Barbara Dente, 71, and Donna Cristina, 72, personal and professional partners in Dente & Cristina, the advertising and marketing agency, were found dead together in their Miami apartment.
The cause and date of their death haven’t been determined pending autopsy results, according to Cristina’s nephew, Scott San Emeterio. There was no clear evidence of foul play, they are awaiting results from the medical examiner’s office, and it is still under investigation, according to the Miami police.
The couple were found in their Miami high-rise apartment by the police Sept. 4 after the family had not heard from them for a few days and called the building to check on them.
The two executives joined forces in 1992 to create Dente & Cristina, an integrated marketing communications agency, representing both American and international luxury clients. They combined their backgrounds in marketing, public relations, retailing, editorial and advertising to create the agency. Dente was chairman and creative director, while Cristina was president. Their clients included Ralph Rucci, Elie Saab, MaxMara, L’Oréal, Calvin Klein, Escada, Henri Bendel, Ford Models and Carolina Herrera, among many others. They closed the business around 2006-’07.
Cristina grew up in the Astoria section of Queens, N.Y., and graduated from the Fashion Institute of Technology. Dente, who was born in Brooklyn, moved to Dix Hills, N.Y., at 16 years old and then moved to Manhattan to attend the Tobe-Coburn School, becoming an intern at Harper’s Bazaar, where she got her first taste of styling.
Cristina held executive positions with Bergdorf Goodman, Cristina, Gottfied & Loving, IM International and Cristina & Shafer. She was responsible for producing the first U.S. shows for Yohji Yamamoto, Matsuda and Hugo Boss, and worked with Willi Smith, Adrienne Vittadini, Anne Klein, Donna Karan, Danny Noble and David Cameron.
Throughout Dente’s career, she was known as an innovative leader in the fields of advertising and fashion styling. In the early 1990s, her apartment design became a model for the minimalist movement, which was later used by Jil Sander and Calvin Klein. As a stylist, Dente was responsible for designing campaigns for Gap, Lancôme and Calvin Klein. She also did image consulting for Revlon, Clinique, Borghese, Henri Bendel, Express, Gucci, Bergdorf Goodman, Tiffany and Paloma Picasso.
“She was a fashion stylist and the best in the business,” said Tom Booth, a close friend of Dente. He said they were supposed to go on their annual trip to New Orleans next month (and missed the last one due to COVID-19). Looking back, he said, the only indication he might have had that something was unusual was that when they made the reservation, Dente had asked about the cancellation policy.
Cristina’s nephew, Scott San Emeterio, said Cristina’s focus was on the business side, “but she had a pretty clear design vision: She was the epitome of sophistication and class and style with that Manhattan vibe,” he said. He recalled that Dente and Cristina would spend their time in Capri and Mallorca and would frequently go back and forth to Paris. “They lived that fashion lifestyle that everyone reads about,” he said. He said that the two were inseparable. “We’re still trying to figure it out. It’s a shock to us. There’s a lot of confusion and searching for answers in a sea of questions,” he said. He’s hoping the police will give them some clarity.
The women met when Cristina was creative director of Adrienne Vittadini and hired Dente to do some advertising. Afterwards they decided to go into business together.
San Emeterio said there were no red flags as far as their finances. They had given up their apartment in New York and relocated to Miami about five or six years ago. “They were the quintessential jet-setters,” he said.
In 2014, they started a consulting design and architecture business in Miami called B.A.D. Design, where they were working on condos.
San Emeterio recalled when his aunt lived in Manhattan and she would invite him and his sister to the city as children, taking them to Broadway shows and FAO Schwarz. “She’d take us to lavish dinners and to the hottest, trendiest places,” he said.
Reached for comment Thursday, Thom Priano, a hairdresser, cofounder of R + Co. and good friend of both women, said, “They were two terrific girls. They don’t know what happened. We were buddies. Barbara goes back so far with me. We used to travel all the time in the ’70s and ’80s. She used to call me her husband. When we stopped traveling, she used to send me monthly reminders to send her an alimony check.”
