Romeo Gigli

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.


Further Reading on Romeo Gigli

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: <> and <>.