Skip to main content

Fashion designer Roberto Cavalli, renowned for fierce animal prints and riviera chic, dies at 83

This Saturday, May 25, 2013 file photo shows Italian fashion designer Roberto Cavalli, center, walking with a group of models on stage during the opening ceremony of the 21st Life Ball in front of city hall in Vienna, Austria. (AP Photo / Hans Punz, File ) This Saturday, May 25, 2013 file photo shows Italian fashion designer Roberto Cavalli, center, walking with a group of models on stage during the opening ceremony of the 21st Life Ball in front of city hall in Vienna, Austria. (AP Photo / Hans Punz, File )
Share

Roberto Cavalli, the Italian fashion designer who made his mark on the fashion world with distinctive, glamourous animal prints, has died at the age of 83. His eponymous brand confirmed the news in a statement shared on social media Friday afternoon, highlighting Cavalli’s “life lived with love.”

“Roberto Cavalli’s legacy will live on via his creativity,” the statement continued, “his love of nature and via his family who he cherished.”

Cavalli was born in Florence in 1940. His grandfather, Giuseppe Rossi, was a renowned painter; Cavalli followed in his footsteps by enrolling at Florence’s Academy of Art, where he started experimenting with painting, patchwork and textiles.

Over time he developed an innovative leather printing technique, which earned him commissions from Hermès and Pierre Cardin, and set him on a creative path built upon an ostentatiously flamboyant aesthetic.

“Fashion is part of our life. When you wake up in the morning you say, “What do I have to wear to look beautiful, fantastic, sexy, special?”’ Cavalli told CNN in a 2008 interview. “That is the reason I love being a fashion designer because I can use it to measure your mood, your life.”

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

In 1980, Cavalli married Austrian model and beauty queen Eva Maria Düringer, who joined his business as creative director. (Cavalli had served as a judge at the 1977 Miss Universe pageant, where Düringer competed as Miss Austria.) The pair had three children — Cavalli already had two from his first marriage — and remained together for three decades. He welcomed a sixth child with his partner Sandra Nilsson in 2023.

In the mid-1990s, Cavalli revolutionized the world of denim with a number of innovations, among them stretch jeans, which he invented by adding Lycra to the fabric, and a process for sand-blasting denim pieces that gave them a lived-in effect. Along with animal prints and intarsia leather, denim became a core element of his signature style, leading to the establishment of a more youthful offshoot brand, Just Cavalli, in 1998.

At an Oxford University talk in 2013, Cavalli explained his passion for wild animal patterns, which he used on everything from denim to red carpet gowns: “I love nature. Animals have the best dresses. God made them so well-dressed. Women like these designs, they feel natural in them,” he said. (He had sponsored a 2004 exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, titled “WILD: Fashion Untamed,” which the museum described as showcasing “man’s obsession with animalism as expressed through clothing.”)

In the 2000s, Cavalli opened his first cafe-store in Florence and the Just Cavalli club in Milan, which became a beacon of the city’s famed 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 more diversified ventures still, he launched a vodka brand in the US in 2005.

Cavalli retired from active duty at his label in 2015, picking the designer Peter Dundas to succeed him as creative director. Dundas left the job after only three seasons and was succeeded by Paul Surridge, who remained until 2019. In the same year, after a period of financial difficulties that led to bankruptcy, the business was acquired by a Dubai-based private investment firm, which has since retained the designer Fausto Puglisi for its fashion collections and further branched out into Cavalli-branded real estate and hospitality ventures.

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

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

CTVNews.ca Top Stories

Katy Perry sings goodbye to 'American Idol'

Katy Perry said her goodbyes on 'American Idol' after seven seasons. On Sunday night’s live 'idol' season finale, a medley of Perry's hit songs were performed, including 'Teenage Dream,' 'Dark Horse' and 'California Gurls.'

Local Spotlight