Born: Castelbolognese, Faenza, Italy, 12 December 1949. Education: Studied architecture; has traveled the world extensively. Family: Married; children: Diletta. Career: First collection for Quickstep by Luciano Papini; small collection of handknits, 1972; designer, Dimitri Couture, New York, 1979; Romeo Gigli label, from 1981; first showing, 1982; designer, Romeo Gigli for Zamasport, from 1984; distribution agreement with Takashimaya, 1987; opened Corso Como boutique, Milan, 1988; collaboration with Ermenegildo Zegna Group, from 1989; Romeo di Romeo Gigli, women's fragrance launched and Paris store opened, 1989; lower-priced G. Gigli sportswear line introduced and New York store opened, 1990; formation of NUNO to distribute G. Gigli line, 1992; made limited edition hand-made rugs for Christopher Farr, 1993; signature line of jeans, 1996; Awards: Accademia del Profumo award [for fragrance packaging], 1990; Woolmark award, 1990; American Fragrance Foundation award [fragrance packaging], 1991. Address: Via Fumagalli, 6-20143 Milan, Italy. Website: www.romeogigli.it.
Martin, Richard, and Harold Koda, Orientalism: Visions of the East in Western Dress (exhibition catalogue), New York 1994.
Stegemeyer, Anne, Who's Who in Fashion, Third Edition, New York,1996.
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"Ferre and Gigli: Architects of a Modern Style," in Elle (London),October 1986.
Cocks, Jay, "The Color of New Blood: Some Snazzy Duds from Three Upstarts," in Time, 10 November 1986.
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Spindler, Amy M., "Lagerfeld Tones Down the Look at Chanel," in the New York Times, 21 March 1995.
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Allen, Derek, "Romeo Gigli: Alchemist Par Excellence," available online at Yes Please, www.yesplease.it, January 1999.
"Romeo Gigli," [profile], available online at Moda Online, www.modaonline.it, 7 September 2001.***
Romeo Gigli produces clothes that are always subtle and sophisticated. He blends a spectrum of muted colors with a fluid sense of cut and drape to give a feeling of balance and harmony to all his designs, perhaps as a result of his architectural training. His prime influences are fine art and travel, both apparent in the Renaissance luxury of the fabrics he uses and the mix of cultural influences discernible in their shaping and decoration. A soft sculptural beauty pervades both his day and eveningwear, with a talent for shaping clothes to the body in an elegantly flattering way without ever clinging too tightly or restrictively.
His womenswear encapsulates these qualities and has been very influential, having taken its cue from the elastic fluidity of dancewear to produce garments that are soft and feminine. Although Gigli's clothes are obviously designed for the busy modern woman, they are never merely a series of mix-and-match separates, nor indeed are they as ostentatious as the work of some of his Italian counterparts. His use of stretch fabrics and rich warm woollen suiting have inspired many imitators with their purity of cut and sensuous, body-skimming fit. The classical virtues of the body which pervade Gigli's work give a feeling of an evolutionary process to fashion, rather than a slavish following of seasonal dictates, and it is perhaps this innate classicism that gives his clothes a timeless air.
Some Gigli garments, like his richly enveloping embroidered coats, seem destined to become treasured collectors' items, passed on like heirlooms rather than falling victim to the fickleness often associated with fashion. His use of detailing is subtle and uncluttered, as in the minimal silhouette of the Empire line dresses and ballet-styled wrap tops introduced and popularized during the mid-1980s. When decoration is used it follows his restrained ideals of iridescent beauty—golden thread embroidered around the edge of a soft bolero jacket, evoking a feeling of the East, dull amber gold beads making a shimmering glow of fringing from waist to floor, or thousands of glittering gunmetal blue beads on a cocoon-like evening dress.
If Gigli's strength is perhaps his gently romantic womenswear, his menswear is nonetheless notable for the same kind of muted colours and sinuous cut, giving it a feeling of luxury without any obvious show of wealth. Suiting is again unstructured, working with the shape of the body rather than against it. His jackets are often high-buttoned, with an extra sense of depth and texture given to their rich wools by the subtle range of mossy greens, dull aubergine and bitter chocolate browns used to stripe the fabric. It is this kind of color sense which, combined with clever mixing of shiny and matte fabrics, marks all his work. Even his most formal menswear has an effortless elegance and a fluidity of cut, which have made it unfailingly popular with discerning male customers.
Gigli has followed the increasingly popular notion of the diffusion range with the more practical daywear basics of his G. Gigli line, launched in 1990. Here the silhouette is bulkier, with rich berry chenilles and sage and golden corduroys being used to produce a collection of classic zip-style cardigans, hooded tops, trousers, and soft leggings for men and women. Although less ethereally beautiful than much of his main collection, there is still the same signature use of contrasting fabrics and muted colors to produce a very tactile appeal through texture and shade.
