MILAN — Antonio Ratti, who elevated Italian silk making to an art and made it a commercial success too, died Wednesday at his home in Como, Italy, of natural causes. He was 86.

Ratti, one of Italy’s first textile entrepreneurs, opened his namesake company along the shores of Lake Como on Italian Liberation day, April 25, 1945, with a $5 loan from his father. At that time, the country was just beginning its reconstruction following World War II and Italian textiles were in a state of flux.

“I was trying to create a company that was both creative and commercial,” Ratti told WWD in an interview last year.

With a just a handful of young colleagues and a relentless desire to succeed, Ratti began making silk for ties, scarves and priests’ vestments. As the company began to grow and expand during the Fifties, Ratti continually invested in design, research and state-of-the-art technology. In 1958, Ratti became a fully integrated company with the inauguration of a new manufacturing plant in Guanzate, outside of Como. It was one of the first mills in Como to incorporate every process of silk making, from dyeing to printing to finishing. In 1961, Ratti launched its first collection of silks for women’s apparel.

Known as a gentle but firm man, Ratti stressed innovation and customer service at the company. By the Seventies, it had evolved into one of Italy’s largest silk manufacturers supplying chiffon, organza, shantung and twill to such designers as Yves Saint Laurent, Gianfranco Ferre, Versace and Valentino.

“He was a truly special man and stands out among the many important protagonists in the history of ‘Made In Italy,”‘ said Gianfranco Ferre, who collaborated with Ratti for almost 30 years. “He guided his company with passion, dedication, intelligence and foresight and greatly contributed to the growth of our industry. I will remember him for his love of the silk tradition and for the quality and excellence of his products.”

During the boom years of the Eighties, Ratti reached enormous commercial success by satiating designers’ needs for color, flash and imaginative prints.

“Antonio Ratti wrote the history of fabrics and silks and is considered a legend in the textile industry,” said Donatella Versace. “Gianni [Versace] was very close to him, and after Gianni’s death, he dedicated an exhibition to Gianni’s work.

“[Ratti] will always be remembered as a wonderful person who was full of life and for his incredible dedication to his work that lasted until the very end,” she added.

Ratti went public in 1989, and in doing so became one of the first Italian fashion companies to be quoted on the Milan Bourse. Although the advent of minimalism in the Nineties hurt the company’s bottom-line, Ratti battled by diversifying its offering with jerseys, silk blends, and the creation of production facilities specializing in yarn-dyed silks. Within the past two years, the company has rebounded and reported sales of $140 million in 2001.

Ratti’s business philosophy stretched beyond the factory floor. He continually sought to incorporate culture, art and history into his products and designs, and in no better way did he express this commitment than through the Antonio Ratti Foundation. Since 1985, the foundation has hosted exhibitions, manager roundtables and textile retrospectives.

His reputation as an international textile innovator was solidified when New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art inaugurated the Antonio Ratti Textile Center in 1995.

Less than a year later, he stepped down as president of Ratti, but remained honorary president until his death. His daughter, Donatella, took over as president in 1996 and became chief executive officer last year.

Throughout his life, Ratti received numerous honors for his innovation and business acumen, including Cavaliere del Lavoro, the highest honor bestowed on an Italian businessman from the president of the Italian Republic. Ratti also served on company boards for Rizzoli Corriere della Sera and Mediobanca. He was an honorary member of the Board of Trustees for the Metropolitan Museum of Art and a member of the Collections Consulting Committee for the Guggenheim in Venice.

A funeral is scheduled for today at the Cathedral of Como. Ratti is survived by his wife, Carlangela, and his daughters, Donatella, Erika and Annie.

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