Byline: Eric Wilson

NEW YORK — “I hate it here,” said designer Roberto Cavalli, dashing across the street from Bergdorf Goodman to his Fifth Avenue showroom, during one of New York’s recent, ridiculous rainfalls.
“Too many cigarettes last night,” he complained, before lighting what was clearly not the first of the next day. If there was a smell worse than that of stale cigarettes, it would be their smell on a rainy day.
“I hate it in New York that no one can smoke anywhere,” he said, expressing a common sentiment among Italian designers.
So the designer smoked away, doing things the Cavalli way, much as he hopes New Yorkers and those in the rest of the country will soon appreciate. That is, they can pick up his style, if not his habits.
In town for an appearance at BG across the street, Cavalli was also hard at work with the store’s management to incorporate more of his “Cavalli World” concept into his boutique there, expanding the esthetic of his signature ready-to-wear into multiple-apparel categories, plus a new home collection launching this month in Milan.
Cavalli has already been expanding his lifestyle concept throughout stores in Europe, and now plans to target growth in the U.S., building his presence and profile here with a number of potential store openings — specifically in Los Angeles, Miami and Las Vegas — while also pumping up his connection with Hollywood glamour, most recently outfitting Courtney Love for her Oscar night outings.
He feels America is ready for the Cavalli touch — wild at times, certainly Italian, and very distinctive, with a case in point being a 60-foot racing yacht he recently designed with zebra-print paneling and upholstery, plus a hidden jacuzzi on its deck, for Magnum Marina in Miami Beach.
“My success in Europe came within the last three years,” he said. “Before that, everything was flat in fashion. It was like perfume or soap in that everything was the same. Glasses were normal. Watches were normal. There was a flattening in creativity, but I brought something different.”
Certainly, he’s gaining attention here for more than just a healthy ego. He’s been palling around with director Ridley Scott in Los Angeles for weeks and offered up some of the wardrobe for his recent film, “Hannibal.” He also scored some impressive publicity for the revealing gold gown worn by Love, but Cavalli is naturally aided by an oversized personality (he met his wife, Eva, during the Miss Universe pageant in 1977 — she was Miss Austria, he was a judge; guess who won) and a famous name (his grandfather’s paintings hang in the Uffizi Gallery).
Cavalli said that Love actually sought him out for the dress, asking for an introduction through Scott, and even brought him a pipe from his favorite cigarette manufacturer.
“Everybody says she’s so weird, but she’s actually very nice,” Eva Cavalli said. “She sent us flowers in Florence.
“Everybody was telling me, ‘You’ll never like her. She’s crazy! Disgusting!” Roberto Cavalli added. “But no, absolutely not. She was friendly to everyone.”
The Cavallis also befriended producers Dino and Martha DeLaurentiis and the stars of “Hannibal” during filming in Florence, where the couple resides in a spectacular 15th-century villa, done up in the Cavalli style. Anthony Hopkins came by most days to use the gym.
“The celebrity connection is very important,” Roberto Cavalli said. “It’s more important to me personally than to anyone else because it makes me feel important. Sometimes in Italy you don’t know how important you are. It’s important because it’s adrenaline, and that’s what starts creativity.”