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'God is the most fantastic designer': Remembering Roberto Cavalli through his fashion

Italian designer Roberto Cavalli after presenting the Roberto Cavalli men's Spring-Summer 2015 collection, part of the Milan Fashion Week.
Italian designer Roberto Cavalli after presenting the Roberto Cavalli men's Spring-Summer 2015 collection, part of the Milan Fashion Week. Copyright Luca Bruno/Copyright 2024 The AP. All rights reserved.
Copyright Luca Bruno/Copyright 2024 The AP. All rights reserved.
By Anca Ulea with AP
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Never afraid of a bold print or a dramatic statement gown, Italian designer Roberto Cavalli, died last week aged 83. He'll be best remembered for delivering some of fashion's most iconic looks.

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Roberto Cavalli was nothing if not audacious.

The Italian designer first made his name in the early 1970s for his loud animal prints and excessive, sexy style that remained his trademark throughout his decades-long career. A favourite of celebrities like Madonna and Zendaya, Cavalli's had a lasting influence on the fashion world.

His company announced the 83-year-old’s death on Friday, at age 83, paying tribute to the designer in a statement:

“From humble beginnings in Florence, Roberto succeeded in becoming a globally recognized name loved and respected by all. (His) legacy will live on via his creativity, his love of nature and via his family who he cherished."

Born on 15 November 1940 to a family of artists, Cavalli was orphaned at just four years old, when his father was killed in a Nazi roundup known as the Cavriglia massacre in 1944.

Roberto Cavalli's looks were known for their sexy silhouettes and bold prints, often inspired by the animal world.
Roberto Cavalli's looks were known for their sexy silhouettes and bold prints, often inspired by the animal world.AP Photo

He founded his own fashion house in the early 1970s and quickly built an iconic label, which was celebrated and worn by personalities like Miley Cyrus, Gwyneth Paltrow and Beyoncé.

Some of Beyoncé’s most iconic looks – like her yellow dress in the video for “Hold Up” from her album “Lemonade” or her blue bodysuit from her Renaissance tour – were Cavalli originals.

Beyoncé's iconic yellow dress in her music video "Hold Up" from her album "Lemonade" was designed by Roberto Cavalli.
Beyoncé's iconic yellow dress in her music video "Hold Up" from her album "Lemonade" was designed by Roberto Cavalli.Beyoncé/YouTube
Beyoncé wearing a Roberto Cavalli gown at the Brit Awards in 2004.
Beyoncé wearing a Roberto Cavalli gown at the Brit Awards in 2004.MAX NASH/AP Photo

Cavalli made a mark on denim – patenting a new printing method for leather and debuting the patchwork denim that was one of his trademarks in Florence’s Palazzo Pitti in 1972. He revolutionised jeans, creating a sandblasting technique to give denim a distressed look, and adding Lycra to make them sexier and stretchy.

The designer also took frequent inspiration from the natural world, featuring animal prints and fish-scale sequins.

Roberto Cavalli's collections were often inspired by the natural world, incorporating feathers, fur and animal prints.
Roberto Cavalli's collections were often inspired by the natural world, incorporating feathers, fur and animal prints.AP Photo

As his fashion house recalled on Friday, Cavalli explained his fascination with the animal world with a now-famous quote: “I copy the dress of an animal because I love to copy God. I think God is the most fantastic designer.”

The Cavalli woman ranged from hippie to slick rocker, in diaphanous gowns that caught the air, seductive beaded dresses or sexy skinny suits. In recent years, his looks have found a new audience in Gen Z, with the resurgence of Y2K fashion.

Roberto Cavalli ajusting one of his dresses on a mannequin in 2005.
Roberto Cavalli ajusting one of his dresses on a mannequin in 2005.RICHARD DREW/AP Photo

He stepped back from designing about a decade ago, after ceding 90% of the company to the Clessidra private equity group. The company is now controlled by Auriel Investment SA.

“Don’t call me a designer. My talent is rather finding what makes a fabric, a dress, a woman special,″ he wrote in his 2013 autobiography, “Just Me”.

Cavalli is survived by model Sandra Nilsson, who has been his partner since 2014, and six children. He became the father of his sixth child at the age of 82.

Here are some more of Cavalli's memorable looks:

Roberto Cavalli and Victoria Beckham at an event in Monaco in 2005.
Roberto Cavalli and Victoria Beckham at an event in Monaco in 2005.LIONEL CIRONNEAU/AP
Zendaya wearing a vintage Roberto Cavalli gown at the 2024 Green Carpet Fashion Awards.
Zendaya wearing a vintage Roberto Cavalli gown at the 2024 Green Carpet Fashion Awards.AP Photo
Aaliyah, in a Roberto Cavalli gown, poses with her award for Best Female Video for ``Try Again'' at the 2000 MTV Video Music Awards.
Aaliyah, in a Roberto Cavalli gown, poses with her award for Best Female Video for ``Try Again'' at the 2000 MTV Video Music Awards.DAN LOH/AP2000
A model presents a design from the Roberto Cavalli Spring/Summer 2005 fashion collection.
A model presents a design from the Roberto Cavalli Spring/Summer 2005 fashion collection.AP Photo
Actress and singer Rose McGowan in a Roberto Cavalli dress during the Heart Truth Red Dress fashion show in New York, Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2012.
Actress and singer Rose McGowan in a Roberto Cavalli dress during the Heart Truth Red Dress fashion show in New York, Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2012.Kathy Willens/AP
Russian model Natalia Vodianova poses for photographers as she arrives at the 40th anniversary of Roberto Cavalli's brand, in Paris, Wednesday Sept. 29, 2010.
Russian model Natalia Vodianova poses for photographers as she arrives at the 40th anniversary of Roberto Cavalli's brand, in Paris, Wednesday Sept. 29, 2010.Thibault Camus/AP2010
Singer Jennifer Hudson and fashion designer Roberto Cavalli attend amfAR's New York gala benefit in 2012.
Singer Jennifer Hudson and fashion designer Roberto Cavalli attend amfAR's New York gala benefit in 2012.Evan Agostini/AP
Producer Rebecca Wang arrives at the 2013 BAFTA Film Awards wearing a Roberto Cavalli dress.
Producer Rebecca Wang arrives at the 2013 BAFTA Film Awards wearing a Roberto Cavalli dress.Jonathan Short/Invision for RW Entertainment
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