ON FREEDOM, OBSESSION AND PLEASING WOMEN.
Byline: Dianne M. Pogoda, September 1994
When Emanuel Ungaro began designing on his own in the mid-Sixties, the fashion establishment thought his mad mixes of prints were off the wall.
Today, he sits on top of a $250 million fashion empire, one of the few couturiers who still owns his house, with licenses for women’s lines, men’s wear, accessories and perfume, and boutiques and in-store shops.
He characterizes his career as obsessive and full of risks.
In 1968, a year which he considers pivotal in his career as well as for fashion in general, Ungaro opened his Parallele boutique in Paris with his first rtw collection. It was then that he began mixing prints. “I got a terrible reaction from the fashion community,” he recalled. “Everyone said I was crazy. But I continued. For me, it was a necessity. It was freedom. You have to have the courage to take the risk, and the obsession, to open a new space of freedom.”
Ungaro’s training began as a child, when he apprenticed to his father, a tailor who emigrated from Italy to Aix-en-Provence, France, where Ungaro was born.
Ungaro said his father and the master designer Cristobal Balenciaga were the two greatest influences in his life, and both were men of great dignity. Ungaro worked with Balenciaga in Paris before starting his own house in 1965.
Interestingly, his two influential figures never saw his collections in Paris. His father, who remained in Aix-en-Provence, saw the collection only once, when it was brought to town.
“My father’s main concern was when I was going to come home to visit him,” Ungaro reflected. “It was only when his friends said they had seen my name in New York, or Japan, that he started to ask me about my business.”
Ungaro calls Balenciaga “the most beautiful technician ever in the world,” and said, “not only was he the major influence on my life, but he was influencing the whole of the couture. The technical way Balenciaga did things was fascinating,” he said. “No one to this day knows how to make a sleeve fit like he did.”
“I am not creating to please myself,” he said. “I create to please women, to give them the necessity to have my clothes. When a woman tells me she ‘can’t live without this dress,’ I am happy, because I’ve touched the heart of that woman.”
“Never,” he declares. “There’s no reason for it. Only an idiot is really ever satisfied.”