UNGARO’S DAY IN THE SUN
Byline: Jessica Kerwin
LOS ANGELES — “Who doesn’t love L.A.?” says Emanuel Ungaro, enjoying a moment in the Bel Air sun. “The citrus perfume in the air is so beautiful — like a miracle.”
Ungaro and his wife, Laura, were in town recently to show his spring collection at Neiman Marcus at a luncheon benefiting the Los Angeles Music Center.
While it was Ungaro’s first U.S. show, the designer felt right at home, perhaps because his clothes found an immediate audience here. “People have always encouraged me here and recognized what I was doing,” Ungaro says. “Excuse the immodesty, but I have had success here since the beginning.”
Neiman Marcus was one of Ungaro’s earliest accounts, way back in 1967, and Stanley Marcus was an early champion. “He was a such an example to everyone, because of his morality, his honesty and understanding of fashion,” Ungaro recalls. “He received me in his home, and I remember his mother served monkey bread, a special bread from Texas. They were so generous.”
Despite his affinity for the United States, Ungaro’s charm is distinctly European. He cites Freud when he summarizes his approach to fashion. “I have a quote hanging on the wall in my studio,” he says. “Freud said, ‘Despite my 30 years of research on the feminine soul, one question I can’t answer is: What does a woman want?’ That is the fascination I have with fashion.”
It’s a fascination that seems not to have waned a bit over a long career. “I don’t take myself seriously, but I work seriously,” Ungaro says. “I want to work with the same spirit I had in the beginning. I am a man of desire, not an intellectual. I work with my hands. High fashion is done with scissors and pins, not sketches.”
Yet few would argue that the demands on a designer today far exceed those that existed when Ungaro was starting out. In addition to his ready-to-wear and couture collections, Ungaro designs or oversees the design of four other lines. All together, his lines generate $600 million at retail worldwide. Last year, Ungaro sold his firm to the house of Ferragamo, and undertook a major reorganization — and planned expansion — of all of his labels under a single umbrella concept, Emanuel Ungaro Universe. Under the terms of his contract, Ungaro is committed to the house at least through 2004.
The sale, the designer said at the time, provides for the future of his house: “I have the vanity to believe that our products are high quality, but they were underexploited. This will be the spine of our business activity.”
And that leaves Ungaro freer to concentrate on design, “creating season after season and making people happy.”
“We need to be surprised, otherwise fashion is a bore and annoying,” he says. “The recent years have been hard for many people, especially in Europe.
“But with fashion you can bring hope,” Ungaro continues. “Fashion is always a reflection of the times. At the moment, we have to offer something creative but fluid and calm because people right now are a little insecure. We need to explore that tenderness, and the sweetness and freedom.”