Santiago Barberi Gonzalez, president and creative director of Nancy Gonzalez, the luxury handbag firm he founded with his mother, died Friday.
A spokeswoman for the Gonzalez family confirmed his death but said no further details were available at this time.
Barberi Gonzalez said his mother’s taste inspired him in 1998 to conceptualize Nancy Gonzalez, which he started while he was a student at the Savannah College of Art and Design.
The creative force at the label, Barberi Gonzalez is credited with being the architect of its global expansion and was said to be involved in every decision for the brand, from business strategies to sales to visual presentation.
Nancy Gonzalez, which is known for its crocodile totes and elaborate python satchels, is sold in the U.S. at Bergdorf Goodman and Neiman Marcus, among other retailers.
Barberi Gonzalez in June unveiled a 25-style range of exotic skin shoes that he designed for the label in Italy. The launch was celebrated at Bergdorf’s in December with a party attended by customers, many of them carrying signature Nancy Gonzalez crocodile handbags.
Barberi Gonzalez was proud of the shoe expansion, pulling out his phone at the Bergdorf’s event to show off designs in development, including, for fall 2017, a handbag collection that incorporated mink fur.
While he was key to the brand’s designs, Barberi Gonzalez felt a filial duty to discuss strategy with his mother and was careful to mention that the shoe designs were created with her approval in mind.
Like his mother, Barberi Gonzalez was born in Colombia. He enjoyed maintaining residences in several cities around the world, including at the Plaza Athénée in Paris.
Barberi Gonzalez appreciated his mother’s aesthetic — timeless and over-the-top, often at the same time — but he had a modernist streak that he displayed at the company’s first showroom on 57th Street, where he fused high design with a sense of ease. “It’s the real definition of exotics, everything that reroutes from the ordinary,” he said of the shoes. “As with our bags, there’s no hardware and only the most luxurious materials have been used such as silk, white oak, horsehair, shagreen and, of course, crocodile.”
Tributes on Instagram included a message from Brian Atwood: “So saddened by the news of my dear friend. I still can’t believe it. You were larger than life and always made me laugh. You will be missed so much.”
“We are deeply saddened by the sudden loss of Santiago Gonzalez,” said Roopal Patel, senior vice president, fashion director at Saks Fifth Avenue. “Santiago was a true pioneer, leader and entrepreneur.”
Patel said she met Barberi Gonzalez at the start of her career and considered him to be a dear friend. “He had a larger-than-life personality,” she said. “His family was everything to him. He was one-of-a-kind and unique.”
Barberi Gonzalez held a seat on the board of the Accessories Council.