Mariuccia Mandelli

MILAN — Mariuccia Mandelli, the founder of Krizia, one of Italy’s first ready-to-wear brands that helped build the country’s global fashion identity, died at the age of 90 on Sunday evening after a sudden illness.

Mario Boselli, honorary chairman of the Italian Chamber of Fashion, confirmed her death. Her funeral will be held Wednesday.

“She played a central role in shaping Milan’s ready-to-wear. She was very, very talented. Her archives are an example of innovation on materials, the shapes of her designs exceptional. I am glad that the Krizia brand was sold in time and that it will continue to live on,” Boselli said.

“It’s difficult to imagine Milan without Mariuccia Mandelli, who was among the great protagonists of the transformation of this city into capital of fashion,” said Giorgio Armani. “She was a woman with an irrepressible imagination and strong character, ready to dispute and battle. We have agreed on fundamental choices that have changed the structure of our sector, discussed in total discord on others.

“She is a designer that represented the pop spirit of fashion with irony and, at the same time, a certain hidden bourgeois taste that revealed a desire for transgression,” Armani added. “And, especially, she was an entrepreneur, one of the pioneers that knew how to transform creativity without compromises in an industry that has no comparison.”

Karl Lagerfeld designed ready-to-wear for Krizia from 1964 to 1970 at a time when Walter Albini did the knits and Gianfranco Ferre the jewelry.

“She was the Miuccia Prada of the Sixties and early Seventies: Very funny – nearly “folle” – but a very pleasant way to be mad,” Lagerfeld related in a fax. “Milano in those days was even more exciting than Paris with all the designers for furniture and architecture like her friend Gae Aulenti. It was an exciting moment in Milan and she was the center – kind of a queen. That was even before her wedding to the charming Mr. Pinto. She did not tell her mother that she was dating him and she was in her early 40s. It was an exciting moment. She was always playing the one who was jealous of everybody. I must say – even if we lost contact – I remember her with great pleasure.”

Alber Elbaz, who did a one-season collaboration with Mandelli in 2000 — a collection dubbed Krizia Top — recalled his brief stint with affection, and hailed Mandelli as one of Italy’s top designers in the Eighties.

“I liked her and her husband very much. They were like grandmother and grandfather, really great people,” he said. “It was the first time I was actually working in Italy in a factory.

“I always respected their heritage, their DNA,” he continued. “She gave me total freedom to work on the collection and to do the show. She was a real workaholic. She was there, she was working.”

Belgian designer Jean-Paul Knott worked for Mandelli during his stint as a designer for Krizia Top in 2001 and 2002, succeeding Elbaz at the house’s upscale line.

“I am very sad. She was a grande dame of Italian fashion,” Knott said. “She taught me preciseness. She was very meticulous.

“She had this wonderful universe. She had the K-Club hotel [on the Caribbean island of Barbuda] that reflected her sophisticated universe. Panther was one of the patterns that characterized her [style], as well as platform [shoes],” the designer added.

Knott also noted that Mandelli took pride in the fact that designers Karl Lagerfeld and Giambattista Valli were among those who passed through the doors of Krizia.

“Mariuccia and her husband, Aldo Pinto, were running a very exciting company in the mid-Seventies when we decided we wanted them for Bergdorf Goodman,” said Ira Neimark, the former Bergdorf chairman and chief executive officer. “Krizia was one of the first Italian designer collections that came to Bergdorf Goodman at a time when Milan was really just beginning to get started,” with designers achieving world-class status. “When they came on board, and Fendi and Armani came on board, everybody wanted to come into Bergdorf Goodman.”

At its peak in the Nineties, Mandelli and her husband, company chairman Aldo Pinto, had developed Krizia into a $500 million business, leveraging a string of licenses and a global network of stores.

Mandelli, who hailed from Bergamo, Italy, was instrumental in launching Italian rtw globally.

After first opening a small fashion factory with a friend, the designer launched the Krizia brand in 1954, named after a Plato dialogue on feminine vanity. The story of how she packed her first tank dresses and skirts in a suitcase, hopped into her Fiat 500 and scooted around Italy, knocking on the doors of the finest boutiques to sell them became a favorite fashion tale.

She showed the brand for the first time at Palazzo Pitti in Florence in 1964. This all black-and-white collection brought her the Critica della Moda award, previously won only by fashion designer Emilio Pucci.

Pleating, sweaters spiked with leopard and tiger motifs, sculpted shoulders and cocoon shapes became some of Krizia’s hallmarks, and the designer was also known for her experiments with materials such as eel skin, cork and gum.

In 1971, Krizia was awarded the Tiberio d’Oro prize in Capri for her short shorts, later renamed HotPants by WWD, at a time when midi and maxi lengths were prevalent. In recent collections, Mandelli had found far-reaching inspiration ranging from the Far East, the Sahara and Zen New-Age to the Space Age, while continuing to target women with a bold attitude.

The one-time power couple have been battling health issues for years. A fixture of Milan Fashion Week and the city’s life along with her husband, the strong-willed Mandelli had rarely been seen in public in recent years. Without a second generation to helm the brand, Krizia’s volume is now believed to be miniscule and its assets include the Milan store and the label’s stately palazzo, where the shows are held.

Last year, Mandelli passed the baton after six decades in business, selling a controlling stake of Krizia SpA to Chinese fashion retailer Shenzhen Marisfrolg Fashion Co. Ltd., based in Shenzhen.

Shenzhen Marisfrolg Fashion is owned by entrepreneur Zhu Chongyun.

Zhu stated ambitions to open Krizia flagships in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Chengdu over the next five years, and gradually reopen units in the most important cities in Europe, Japan and the U.S.

Krizia entered China in 1994. In 2003, Japan was the company’s largest market, with 30 brand stores and 400 multibrand clients. In the Eighties and Nineties, boutiques stood in top shopping streets in New York, Paris, Venice, London and Hong Kong, mainly designed by architect Piero Pinto, Aldo Pinto’s brother.

Aldo Pinto’s sons Silvio and Andrea, a former Nina Ricci president who worked on and off for Krizia as a general manager over the years, have ventured into their own consultancy businesses.

A longtime admirer of Mandelli’s “pioneering work,” Zhu said her “mission was the preservation of Krizia’s idea of fashion, made of visionary research and immense creativity.”