By  on December 18, 2011

MILAN — Wichy Hassan, creative director and co-founder of Sixty SpA, died on Friday at 56, after a battle with cancer.

Tirelessly industrious and passionate about his work, Hassan contributed to shaping Italy’s denim and sportswear industry, launching jeans specifically designed for women, for example.

Diesel chief Renzo Rosso knew Hassan for years, the two having met when Hassan sold Rosso’s wares at his Energie store in Rome. “He always had a smile on his face and was extremely professional,” recalled Rosso. “There was never any tension or competition between us in all these years. It’s a big loss for the fashion world, we will all miss him.”

“He adored women and wanted to make them more beautiful, feminine and sexy,” said his friend Andreina Longhi, founder of Milan-based communication agency Attila & Co., recalling how Hassan was a pioneer in designing “jeans that would enhance a woman’s curves.” Over the years, those figure-hugging, sensual looks drew several A-list celebrities to the Miss Sixty brand, from Demi Moore and Christina Aguilera to Jennifer Lopez.

Hassan started his career as an artist and a painter and his printed T-shirts were also successful, Longhi added, noting that the designer went out of his way to help out young artists. “He was very sensitive and adored his company. He was a fighter, was always positive and very ironic.”

Other friends recalled how he used to laugh about himself, saying: “I am short, black, a Jew and gay.” Hassan became actively involved in equal rights movements. The global recession put a dent in Sixty’s success over the past couple of years, but Hassan had the benefit of perspective and maintained a positive view of the future for the company he founded in 1989.

In a 2009 WWD interview, Hassan recalled his family’s flight from Libya in 1969 after Muammar Gaddafi’s overthrow of the monarchy. He was a child when the family was forced to leave home and fortune behind.

“My parents had to literally start all over again here. I’ve seen worse,” he said, in his sprawling terraced apartment adorned with carefully selected art works and a stunning view of the Roman skyline.

Elio Fiorucci said the word “designer does not really explain Hassan,” whom he defined as “the soul of Miss Sixty.”

“He received outside information and translated it into a new way of dressing. He was one of the biggest influences in the sportswear arena,” said Fiorucci. “Wichy was well-informed and extremely curious and traveled around the world because he was thirsty for knowledge. We would catch up at different events, I remember a Madonna concert a few years ago, for example — he was always eager to find out about new happenings and things.”

As a close friend, Fiorucci recalled Hassan’s “generosity, great sensitivity and kindness.”

Starting out as a retailer in Rome in 1983 with a store called Energie, which carried cool, hard-to-find and international brands, Hassan built a fashion conglomerate with the help of co-founder Renato Rossi. In addition to the Miss Sixty, Energie and Killah brands, the two friends took control of the RefrigiWear and Murphy & Nye brands in the Nineties, followed by accessories label Roberta di Camerino in 2008. The brands are available at almost 11,000 points of sale, and count more than 380 stores in more than 90 countries in the world.

Sixty’s offices are located in Rome, but its manufacturing plant is based in Chieti, Italy.

Hassan had a soft spot for America and for seven seasons held a Miss Sixty runway show during New York Fashion Week, which he had to grudgingly forgo for budget reasons in September 2009.

“It was not only a cost-cutting issue, but a sign toward our clients and our company workers,” he explained at the time. “We can’t be detached from the reality and the catwalk felt unnecessary and presumptuous.”

Going forward, industry sources are speculating about the future of the company, as a new production and distribution partnership with Chinese manufacturer Trendiano Co. Ltd. was announced hours before Hassan’s death.

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