An intelligent balance of all elements of design and choice of textiles makes Gigli's work uniquely sophisticated and beautiful. His subtlety of touch and soft sculptural forms have influenced all levels of design from the High Street up, and his work has continued to develop along his self-assigned tenets of harmony and balance, always retaining a feeling of sensuous luxury.
While Gigli continued to debut collections in Paris, he returned to the Milan catwalk in 1997 after an absence of seven years. Critics approved of his women's line featuring three-piece pantsuits, skirts, and knit dresses and his men's collection of retooled jackets, shoes and ties. As always, his use of fabric and texture drew the most praise. Suzy Menkes, who had sung Gigli's praises after his first Paris showing years before, enthused, "But the joy of the show was in its opening coats in fabrics that seemed to draw their rich colors and lattice or tapestry textures from the artistic soul of Italy."
By the 21st century the Gigli name could be found on an increasing number of products, from ties, shoes, and eyewear to fabrics and handmade rugs for Christopher Farr. The limited edition kilims featured wool from Kurdish sheep, and were handmade on looms in Turkey. Gigli continues to be propelled by his beliefs in intrinsic beauty; as he told Derek Allen in a 1999 interview for the Italian website Yes Please, "All the pieces I create must be beautiful in character, and that means they must possess beauty outside the context of the overall project. If I remove a piece from the collection and it doesn't fuction in alternative contexts, then it lacks the necessary sense of balance." For Gigli, balance and beauty go hand in hand.
updated by Nelly Rhodes
Italian designer Romeo Gigli (born 1949) won renown for almost singlehandedly causing the renaissance of elaborate beading, drapery, and the use of luxury fabrics such as velvet, brocade, and silks, all in a modern manner.
Romeo Gigli was born in Faenza, Italy into a wealthy aristocratic family. One need only look at his childhood to find the beginning of his love of luxury. Gigli's father was in the antiquarian book business and Gigli himself acknowledged: "My ideas are all from pictures I have in my head from 15th and 16th century books." But inspired as he was by his father's trade, Gigli did not go into the family business. Instead, he studied architecture for two years, traveling regularly to the European capitals of London and Paris. In 1972, a store in Bologna, Italy, asked Gigli to design clothes based on the avant-garde street fashions he had seen in these two capital cities.
In 1978, Gigli traveled to New York to design a collection of menswear for Piertro Dimitri. Although Dimitri wanted him to stay and sign an exclusive design contract, Gigli remained in New York for only one season. He then returned to Italy and began work as a design consultant for several Italian clothing companies, including Timmi.
Gigli launched his own company in 1983 and set up his own label, manufactured by the Novara based company Zamasport. Notices of favor from the fashion press were swift and loud. His unstructured and anachronistic designs brought a refreshing air of romance and simplicity back to fashion, and Gigli soon stood bare shoulders above the rest of the Italian fashion pack, including Giorgio Armani. In 1989 Gigli made a controversial move, taking his style presentations from Milan to Paris, where he continued to show under the tents outside the Louvre and under the auspices of the French fashion organization, Le Chambre du Syndicale, before moving into a showroom in the Marais district. In 1991, Gigli separated from his two business partners, restructured his business, and created "Romeo World" turning over 200 billion lire in the first year.
Gigli's shows were populated by wan, pale models, watched by cultist gatherings of his fashion fans. His designs were sought after by slender, fashion-conscious, wealthy women around the world. To describe Gigli's designs one must think of a combination of Renaissance regality, Japanese severity, and disheveled punk-oriented street chic. Gigli's distinctive style has grown more pronounced with each collection since 1986 - it is characterized by a close fit that follows the lines of the body; soft, romantic draping; a tendency towards asymmetry; and an overall look of grace and fluidity. His colors are muted but rich and he works mostly in stretch linen, silk, chiffon, cotton gauze, wool, cashmere, and silk gazar.
"Gigli was the first designer to rediscover femininity in a modern way," says Chris Gilbert, president of The Fashion Service, a retail adviser and trend tracking agency in New York. "His influence on fashion has impacted strongly already: the smaller shoulders, longer earrings, the rounded hiplines and the mix of delicate and luxurious fabrics in stretch formations: all of that is from Gigli."
Gigli was one of the first designers to show a mix of other designers' work in his stores. For instance, in his Milan boutique his designs were combined with those designed by Jean Paul Gaultier and Sybilla. He found clothing as fascinating as fine art. One season after a fabric-buying trip to India, Gigli came back and ripped out everything in his showroom to put up a display of saris, just for people to come and look at.
