Rome — Fernanda Gattinoni, a designer who contributed to building the image of Italian fashion, died Tuesday morning at the Umberto I hospital here after suffering heart failure. She was 96.

Gattinoni designed under her own label since the Forties, and was active in her namesake business until her death. In fact, she was adding the finishing touches to the wedding dress of Elisabeth De Balkany, the daughter of Maria Gabriella di Savoia, just before she died. Her business was mainly devoted to private clients, and Guillermo Mariotto will stay on as creative director.

Weddings and high-profile events were Gattinoni’s forte, but if the slightest detail were out of place, she instinctively made amends.

The guests that crowded St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican for the wedding between Princess Maria José of Belgium and Umberto di Savoia, the future King of Italy, were impressed when 10 minutes before the ceremony, Gattinoni tore the sleeves off the bride’s dress because they didn’t fit right.

Gattinoni believed in the "no guts, no glory" motto, which she proved by turning down Coco Chanel’s offer to join her Paris atelier in the Twenties, and went on to form her own house.

In the late 1940s, she moved into a 10,800-square-foot atelier here, where 120 seamstresses meticulously crafted elegant clothes. In the Fifties and Sixties, she designed film costumes, including Audrey Hepburn’s wardrobe for "War and Peace," which earned her an Oscar nod for best Costume Designer.

In her heyday, the designer dressed celebrities the caliber of Kim Novak, Ava Gardner, Ingrid Bergman and Anna Magnani.

Gattinoni has no survivors. Her son, Raniero Gattinoni, also a designer, joined her in the mid-Eighties when the house expanded to include ready-to-wear clothes in its collections. He died in 1993. A funeral is slated for today at the S. Maria del Popolo church in Rome.

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