Adrienne Vittadini

Tory Turk

Designer Biography

DOI: 10.5040/9781474260428-FPA215

Adrienne Vittadini is an American designer of Hungarian origin. She was born Adrienne Toth in either 1944 or 1945 in Budapest, Hungary. Her father was a physician and she had a privileged upbringing. He held strong anticommunist views and supported the 1956 Hungarian Revolution. When she was twelve, the family fled to America because her father feared for their safety when the Soviets regained control over Hungary.

Vittadini loved drawing and was introduced to the world of art by her father. Author Irene Daria quotes her as saying: “He would show me the beautiful colors in a painting and explain why an icon is beautiful … He turned over Oriental carpets and taught me how to tell what makes them precious: the fine weave and whether it’s a silk or a woolen weave. He taught me the art of looking.” She originally wanted to be a fashion illustrator, but later decided to be a fashion designer. Artists including Alexander Calder, Picasso, Miró, and Max Bill have often inspired her collections.

Vittadini studied at the Moore College of Art in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. While at college, she also modeled part-time at the Philadelphia branch of Saks Fifth Avenue. In 1965 she was granted the opportunity of a four-month apprenticeship with the 1960s “new wave” designer Louis Féraud. She notes that it was while at his Paris studio that she learnt the significance of “paying attention to details” and was exposed to all the “cuts, structure that went into clothes.”

When Vittadini graduated from college in 1966 she got work at Sport Tempo, where she created woven suits. In 1968 she joined the Rosanna division of Warnaco. Here she designed a contemporary line of knitwear, SW1. In 1971 she took time out and decided to go back to Europe. Here, she met Gianluigi Vittadini, the vice president of a large pharmaceutical company, whom she married and who later became involved with her brand’s business operations.

Vittatini became a part-time designer for Warnaco and was based in Hong Kong. After this she took a job as a merchandiser at Kimberly Knits, a division of General Mills. At this point she and her husband were sharing their time between Milan and New York. While working at Kimberly Knits she missed designing and convinced the company to let her design her own line. The company agreed and her line, Avanzara, was well received. The reason for its success, as she stated in an interview with Irene Daria in 1985, was the fact that “there was a tremendous void in medium-priced knitwear.”

In 1978 Kimberly Knits went out of business and a year later Vittadini, alongside Victor Coopersmith, decided to set up AVVC. She took advantage of the relationships she had made in Hong Kong and the company grew to achieve sales of approximately $12 million in only three years. Vittadini told Elsa Klensch in a Vogue interview of 1986 that she “had a definite goal in mind: to dress women in affordable clothes that, being knits, were as comfortable as they were fashionable.” She described knitwear in glowing terms: “Knits … [are] the most modern way of dressing—comfortable, feminine, and practical. Computer technology has helped make knitwear the most exciting area of fashion—in textures, prints, and patterns as well as shapes and colors. Knits are softer than tailored clothes and they pack with a minimum of creasing. Even at night, knits are a wonderful way of dressing.”

A February 1980 issue of Vogue named her as one of the “fashion designers to watch.” In 1982 her husband bought out Victor Coopersmith. They hired Richard Catalano as president, and moved to New York permanently. At this point Vittadini had also recently taken up tennis and had found the tennis clothes on the market to be predominantly made of polyester and generally unpleasant to wear. She quickly decided to set up an activewear division of the brand. In 1984 she won the Coty Award, began licensing her name, and the company grew rapidly.

The Adrienne Vittadini brand was aimed at and designed for the modern, dynamic, and active woman. The brand offered three divisions: petites, activewear, and sportswear. The label’s ethos was based on the idea of offering women clothes that they truly wanted to wear and Vittadini has often been referred to as the “queen of knitwear.” Her use of Italian threads to create feminine and practical shapes with a Euro-American aesthetic has made her a very important knitwear designer. The brand has expanded to include handbags, swimsuits, shoes, eyewear, and perfumes.

In 1996 Vittadini sold the company but remained the chairwoman. Disagreements with the new management meant that only two years later, the couple resigned. The company changed hands again and in 2001 was bought by Retail Brand Alliance.

Adrienne Vittadini, Spring/Summer 1990. Photograph by Niall McInerney, Fashion Photography Archive

References and Further Reading

Find in Library Daria Irene. WWD ““Sticking to Her Knitting”.” Women’s Wear Daily , 24 April 1985: 4 .

Find in Library Daria Irene. The Fashion Cycle . New York : Simon & Schuster, 1990.

Klensch Elsa. “The Knit Explosion.” Vogue ( U.S .), December 1986: 314.

Find in Library Vergani Guido , ed. Fashion Dictionary . New York : Baldini Castoldi Dalai editore, 2006.

Find in Library Watson Linda. Vogue Fashion . London : Carlton Books, 1999.