Roberto Cavalli, flamboyant Italian fashion designer, dies aged 83

Roberto Cavalli, the Italian fashion designer known for his glamorous designs, colourful prints and scores of celebrity fans, has died in Florence at the age of 83.

His rich aesthetic, which featured flamboyant prints inspired by the worlds of exotic flora and fauna, high hemlines and even lower waistlines, was unapologetically sexy. His lifestyle was equally lavish, with his main residence a 13-hectare (32-acre) Tuscan estate featureing a vineyard, tanning machine, racehorses, Ferraris and a menagerie of animals including parrots, iguanas, a Persian cat, a monkey and tiger.

His estate also included a personal helicopter and a superyacht called Freedom. Its design was inspired by the movie Batman.

Cavalli launched his eponymous label in 1970 and made a name for himself when he patented a new way of printing on leather. He showcased his revolutionary technique for the first time in his debut collection in Paris, which featured a pink leather evening gown. Cavalli immediately earned commissions from French houses including Hermès and Pierre Cardin.

He later turned his skills to denim. His autumn/winter ’94 collection showed the first ever pair of sand-blasted jeans and the following year he worked with Lycra to invent stretch jeans. The form-fitting jeans were an instant success, leading him to launch a dedicated line, Cavalli Jeans, later renamed Just Cavalli.

Victoria Beckham with Cavalli in 2005. Photograph: Lionel Cironneau/AP

He was adored by celebrities. In his early years, Brigitte Bardot and Sophia Loren frequented his store, Limbo, in Saint-Tropez. However, it was during the hedonistic 90s that his flashy and flamboyant aesthetic really exploded. Thanks to David and Victoria Beckham, Britney Spears and Jennifer Lopez, a new aspiring and affluent demographic discovered the brand.

Cavalli began to expand his fashion empire comprising branded underwear, eyewear, footwear, watches and perfume. Homeware, pet attire, vodka, wines, restaurants and members’ clubs followed.

Despite its popularity, in 2014 the business began to post annual losses. A year later the family sold a 90% stake to the Italian private equity firm Clessidra, reportedly valuing the business at €390m. The company filed for bankruptcy protection in March 2019 and later that year it was bought by the Dubai-based Vision Investment Company.

In October 2020, the Sicilian designer Fausto Puglisi was appointed creative director. In a statement from the brand announcing Cavalli’s death, Puglisi wrote: “Dear Roberto, you may not be physically here with us any more, but I know I will feel your spirit with me always.

Cavalli takes a bow after a Milan fashion week show in 2014. Photograph: Luca Bruno/AP

“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.”

Giorgio Armani paid tribute to his fellow Italian fashion designer and described him as a “true artist”.

In a post shared by the Armani account on X, he said: “I cannot imagine a vision of fashion more distant from mine than that of Roberto Cavalli, yet I have always had enormous respect for him: Roberto was a true artist, wild and wonderful in his use of prints, capable of transforming fantasy into seductive clothes.

“I have learnt with great sadness of his passing: his Tuscan verve will be greatly missed.”

The Brazilian model Adriana Lima posted a photograph of herself and Cavalli on X and wrote: “Unapologetic in style & spirit. We lost a legend today. Rest in Peace.”

American singer and actor Jennifer Hudson wrote on the platform: “Roberto Cavalli was always one of my favorite designers. A true artist in every sense of the word!

“He made the world a more beautiful place and will be dearly missed. May he rest in peace!”.

Cavalli was born in 1940 in a small village in Tuscany. His grandfather, Giuseppe Rossi, was a celebrated artist and member of the Macchiaioli movement. Cavalli later moved with his mother, a seamstress, and siblings to Florence after the murder of his father by German soldiers. It was while studying at the Academy of Art in Florence in 1957 that he began experimenting with textiles.

He married his first wife, Silvanella Giannoni, in 1964 and had two children. They divorced in 1974 and in 1980 he married Eva Duringer, a former Miss Universe contestant he met while judging the pageant in 1977. The couple had three children and Eva became his business partner. The couple worked together until they sold the business. They divorced in 2010.

In 2023 he announced the birth of his sixth child, a son, with his partner, the Swedish model and actor Sandra Nilsson.


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