He called Dente “a genius, a true minimalist,” even before it was trendy.
Garren, also a hairdresser and cofounder of R + Co., said he was also close to them. He said they had been making plans to go out for dinner together in Miami. “I’ve known Barbara since 1974 because I had hired her when I was creative director of Glemby International. She did all the styling. I got to know her really well for decades, and Thom and I worked with her up until they gave up the advertising business.” They used to do shoots together with Steven Meisel, he said.
Bruce Weber said, “Barbara and Donna created a lot of wonderful things for the fashion world. They were so filled with life that is is so hard to even think of them not being here.”
Ralph Rucci, who hired Dente and Cristina to do his publicity, said Dente was the aesthete and Donna was the business side. He said about Dente, “She had extraordinary taste and she made it happen.”
“We became close friends,” he continued. “They were here often for dinner. We laughed so much over the years. They lived lavishly and luxuriously with humility,” he said.
Eric Boman, a photographer, said he worked with Dente when he would shoot New York Times ads for Bloomingdale’s and she was the stylist. “I liked her off the bat. She was a quirky person. She wasn’t your typical fashion person. I worked with her quite a bit and we became good friends.”
Sally Hershberger, the hair stylist, posted on Instagram, “Still trying to wrap my head around it. Barbara used to live next door to me and we all would have dinner at least a couple of nights a week. We had a great time getting to know each other. Then Barbara sold her genius apartment next door to me and they both moved to Connecticut and I never saw them again, but, of course, every time I pass by our building, I thought of our times together. May they rest in peace.”
Mary Loving worked with Cristina when they were partners in Cristina, Gottfried and Loving. “[Cristina] was passionate about fashion. After we split up, she started her own firms and was very successful,” Loving said.
Philip Monaghan, a visual artist and branding executive, said, “I was shocked to learn of Barbara and Donna’s death and have been trying to make sense of it.”
He said Dente used to do styling when he was at Express and he got to know Cristina as well. When Dente & Cristina started, he brought them on board for press previews and ultimately retained them as their PR firm. When he moved to Henri Bendel in 1995, he hired them for advertising and creative. Over the years, they shot with such photographers as Patrick Demarchelier, Bruce Weber, Steven Meisel, Arthur Elgort and Barry McKinley.
“Barbara could be counted on to always be organized and a pro but she also had a wry sense of humor. She got on so well with the entire crew, which was unusual for someone of her caliber,” Monaghan said. “Barbara could make the most mundane piece of clothing look so luxurious and beautiful. She was never tricky. She just had exquisite taste and made every detail matter. She was of that generation that was raised by the very top editors and she kept that drive to always get it right, instilling that in her assistants.”
Sam Shahid, partner in Shahid & Co., agreed. “[Barbara] had exquisite taste. Her apartments were just amazing. She was about minimalism. In the fashion world, they were major players, and Barbara was a great stylist,” he said.
“Besides being very stylish and having great taste, they were very curious about life,” said Abel Rapp, a retired designer and public relations executive who worked with them. After they closed the business, “they’ve been traveling like crazy, dining in great restaurants. They’d go to Europe and book the restaurants from here,” he said.
Beverly Wilburn, a former buyer at Bergdorf Goodman, met Cristina there in 1978, and Dente in 1980 and they all became close friends. Wilburn said she herself has been sick and they called her every week to check on her and never gave a hint of anything wrong. She said she sent them a text the Thursday before Labor Day and didn’t get an answer. “They would always get back to me and say when they could talk,” she said.
“To the outside world, everything was fine and perfect, and I was looking forward to our next lunch at Pastis. I can tell you we are all crushed, crushed, crushed,” she said.
Besides her nephew Scott San Emeterio, Cristina is survived by her sister, Nancy San Emeterio, and niece, Stefanie San Emeterio. Dente is survived by her brother, Albert, and a niece and nephew.
According to Scott San Emeterio, Dente and Cristina’s last wishes were to be cremated. A celebration of their lives will be held at a later date with friends and family in Manhattan.