr. Cavalli’s career was a decades-long parade of audacious, often animal-print heavy designs that captured the essence of Italian flamboyance. His style was famously described by The Independent as “molto sexy, molto animal print and molto, molto Italiano.”

This signature approach did not waver as he adapted his vision to suit shifting fashion tides, consistently staying relevant and beloved in the high-fashion community.

Emerging in the 1970s with a boutique in St. Tropez, Cavalli was initially celebrated for his innovative use of patchwork denim which attracted the likes of Brigitte Bardot and Sophia Loren.

Fashion designer Roberto Cavalli and his wife Eva acknowledge the audience after the Roberto Cavalli Spring-Summer 2012 Menswear collection, June 18, 2011, during the Men's fashion week in Milan.Olivier Morin/AFP via Getty Images
Fashion designer Roberto Cavalli and his wife Eva acknowledge the audience after the Roberto Cavalli Spring-Summer 2012 Menswear collection, June 18, 2011, during the Men’s fashion week in Milan. | Olivier Morin/AFP via Getty Images

However, it wasn’t until the 1990s, when he introduced sandblasted luxury denim and later, Lycra-infused jeans, that his brand became a global name.

The reinvention catapulted Cavalli into the spotlight, further cemented when Naomi Campbell strutted down the runway in a pair of his stretch jeans in 1993.

Cavalli’s empire expanded to include not just apparel but a wide array of lifestyle products including perfumes, sunglasses, and even a uniquely packaged vodka.

Celebrities like Lenny Kravitz and Cindy Crawford were among his admirers, drawn to his lavish designs and the exuberant lifestyle they represented.

Designer Roberto Cavalli at Milan fashion week, 2014.
Designer Roberto Cavalli at Milan fashion week, 2014. | Daniele Venturelli/WireImage

Nina Garcia, editor-in-chief of Elle magazine, captured the essence of Cavalli’s work in 2020 by stating, “Roberto loved excess, but he never lost his point of view. Even when minimalism was the norm, he believed in maximalism. He dressed us thinking that life — and fashion — should be lived at full speed.”

His influence extended beyond the general public to dressing some of the biggest names in pop culture for their most public appearances.

Jennifer Lopez, Beyoncé, and Shakira are just a few of the stars who donned Cavalli’s creations, which were as much about making a statement as they were about fashion.

Peter Dundas, former chief designer and later creative director at Roberto Cavalli, who left in 2016 to start his own label, once said, “Cavalli was for ‘the pop star that exists within everybody.’”

Designer Roberto Cavalli acknowledges the applause of the public after the Roberto Cavalli show as part of Milan Fashion Week Menswear Spring/Summer 2015 on June 24, 2014 in Milan, Italy. | Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images
Designer Roberto Cavalli acknowledges the applause of the public after the Roberto Cavalli show as part of Milan Fashion Week Menswear Spring/Summer 2015 on June 24, 2014 in Milan, Italy. | Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images

Off the runway, Mr. Cavalli’s life was as colorful as his designs.

Known for his deep tan and ever-present cigar, he enjoyed a glamorous lifestyle, complete with a purple helicopter and a matching yacht. He also maintained a diverse menagerie at his family’s farmhouse outside Florence.

Mr. Cavalli in 2006. Permanently bronzed and forever puffing on a cigar, he pursued a lifestyle that was as rock ’n’ roll as his clothes.Credit...Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images
Mr. Cavalli in 2006. Permanently bronzed and forever puffing on a cigar, he pursued a lifestyle that was as rock ’n’ roll as his clothes. | Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images

Despite his lavish public persona, Cavalli was deeply committed to his craft. He was an innovator not only in design but also in textile production, constantly experimenting with new materials and techniques.

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

Designer Roberto Cavalli acknowledges the applause of the public after the Roberto Cavalli show as part of Milan Fashion Week Menswear Spring/Summer 2015 on June 24, 2014 in Milan, Italy.VITTORIO ZUNINO CELOTTO / GETTY IMAGES
Singers Melanie Brown, Emma Bunton, Geri Halliwell, Melanie Chisholm and Victoria Beckham of Spice Girls and designer Roberto Cavalli attend the Roberto Cavalli Menswear Autumn/Winter 2008/2009 fashion show as part of Milan Fashion Week on January 14, 2008, in Milan, Italy. | Daniele Venturelli/Getty Images

Born on November 15, 1940, in a suburb of Florence, Cavalli was the son of Giorgio, a mining surveyor, and Marcella Rossi, a seamstress. His career in fashion began at Florence’s Istituto d’Arte, propelling him from printing on knitwear to international acclaim.

Roberto Cavalli leaves behind a legacy of bold fashion and an indelible mark on the industry that transcended trends to define an era of maximalist glamour.

Mr. Cavalli in 2005. He played to fashion’s fun, flamboyant, hedonistic side.Credit...Paolo Verzone/Agence VU, via Redux
Mr. Cavalli in 2005. He played to fashion’s fun, flamboyant, hedonistic side. | Paolo Verzone/Agence VU, via Redux

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