PARIS — Loris Azzaro, a designer whose sexy gowns have been a magnet for celebrities across several generations, died Thursday of cancer at a Paris clinic. He was 70.
He leaves behind a small but recently percolating fashion house, centered at his boutique here on Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honore, and a substantial men’s fragrance business, owned by Groupe Clarins.
In 2002, Compagnie Frey, best known for its champagne and real estate holdings, bought the Azzaro fashion house to expand its luxury division. Earlier that year, Frey was among firms vying to buy Valentino, which was eventually purchased by Marzotto.
On Thursday, the house said Azzaro’s daughter, Beatrice, would carry on his creative legacy.
“He was passionate for all expressions of beauty, in particular the beauty of women, which he captured in such a magical way over the past 40 years,” the house said in a statement.
Born to Italian parents in Tunisia, Azzaro studied literature in Toulouse, France, before moving to Paris in 1962. He started in fashion with jewelry and bags and founded his couture house in 1968, encouraged by the editorial success of a jersey gown with circular cutouts, famously worn by Marisa Berenson.
Azzaro soon became known for a sculptural, body-hugging style, appealing to some of the world’s most beautiful and shapely women. Raquel Welch, Claudia Cardinale, Joan Collins, Sophia Loren and Tina Turner were all clients in the Seventies and Eighties.
In 1992, Azzaro launched a men’s wear line, but he was best known for his fragrances. His worldwide market share in men’s fragrances was once estimated at up to 10 percent.
“He was very curious and very creative,” said Gerard Delcour, president and chief executive of Parfums Azzaro. “He was open to all things. He loved music, architecture, decor, not only fashion — he was a complete aesthete.”
Acquired by Clarins in 1995, Parfums Azzaro today rings up annual sales of about $118.9 million, or 100 million euros.
The designer continued to consult on Azzaro fragrances on an informal basis until recently, Delcour said, noting that he helped conceive Visit, the brand’s latest men’s scent.
Azzaro introduced his first fragrance, Azzaro Parfum Couture, in 1975. The brand has since developed 13 others. Azzaro Pour Homme, introduced in 1978, is the third best-selling selective men’s fragrance in France, while Chrome, launched in 1996, ranks ninth in the U.S., Delcour said, citing Secodip and NPD figures, respectively. Eau Belle, a women’s scent, ranks third in France in the “eau fraiche” market.
Delcour noted that the brand would continue its international development, but said, “We will miss the little spark, the soul of the house.”
While fragrance long overshadowed the clothes, Azzaro’s designs recently gained new currency as Hollywood actresses began favoring vintage on the red carpet. Nicole Kidman, for example, wore a white, fringed Azzaro to the “Moulin Rouge” premiere in 2001.
Inspired by the new fame, Azzaro himself, assisted by his daughter and designer Vanessa Seward, was involved in the relaunch of some of his archival dresses, tweaked for modern times.
Carine Roitfeld, editor in chief of French Vogue, wore one — a crystal-detailed, white jersey number based on the famous Berenson gown — to her designer-studded party during Paris fashion week last month. In fact, the magazine is putting the finishing touches on a multi-page feature on Azzaro, including a final interview with the ailing designer, in its December issue. “It is definitely an Azzaro moment, and we are sad that he is gone,” Roitfeld said.
Services have yet to be arranged. Besides Beatrice, 44, Azzaro is survived by another daughter, Catherine, 34.