Italy's Roberto Cavalli, king of the leopard print, dies at 83

Designer dressed A-listers for decades and was known for his exotic animal prints and feather designs

Entertainment Desk April 13, 2024

Renowned Italian fashion designer Roberto Cavalli, celebrated for his audacious use of python and flamboyant animal prints that captivated the international jet set for decades, passed away at the age of 83, announced his eponymous luxury fashion house on Friday.

In a statement sent to AFP, the Roberto Cavalli Maison expressed profound regret and sadness at the loss of its founder, acknowledging Cavalli's remarkable journey from humble beginnings in Florence to becoming a globally recognized icon adored and respected by many.

"It is with deep regret and a great sadness the Roberto Cavalli Maison participates in the passing of its founder Roberto Cavalli," wrote the company in a statement sent to AFP. "From humble beginnings in Florence Mr. Cavalli succeeded in becoming a globally recognised name loved and respected by all," said the company.

Cavalli's extravagant designs first gained prominence in the 1970s, gracing the likes of screen legends Sophia Loren and Brigitte Bardot before continuing to allure later generations of celebrities, including Kim Kardashian and Jennifer Lopez, with their skin-baring and eye-popping allure.

The designer's lavish lifestyle, marked by a fondness for Ferraris, thoroughbred horses, and tailored shirts revealing his bronzed chest, added to his legendary status. His marriage to a Miss Universe runner-up, ownership of a purple helicopter and Tuscan vineyard, and friendships with A-listers like Sharon Stone and Cindy Crawford painted a portrait of a life steeped in glamour and extravagance.

However, Cavalli's career was not without challenges. The rise of minimalism in the 1980s posed a threat to his opulent designs, and a dry spell ensued. Despite weathering such storms, Cavalli faced legal battles, including a protracted trial in Italy on tax evasion charges, which concluded with his acquittal.

Moreover, the financial viability of his fashion house waned over time, prompting the sale of a majority stake to private equity in 2015 after consecutive losses. Yet, Cavalli's imprint on the fashion world remained indelible, characterized by his bold use of printed leather and stretchy, sand-blasted jeans that epitomized his penchant for the extravagant. The designer was tapped in 2005 to update the Playboy Bunnies' scanty uniform -- true to form, he introduced one version in leopard print.

Party crasher

Born in Florence on November 15, 1940, Cavalli's artistic journey began with painting on T-shirts to earn money during his time at art school. A chance encounter at a party in 1970 propelled him into the world of fashion, where his innovative techniques in printing on leather caught the attention of industry giants like Hermes and Pierre Cardin. In the 1970s, he opened a shop in Saint Tropez, playground of the world's glitterati, and debuted his collection in Paris. He went on to present for the first time in Italy at Florence's opulent Palazzo Pitti, grabbing attention with his boho-chic patchwork designs on denim that married the unpretentious fabric with expert tailoring.

Of his ubiquitous use of prints, the animal lover -- whose menagerie once included a monkey -- told Vogue in 2011: "I like everything that is of nature." Cavalli's reverence for nature inspired his iconic prints, with the designer once remarking to Vogue that he believed God to be the ultimate designer, prompting him to emulate nature's beauty in his creations.

While facing financial setbacks in the 2010s, Cavalli continued to innovate, collaborating with retail giant H&M on a fast-fashion line and designing tour outfits for global sensations like Beyonce. Despite stepping down as creative director in 2013 and subsequent ownership changes, Cavalli's legacy endured, with his fashion house continuing to influence the industry.

In November 2019, Vision Investments, the private investment company of Dubai real-estate billionaire Hussain Sajwani, acquired the struggling fashion group, signalling a new chapter for the iconic brand. Cavalli's passing marks the end of an era in fashion, leaving behind a legacy of creativity, extravagance, and unparalleled vision that will continue to inspire generations to come.

Have something to add? Share it in the comments


Replying to X

Comments are moderated and generally will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive.

For more information, please see our Comments FAQ