During a relatively restrained Milan Fashion Week, the flamboyant Roberto Cavalli was quite the man about town. He took his fall lineup in a darker, tough chic direction; he canceled his snappy Just Cavalli show due to production and delivery delays with licensor Ittierre SpA—telling an impromptu press conference that he wants to take the line back in-house— and hosted a dinner in a venue decorated with a zoo of animal prints, to launch the Cavalli credit card. (A month later, Cavalli would re-sign with Ittierre for a five-year Just Cavalli license.) Joining him were Elizabeth Hurley, the Duchess of York Sarah Ferguson and her daughters Beatrice and Eugenie, CSI star Gary Dourdan and Milla Jovovich.

Cavalli also aroused the fashion pack’s curiosity when he stepped off the catwalk to hug Claudio Sposito, founder of Milan-based private equity firm Clessidra SGR SpA, with whom Cavalli is negotiating to sell 20 percent of his company.

“Claudio is a friend of mine and he was on crutches so it was the least I could do to show my gratitude for having come to the show,” said Cavalli, puffing on his third slim cigarette since beginning the interview.

Sporting an ink blue crew neck and dark jeans, the relaxed designer sat in his surprisingly spare white Milanese apartment, decorated with abstract paintings and zebra-striped rugs tossed here and there.

Cavalli, by his own admission, is “very egocentric.” He told of how he’s considered a “god” in Dubai; that he can’t stand outside his New York store without attracting dozens of fans-clients, and that during the reunited Spice Girls concert last year, the whole stadium cheered when he arrived. In the economic downturn, he takes pride in having forgone his staple sexpots clad in itty-bitty floral prints and dangerous transparencies synonymous with the brand.

On the runway, he sent out kohl-eyed babes donning a sea of black and ink-blue looks, many fortified by studs, fringe, chains and grommets. Instead of his successful animal and flower-power prints, Cavalli opted for sepia-toned blurry photographic prints that worked best on silk tops and minidresses.

“Change is always very difficult, especially these days, but the retailers confirmed this collection was easier to sell, even without color,” contended Cavalli.

Still, he added, the image of the woman he wants to convey never changes—sexy, powerful and plucky. “But she has many different facets and sometimes when I see too many flowers in my stores, I think change is required.”

Cavalli said he prefers the term “change” over “crisis” and believes that overall, many dead branches will be pruned.

“Too much of everything— that’s the problem. There was a category of young people between 25 and 40 that made too much money far too quickly. That’s why luxury goods are suffering today and rich people don’t want to show off their wealth,” he mused. “I think this is the time for designers to flex their creative muscle and fantasy and return to artisanal techniques.”

It’s also a time to coddle clients, he said, noting he personally calls to thank big-spending clients who drop more than $10,000 in his stores. He also hired image directors in his main flagships and ensures that when new merchandise hits stores, especially in the U.S., selections are delivered to clients’ homes so they can try them on in private.

He also wagged a finger at superficial TV programs that push many young adults to aspire to become soccer stars or TV starlets. “I think that to build the future, we must better educate the young generations,” said Cavalli, a father of five.

To that end, the designer is plotting his own Web site, which he described as a fashion planet, complete with live question-and-answer sessions and appearances, blogs, fashion images and space dedicated to new talent. It should be up by Christmas.

Across the Alps, Cavalli opened an 8,640-square-foot flagship in Paris, designed by Italo Rota, which he described as his most “ambitious and surprising project to date” and “a declaration of love toward women, fantasy and my work.”

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