His flamboyant style, leopard prints and bare outfits had made him the darling of the international jet set for decades: Italian designer Roberto Cavalli died on Friday at the age of 83 in his hometown of Florence after a long illness.

Appearing for the first time in the 1970s on stars like Sophia Loren and Brigitte Bardot, its skin-baring and eye-catching creations have also seduced new generations of celebrities, including Kim Kardashian and Jennifer Lopez.

The designer’s passion for Ferraris, horses, cigars and open shirts revealing a tanned torso also made him a very popular character in the newspapers. Married to a Miss Universe finalist, owner of a purple helicopter and a vineyard in Tuscany, his friends included Sharon Stone and Cindy Crawford.

But his career also experienced low points, such as in the 1980s, when his flamboyant style appeared to go against the tide of the minimalism then in vogue.

He also found himself at the center of a lengthy trial in Italy over a tax fraud case, which ended in his acquittal. His company also began to record losses, forcing him to sell the majority of his shares in 2015.

Known above all for its printed stretch leathers and faded jeans, Cavali has always favored the spectacular aspect in its creations, particularly through its passion for animal motifs.

In 2005, he was chosen to update the Playboy Short Dress Bunnies uniforms, and one of his versions obviously included leopard print.

Stitched jeans

Born on November 15, 1940 in Florence, known for its leather industry, Cavali began by painting T-shirts to earn money while studying art.

In 2012, he recounted on his blog how, in 1970, he was invited to a party and found himself face to face with the host, a stylist: wanting to save face, he told her that he was making prints on leather. The stylist asks him to come back the next day with samples and Cavalli hurries to find soft, fine leather on which he prints floral patterns. The stylist was won over and Cavalli’s career was launched.

Cavalli patented several of his methods, which attracted the attention of luxury house Hermès and fashion designer Pierre Cardin.

In the 1970s, he opened a boutique in Saint-Tropez, one of the jet set hotspots on the Côte d’Azur, and presented his first collection in Paris.

He then returns to his hometown, where he presents his denim couture creations in the sumptuous setting of the Pitti Palace.

“Copy God”

Discussing his animal prints in Vogue in 2011, the animal lover, whose personal menagerie included a monkey, commented: “I love anything to do with nature.”

“I realized that even fish have fantastic colorful dresses, just like snakes and tigers. I realized that God is truly the best designer, so I started copying God,” he told the magazine.

Beyond fashion, his empire extends to furniture, wine, jewelry and even vodka.

He also created a collection for the Swedish giant H&M and costumes for the tour of American star Beyoncé.

Despite everything, his brand gradually faced financial difficulties linked to increased competition from houses controlled by the giants LVMH and Kering, and Cavalli left the artistic direction of his group in 2013.

Two years later, the Milanese fund Clessidra bought 90% of it, but was unable to stem the losses.

Ultimately, Cavalli was acquired in November 2019 by Vision Investments, the investment fund of Dubai real estate tycoon Hussain Sajwani.

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