Born: Adrienne Toth, in Budapest, Hungary, 1944; immigrated to the U.S., 1956. Education: Studied at the Moore College of Art, Philadelphia, 1962-66; received academic scholarship to apprentice with Louis Féraud, Paris, 1965. Family: Married Gianluigi Vittadini, 1972. Career: Designer, Sport Tempo, New York, 1967; designer, SW1 line for Rosanna division, Warnaco, New York, 1968-71; designer, Adrienne Vittadini collection for Avanzara division, Kimberly Knits, New York, 1976-79; with partner Victor Coopersmith, established own firm, AVVC, 1979, bought out partner, renamed company Adrienne Vittadini, 1982; designed swimsuits for Cole of California, 1984-93; formed Vopco Inc., franchising company, New York, 1987; first boutique opened, Beverly Hills, California, 1987; returned to swimwear designs with O.A.S. Industries, 1994; launched first fragrance, AV, 1995; introduced AV Options line (later renamed Vittadini), 1996; sold to Marisa Christina Inc. and closed Beverly Hills store, 1996; announced bath and body collection for 1997; Vittadini and husband resigned from business, 1998; launched new fragrance, Adrienne Vittadini, 1999; firm sold to de V&P Inc., 1999; de V&P went bankrupt, 2000; Vittadini brand bought by Casual Corner Group, 2001. Awards: Coty American Fashion Critics award, 1984.
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To the industry and the fashion press, Hungarian-born Adrienne Vittadini was known as the Queen of Knits. In 1979, after working with several knitwear firms, Vittadini started her own knitwear company, always asserting that knitwear was more than just sweaters. Vittadini was far more than a knitwear designer, she also created textiles and reinvented fashion. Vittadini maintained, "creating fabrics, then silhouettes, is the essence of fashion."
Vittadini began with a concept or theme for a collection, based on a mood or a feeling, which she then connected with a particular inspiration. The inspiration could evolve from an individual artist, an artistic movement, or her travels. Once she settled on a theme, came the intensive research in libraries, museums, books, and magazines. Her collections were inspired by the works of Alexander Calder, Pablo Picasso, Joan Miró, and Max Bill as well as Norwegian design and early Russian embroidery. She also tapped into contemporary pop culture for ideas, such as the line she designed based on the cartoon character Dick Tracy.
After establishing a theme, Vittadini created knit fabric by selecting and creating unusually textured yarns with Italian yarn spinners. She then oversaw the dyeing to obtain her own distinctive colorings and often supervised the initial samples off the knitting machines. Once the color and pattern were finalized, the fit, finishing, and quality were considered, which allowed her to maintain a sense of control over the design process from start to finish. Vittadini likened this entire process to painting, relating to her background in fine arts study at Moore College of Art in Philadelphia.
The Vittadini look has been characterized by knitwear of all-natural fibers, a certain practical, casual ease, and contemporary design with a feminine appeal. Her trademark knit silhouettes were loose-fit sweaters worn over short skirts, sophisticated ensembles, and sweater dresses which could all be interchanged. Vittadini has long asserted that knits are the most modern way of dressing. In her collections, she balanced her love of European elegance in design with American practicality and ease by creating clothes which were "feminine without fussiness," and possessed "a certain cleanness and pureness without hardness." Vittadini's simple knit silhouettes created seductive looks as they molded to the shape of the body.
First and foremost, Vittadini design was defined by the textile. She expanded the knitwear industry by inventing and developing new computer knitting techniques in textures, prints, and patterns as well as shapes and colors. Vittadini cites Lycra as the most important development in knitwear; she used it as a technological and functional tool to keep shape in her knits—especially trousers. Vittadini also expanded the fabrics used in her collections to include wovens, prints, suedes, and leathers. Her later lines included licensing arrangements for cotton swimwear, accessories, girlswear, sleepwear, sunglasses, home furnishings, wallcoverings, and decorative fabrics. Roughly two-thirds of her line was knits.
Vittadini always stressed the advantage she had as a woman designer. She believed because she was a woman, she innately knew what other women wanted—clothes which reflected modern lifestyles. For many years, knits were looked upon by the industry as dowdy. Vittadini, however, revolutionized the power of knits, and most all Seventh Avenue fashion firms eventually included knits in their collections. By promoting the ease and practicality of knits as well as the fact they travel well, the Vittadini customer was both suburban and city, housewife and businesswomen, with a diverse set of needs from clothes.
Unfortunately for Vittadini, her design firm suffered a series of missteps in the hands of several owners. While struggling in the middle 1990s, Vittadini was forced to cancel of 1995 show and rely on mail order to promote her collections. She then reorganized her business and launched a more competitively priced line, AV Options, for spring 1996. Vittadini explained the move to Women's Wear Daily (25 October 1995), "It is very frustrating as a designer these days. With all the mergers and consolidations of department stores, I am finding less pockets to sell my bridge and designer clothes. In order to grow, I have to look at other areas."
A few months after launching the AV Options line, Vittadini decided to sell her firm to Marisa Christina Inc., a publicly-owned knitwear company. The plan was to grow the Vittadini line to compete with such market stalwarts as Liz Claiborne and Jones New York. Yet Marisa Christina and its newly acquired Vittadini unit failed to meet expectations over the next 18 months, and amid rumors of discord, Vittadini and her husband/partner announced their resignation from the firm bearing her name. "For me, the company has been like a family," Vittadini told Women's Wear Daily (13 October 1998), "but I'm ready to do something else… I have a wonderful team in place, and they don't need my day-to-day input." The Vittadini and Adrienne Vittadini ranges, as well as the licensed footwear, were continued by Marisa Christina until the Vittadini unit was abruptly sold to de V&P Inc. in September 1999.
The acquisition, however, was a disaster. After a scant 14 months, de V&P Inc. went bankrupt; luckily for Vittadini, Claudio del Vecchio's Casual Corner came forward and bought the brand in 2001. Vittadini apparel would not be sold in Casual Corner's 1,000-plus retail outlets across the U.S., rather, the firm planned to slowly open Adrienne Vittadini shops, starting in 2002. Vittadini herself said of the new ownership, "I am extremely excited about the acquisition by Claudio del Vecchio," she told Women's Wear Daily (7 February 2001). "Mr. del Vecchio will do an outstanding job in maintaining the integrity, image, and the aesthetics of all the products."
updated by Owen James