A king of excess, Roberto Cavalli showed his first collection of printed leather gowns in 1970 and has since built a desirable lifestyle empire. Exotic elegance, wild prints and bohemian glamour are inherent in every collection and his seductive cuts have provided everyone from Jennifer Lopez to Victoria Beckham with red-carpet drama.
Sexing-up denim in the Noughties with his youth line, Just Cavalli, Roberto is a designer of both substance and style, as he has made cutting-edge developments in textile technology throughout his career. Often seen surrounded by beautiful women, Cavalli’s lavish lifestyle may lead people to consider him as an archetypical Italian lothario, however the designer has been happily married for over 30 years. His extravagant Tuscan estate (complete with pools and a vineyard), stable of racehorses (the jockeys wear leopard-print Cavalli silks) and a vast collection of toys (Ferraris, a helicopter and a 138-foot, iridescent purple yacht), do however ensure that he is the embodiment of the extravagance that he sells.
- Roberto Cavalli was born on November 15 1940 in Florence, Italy. Artistic talent ran in the family as his grandfather was a celebrated Impressionist painter and his mother a seamstress. He stuttered as a child, which as he would later tell Colin McDowell was cured by a surge in confidence and a new-found fascination with girls.
- While studying at the Academy of Art in Florence in 1957, Cavalli decided not to become an artist, instead experimenting by applying painterly techniques to textiles in ways that had not been practised before. “My dream, maybe because of my family, was to be a painter. I chose in one moment the direction of textiles; from textiles I went to fashion,” he later reflected.
- Roberto married his first wife Silvanella Giannoni in 1964 and had his first two children. “I met a girl, the first girl I loved, and I married her with the first money I got,” he told us in 2011. “We first made love the night we married, after knowing each other for four years, and we had my first daughter nine months and ten days later!” After 10 years of marriage, Silvanella and Roberto divorced in 1974.
- In 1970, Roberto Cavalli showcased his revolutionary materials for the first time in his debut collection. “I had this idea to print on leather. I used glove skin from a French tannery, and when I started to print, I saw it was possible to make evening gowns in leather… in pink-unbelievable,” he said. Having patented his leather printing technique, he earned commissions from other design houses including Hermès and Pierre Cardin.
- Cavalli opened his first boutique in Saint-Tropez in 1972, foreseeing the potential of the fishing village as a desirable destination for the fashion elite.
- The rich aesthetic that Roberto had coined did not chime with the minimalistic and deconstructive fashions presented by the new wave of Japanese and Belgian designers in the mid to late 1980s. As a result, business was quieter and Roberto concentrated on family life, marrying beauty queen Eva Duringer and having three more children. Eva became creative director of the Roberto Cavalli collection and the couple have worked together since.
- Cavalli’s career entered an exciting new phase at the start of the Nineties. Applying artistic techniques to denim, he presented his first printed jeans in 1988, showed the first sand-blasted jeans in his autumn/winter 1994 collection, and worked with Lycra to invent stretch jeans in 1995. These innovations in textile technology consequently exploded in popularity and have diversified the denim market dramatically.
- Confirming his status as a pioneer in the denim world, Roberto Cavalli launched Cavalli Jeans (later renamed Just Cavalli) in 2000.
- In December 2004 Cavalli sponsored ‘Wild: Fashion Untamed’ at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute in New York, an exhibition that examined the human fascination with animal skins, and animal references in clothing throughout history. “It’s not really that I love to use animal print, I like everything that is of nature,” Roberto told us in 2011. “I started to appreciate that even fish have a fantastic coloured ‘dress’, so does the snake, and the tiger. I start(ed) to understand that God is really the best designer, so I started to copy God.”
- For its first re-design in 25 years, Playboy called on Cavalli to vamp up its famous bunny costumes in June 2005. “(Roberto) too embraces the good life, inspires an aspirational lifestyle for a jet-set crowd and of course celebrates beautiful women,” playboy CEO Christie Hefner enthused.
- Set in a snakeskin-covered bottle, Roberto Cavalli Vodka was launched in September 2005. Followed by wines, restaurants and members’ clubs, these brand expansions confirmed Cavalli as the go-to designer for an elite lifestyle.
- 2007 saw the designer collaborate with some of the music industry’s leading female artists. Christina Aguilera and Jennifer Lopez both asked the designer to create costumes for major concerts, while the Spice Girls wore a custom-made Cavalli wardrobe for their global reunion tour.
- That November, Cavalli launched his first high-street collection for H&M. In the advertising campaign, shot by Terry Richardson, the designer asked, “How can I miss the party? I am the party,” before celebrating with models Erin Wasson and Jessica Stam in his Florentine villa. “Fashion can be glamour and fantasy, and at its best can even make reality a little more fun,” H&M’s marketing director told us at the time. “Wearing Cavalli’s creations is all about that.” The collection sold out within hours of launching.
- Another opportunity to collaborate presented itself in July 2008, as the house of Cavalli designed a limited edition Diet Coke bottle.
- In 2009 Cavalli appeared on The Martha Stewart Show and spoke for the first time about a desire to succeed in the photography world. “My dream in the near future is to create a big exhibition that would showcase my (photographs) from Africa and other exotic places. I used to shoot subject for my prints and my passion has evolved.”
- Cavalli celebrated 40 years of business in 2010. The company was named the number one women’s fashion label on the Luxury Brand Status Index, released a celebratory coffe-table book and held an extravagant Parisian party attended by Heidi Klum, Kylie Minogue, Naomi Campbell and Taylor Swift.
- In March 2012 Cheryl Cole became Cavalli’s latest celebrity muse, wearing a custom-made outfit for a performance on UK television show The Voice. “Cheryl is the perfect Cavalli woman, strong, confident and sexy,” the designer told us. “We used the signature Cavalli Fantasia and leopard prints to create a show-stopping outfit.”
- October 2012 will see the launch of Cavalli’s second high-street line, this time for Australian Target. Georgia May Jagger is also confirmed to be the face of the Just Cavalli perfumes from March 2013.
At 71 years old, the designer is reluctant to retire, despite all that he has achieved. “Well, sometimes I say when I’m completely tired… but I feel a lot of responsibility to my fans: what they expect from me,” he told us in 2011. “They expect a lot, but at the same time fashion is a part of my DNA. I could never live without it.”