MILAN — His elegant figure — signature red socks included — encyclopedic fashion knowledge, as well as his diplomacy, will be deeply missed by the Italian fashion circuit.
On Saturday, a few days before turning 93, Beppe Modenese, who was born in Alba, died in Milan.
Dubbed in 1983 by legendary publisher John B. Fairchild in WWD “the Prime Minister of Fashion,” Modenese most recently has been the honorary chairman of the Italian Fashion Chamber.
His career in fashion started in the Fifties in Florence working with Giovanni Battista Giorgini and together they organized the historic show at Palazzo Pitti’s Sala Banca in 1952 which saw the participation of Roberto Capucci and Emilio Pucci, among others.
In 1953, he was among the founders of the Sindacato Italiano Alta Moda that later became the Italian Chamber of Fashion, which he led for many years.
After a few years spent working for Esteé Lauder and for Chanel, in 1978 he created MODIT, an institution aimed at organizing fashion and lifestyle events.
“I met Beppe Modenese in those years when everything in Milan was an invention, a discovery, a project for the future,” said Giorgio Armani. “Neither of us was Milanese: I came from Piacenza, Beppe from Piedmont and this perhaps gave us more enthusiasm, a desire to invent a life and a job that we tried and tested, day in, day out. Beppe dealt with public relations with the elegance and taste that everyone has always appreciated, but also with a different organizational and, I would say, political vision. A system had to be organized: the prêt-à-porter system, and he did it so well that it still bears his mark today.”
A saddened Ferruccio Ferragamo, chairman of the Salvatore Ferragamo company, said Modenese “never pulled back, he was always available to encourage and offer direction. I will always be grateful for his advice and support. He always saw the positive side of things, he was pleasant and calm and had a smile that charmed.”
Asked for an example of the kind of advice Modenese provided, Ferragamo said “he respected the brand and believed consistency would always be rewarded, and I could not agree more. It’s very true and not a given. He expressed his concepts clearly and concisely. He was a fantastic person and did so much for the institutions and for Italy.”
“Beppe Modenese contributed like no one else to the birth of the Italian fashion system and led, with extraordinary visionary ability and precious pragmatic spirit to the construction of the system, the affirmation of Milan as the capital of fashion and encouraged new talents. He was rightly called the Prime Minister of Italian Fashion and defined the contours of a unique system in the world. Today we lose a reference figure and an icon, many of us lose a generous friend,” said Carlo Capasa, president of the Italian Chamber of Fashion.
“We will miss his intelligence and elegance, his sense of humor, and his wit, but Beppe leaves us a great legacy to honor and a great example to follow, also for the new generations. Camera Nazionale della Moda Italiana, in all its components, greets him with immense gratitude and affection,” concluded Capasa.
Beppe Modenese spent his life with longtime partner, architect Piero Pinto, who passed away in 2018, and Rosita Missoni said she could not speak of Modenese without thinking of Pinto. “They were in symbiosis, everything changed for Beppe after Piero died.”
The Missonis, including the late patriarch Ottavio, affectionately called Tai, were friends with Modenese and Pinto, and in fact Rosita said they rarely spoke about fashion when they met for long leisurely lunches. “Beppe and Piero shared a taste for the home with us — one of their houses was on the hills outside Varese [not far from the Missoni’s headquarters and home in Sumirago]. Pinto helped us to decorate our houses in Venice and Milan. They themselves had a beautiful house on the Canal Grande. We shared so many beautiful memories.”
Her daughter Angela said Modenese had “always been part of my life, and my family’s life. He was extremely elegant, and a diplomat — otherwise he could never have achieved what he did.”
She praised him as “a visionary. A man of great charm, he created an organization with a vision, inked relationships with trades hows, thinking of a modern Milan, turning it into a capital of fashion, but he was also like an affectionate uncle, he always supported me, sitting front row at our shows, the first to come backstage and congratulate us.”
“I remember with deep affection my friend Beppe, a man of unparalleled savoir faire who was able to bring Made in Italy to the world,” commented Gerolamo Etro, known as Gimmo, founder and president of the namesake fashion company. “Milan is losing a prominent figure and the fashion world remains orphan of its founding father,” he continued praising Modenese’s vision, curiosity and humor.
“He helped us become recognized protagonists of fashion in the world. I have a fond memory of a trip together at the beginning of the Eighties to Japan, where we were invited as representatives of Made in Italy,” he recalled. “At a time when the world is turning upside down, a man who represented Italy and its essence of elegance, conviviality and art of living is leaving us.”
Laudomia Pucci underscored Modenese’s “sustained curiosity,” and how he continued to support the industry by attending all the shows. “He had so many beautiful stories to tell and he would relate them with lucidity, without embellishments.” She said Modenese praised her father Emilio Pucci “for being an innovator and encouraged me in his belief in the value of the brand — and always with a smile.”
“He always gave his opinion in a balanced way and it was always to the point,” Pucci continued. “But he had that delicacy and generosity of a friend, he helped not as an institution but as a friend, which is rare in the fashion system. He was warm and had a strong sense of humor, always with an optimistic take on things. With his balanced vision, he accompanied the industry, and succeeded in keeping it united-we owe that to him. And he encouraged novelty.”
Lavinia Biagiotti Cigna described Modenese as a “member of her family.”
“I have a lot of memories about Beppe.…His vision, his intuitions, his elegant manners and gestures, his generosity and curiosity, as well as his commitment to support Italian fashion, its designers and young talents,” she said.
“He was always projected toward the future, even at this stage in his life he was interested in the new languages that fashion was embracing, he was always updated and passionate. We engaged in daily phone calls during which he was never nostalgic but rather focused on new projects, despite his age,” she continued.
Biagiotti Cigna recalled how he always stood by her family’s fashion company during its most important events, including when her late mother Laura Biagiotti traveled to China and Russia in 1988 and 1995, respectively, to parade her collections.
In addition to her love for Made in Italy which she owes to Modenese, Biagiotti Cigna noted she will treasure a brooch molded in the shape of two snakes he had designed during his stint at jewelry firm Faraone. “I will deeply miss him, but I’m beyond grateful for everything I was able to learn from him,” she said.
“He was well-loved, and so many expressed gratitude for his help and support,” said his nephew Alessandro Modenese. “He succeeded in creating a sense of unity and belonging among members of the industry, creating a system. Yet, he was always discreet and measured, always understated.”
Among other recognitions, Modenese received the Cavaliere honor from the Italian government and in 1994 the Ambrogino d’Oro prize from the City of Milan.