MILAN — Princess Irene Galitzine, a Russian émigré who set up her own fashion house and rose to international fame for her palazzo pajamas and other striking designs, died Thursday night at her home in Rome. She was 90.
A spokeswoman said her funeral was Saturday at a Russian Orthodox church in Rome. She had no children. Her husband, Silvio Medici, died in 1989.
Galitzine belonged to an aristocratic family dating back to the 13th century. Her father, Boris Galitzine, was a member of Tsar Nicholas’ imperial guard and her mother, Nina Larazeff, was an accomplished pianist. When the Bolshevik Revolution began, Larazeff and her infant daughter fled Russia. They went first to Istanbul, where her mother chose a ship bound for Italy over one headed to the U.S.
Galitzine, a striking beauty with wavy auburn hair, began her fashion career in the early Forties by modeling and doing publicity work for the Fontana sisters in Rome, her adopted city. A few years later, she set up shop and began designing under her own name.
Along with Sorelle Fontana, Emilio Pucci and Fernanda Gattinoni, she was catapulted to marquee designer status in the Sixties during the dolce vita years of Italy’s post-war boom. They took advantage of the extraordinary Italian heritage of artisanship, particularly in leather and hand knits. At the time, Rome boasted both a glamorous film industry and a couture business rivaling that of Paris. Galitzine dressed Babe Paley, Jacqueline Kennedy, the Niarchos women and Elizabeth Taylor.
“It was a crazy period, and the crowd was very international. One season, we would all be in Capri or Sardinia, the next, Saint Moritz — with trips to New York wedged in between,” Galitzine recalled in a 2000 interview with WWD. “The French were more sophisticated, more complicated. The Italians were young and gay. They loved life; they were simpler.” Galitzine had a beautiful apartment in Rome with a huge terrace overlooking the Spanish Steps.
Her early designs were New Look-inflected evening dresses or chic cocktail dresses evocative of Audrey Hepburn in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” but as the Sixties progressed, Galitzine favored tunics and voluminous tops over slender pants, often in embroidered oriental fabrics beaded at the neck. Her Seventies aesthetic featured bell-bottom trousers, graphic prints and Mod detailing, including emphatic welt seaming. Her creations appeared on the big screen when she dressed Claudia Cardinale for her role in the “The Pink Panther” and Taylor in “Cleopatra.” Galitzine even had a cameo role as a designer in the 1975 film “Mahogany” starring Diana Ross.
During the Sixties, the designer came up with what would later become her fashion trademark, her famous palazzo pajamas, wide-legged pants and a tunic or a jumpsuit made of soft silk that was both elegant and easy to wear. “It was a perfect way of dressing for our lives then,” recalled Galitzine. Diana Vreeland coined the name Palazzo pants when she first saw them and demanded they be shot inside an ancient Roman palazzo. “You could dance easily in them, and all you needed to wear with them was a pretty jewel,” Galitzine said.
Later in life, the princess staged fashion shows in both Saudi Arabia and her native Russia, in response to an invitation from Mikhail Gorbachev. In the Seventies, she launched a cosmetics line. She played an active role in the company until her death, even though she sold the firm to a group of investors in the Nineties. Today, the Galitzine name lives on through a series of licensing agreements for products ranging from handbags to porcelain dishes and umbrellas.
Angela Savarese, Galitzine’s spokeswoman and collaborator for 25 years, said that she was always struck by her employer’s elegance and the grace she showed people, regardless of their station in life. “She lived life in a splendid way. She was so altruistic and generous,” Savarese said.
Pablo Manzoni, one of the first makeup artists to become world-famous, helped launch his career by working on her shows because of the enormous amount of leeway she gave him. The innovative makeup looks that resulted — including exaggerated Egyptian eyes — got him noticed, so Elizabeth Arden brought him to New York. “Galitzine was a lady loved by the entire world,” said Manzoni, adding that her smile was unforgettable. He helped create a catalogue of the designer’s work for her 90th birthday.
Stefano Dominella, president of fashion association Alta Roma, recalled Galitzine’s warm sense of hospitality, whether that meant bringing out her mother’s finest silver and crystal tableware for the simplest meal or telling colorful tales about her life. “I would remember that a lot of nights we would be eating tartines of caviar and drinking vodka and I would stay at her house until 2 a.m. just to hear all of her stories,” he said.