The trend-setting Milanese catwalks in 1986 were populated by aggressive managerial women dressed “to kill” in severely tailored suits with broad shoulders that meant “business.” The “Dress for Success” look was the expression of a rampant “yuppie” society that relegated femininity to the domestic walls. In stark contrast, Romeo Gigli’s pale, delicate, long-necked and barefooted models drifted into the limelight draped in simple romantic tunics that looked as soft as rose petals. He took the fashion world by storm. Romeo Gigli’s women love to feel beautiful in his luxurious and sensual clothes. He has been described the “minimalist” of fashion
, the master of “understatement”, the “romantic intellectual”.
Born in 1949 in Bologna descendent of an aristocratic family, he started to study architecture at the university but soon was enraptured by fashion. During his trips all over the world, he collected sources of inspiration, coming back every time with some new ideas. His muses are Empress Theodora from Byzantium, the young and beautiful women depicted in the mosaics of Ravenna’s Byzantine Churches, and Piero Della Francesca’s virginal beauties.
Following his desire to transmit his idea of perfection to the whole world, Romeo Gigli moved to New York in 1979 and trained at the Dimitri’s Atelier, learning the techniques behind the fashion design. After his return to Italy, he set up his own label – manufactured by the Novara-based company Zamasport – in 1983. After his triumph in 1986, Gigli’s distinctive style has grown more pronounced with each collection. A close fit that follows the lines of the body; soft, romantic draping, with muted but rich colors, from deep blues to rose pinks, mole brown touched by delicate gold brocade or rich Indian embroideries, filigrees of pearls or teardrops of Venetian glass. These are the characteristics that give Romeo Gigli’s creation an overall look of grace and fluidity.
In the 80’s and 90’s the fashion house expanded, adding to the man and woman collections, Gigli Donna and Gigli Uomo, also the lower-priced G Gigli, meant to reach a younger public, as well as a line of jeans (created in 1993), accessories, perfumes (that brought him many prizes), jewelry and bags and shoes collections.
In 1988 the opening of the Spazio Romeo Gigli in Corso Como, one of the streets of fashion in Milan, gave him the opportunity not only to show his collections but also to create a cultural space where an encounter between arts, theatre, photography and fashion was made possible.
The history of the brand is studded also by some important collaboration. The first important one with Ermenegildo Zenga in 1988, for the ready-to, wear men collections. An agreement for the exclusive production and distribution of women’s collections and accessories was made with Takashimaya, the most famous Japanese department store, dealing with luxury and quality goods.
But the group has been subjected also to radical changes in its structure. The first came in 1991. A traumatic separation from Gigli’s friends and business partners Donato Maiano and Carla Sozzani called for a basic restructuring of his business which has given birth to his “Romeo World” headed by himself, with a 1991 turnover of 200 billion lire.
After spending some time keeping away from catwalks and media, Romeo Gigli returned on the crest of the wave in 2008, launching a new label. Io Ipse Idem reflects, starting from the same name, the main characteristic of the designer, but under a renewed optics. Under the supervision of the Ip Investment e Partecipazioni group, with the collaboration of Catherine Vautrin (ex-manager director of Emilio Pucci) and the entrepreneur Luciano Donatelli, the firm made its debut at the beginning of 2009.
The following year a financial scandal that hit the brand that still bears Romeo Gigli’s name. Its manager directors are under investigation for criminal bankruptcy. The unpleasant event has left unharmed Romeo Gigli, who now has nothing to do with his old fashion house. His only desire for the future is to restart from zero and construct a new emperor with the only help of his talent and passion.
The preciousness and luxe of his designs don’t pass unnoticed. “Preraphaelite” is the adjective most commonly used to describe his dreamy looking beauties. Romeo Gigli’s unconstructed clothes have conquered even the difficult French public. He works mostly in stretch linen, silk, chiffon, cotton gauze, wool, cashmere, and silk gazar.
England’s Bath Costume Museum chose one of Romeo Gigli’s creations as its 1991 Dress of the Year: a midnight-blue velvet pantsuit, its blouse a streaky sunset of stripes and its gilt-embroidered cummerbund as though tipped by the rays of the sun. Also the Momu of Anversa, the Fashion Institute of Technology in London and the Metropolitan Museum of New York can boast some of Gigli’s creations among their collections.