Gigli came out with a lower-priced line to be available in chic boutiques and high fashion department stores in the early 1990s. Some fashion critics have criticized Gigli for being slightly overbearing with, for example, the voluminous layers of luxury and crystal beaded ball gowns in one 1990 collection. Naysayers called him more of an "interior decorator" than a fashion designer. But many observers will admit that his early work was possibly the most influential fashion design of the late 1980s. And his avant-garde otherworldly fashion influence is expected to continue to grow into the 1990s.
Additional information on designers and fashions can be found in the Fairchild Dictionary of Fashion (1988), McDowell's Directory of 20th Century Fashion (1987), and Catherine McDermott's Street Style (1987). See also Andrew Edelstein's The Pop Sixties (1985), Alison Lurie's The Language of Clothes (1983), and Melissa Sones' Getting into Fashion (1984).
For on-line resources about Romeo Gigli see: <http://made-initaly.com/fashion/fashion/gigl/gigl.htm> and <http://www.firstview.com/Spring96/RomeoGigli>. □
The designer Romeo Gigli was born in 1949 in Castelbolognese, near Faenza, Italy, into a family of antiquarian booksellers with a collection of more than twenty thousand volumes from the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. The region of Faenza has a rich cultural and historical heritage. It was there, in the Byzantine mosaics of Ravenna and in the rare books in his family's library, that Gigli found the initial inspiration for his future art.
Gigli studied architecture in Florence. At the end of the 1970s, after ten years spent traveling around the world, during which time he collected objects, fabrics, and clothing, he began to take an interest in fashion. In 1979 he went to New York, where Pietro Dimitri, a tailor who made custom clothing for men, asked Gigli to design a line of women's clothing. It was a defining moment for Gigli, who, after returning to Italy and settling in Milan, decided to enter fashion on a full-time basis. In 1983 he launched the Romeo Gigli label, which was produced by Zamasport beginning in 1985.
Gigli broke with existing conventions, revolutionizing the approach to women's fashion common in the 1980s. During a period characterized by padded shoulders and aggressive sexuality, Gigli introduced a new look for women—one that was romantic and intimate. He turned away from the hard-edged contours that were then prevalent and based his designs on classic proportions, which he updated, sometimes radically. He made use of contrast and asymmetry and combined simplicity with luxurious fabrics, sometimes pairing smaller, microlength designs with long, full garments. He made use of unusual combinations of colors, such as sand and pink, dark blues, verdigris, saffron, red, and gold, and of fabrics, such as stretch linen, silk, chiffon, cotton gauze, wool, and cashmere. And he was one of the first designers to use Lycra.
The Gigli woman is ethereal and silent, fragile and poetic; her conical silhouette, with its long, narrow sleeves and layered overcoats, jackets, and scarves, emphasizes the sensuality of a woman's arms and shoulders, her gestures and bearing. Even Gigli's men's collection, begun in 1986, broke with the traditional schema and returned to classical proportions and uncommon pairings of materials. He reintroduced the three-button jacket and the natural, or Neapolitan, shoulder; his pants were narrow and his shirts colorful. The Gigli man is neither aggressive nor a dandy; he is an intellectual, casual in appearance only, careful in his choice of colors and fabrics.
In 1987 Gigli signed an agreement with Takashimara—the Japanese department store specializing in luxury and quality goods—for the exclusive production and distribution of the women's ready-to-wear collection and men's and women's accessories.
For several years Gigli showed his clothes in Paris, where he was received with considerable enthusiasm. In Milan his showrooms at 10 corso Como, Spazio Romeo Gigli, which opened in 1988 in a former automobile repair shop in the working-class Garibaldi neighborhood, have become a place of cult worship for intellectuals and fashion rebels, for whom Gigli is the undisputed leader.
One of his women's perfumes, Romeo di Romeo Gigli, received the International prize Accademia del Profumo for the best packaging of 1989 and the award of the American Fragrance Foundation for the best packaging of 1991.
In 1990, he launched the G Gigli line, produced by Stefanel for a younger market. From 1987 to 1996 he designed Callaghan for Zamasport, a collection of richly decorated ethnic clothing. In 1993 he started a cooperation with Christopher Farr's Handmade rugs for the carrying out of carpets in a limited edition.
Because of disagreements with his associates, Gigli decided to completely redefine his activity. He continued as the artistic director of Gigli Spa, a part of IT Holding, which was founded in 1999 and which produces and distributes products associated with the Gigli name. Romeo Gigli, considered Italy's poet-designer, has been a forerunner of minimalism and understatement in modern clothing design. His stylistic and conceptual innovations have been widely imitated.
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Simona Segre Reinach