Complice

Emily M. Orr

Designer Biography

DOI: 10.5040/9781474260428-FPA058

The Italian fashion company Genny introduced the Complice label in 1975. Founded by Arnoldo Girombelli in 1961 as a small clothing factory in Ancona, Italy, Genny had become a large-scale operation by 1968.

Donatella Ronchi, the daughter of a painter, studied business and art and met Arnoldo in the mid-1960s. She began sketching skirts and blouses for him at his small boutique and he then hired her as product manager. The two married and expanded the Genny boutique into a competitive business that raised the reputation of Italian ready-to-wear. Following her husband’s death in 1980, Donatella became the company’s chairwoman in 1983.

A series of leading designers produced the Complice collections over the brand’s lifetime. Gianni Versace, then relatively unknown, designed the line from its founding in 1975 until 1981: it included a leather collection, tailored garments in suede, and silk and knit eveningwear. Guy Bourdin photographed Versace’s designs for the brand’s advertisements in the late 1970s. Girombelli then hired Claude Montana to design the line. Montana’s collections included striped tracksuits, cropped denim jackets, and baggy pants and skirts. The silhouette was strong-shouldered and androgynous. In 1986 Marisa Modiano, with Montana’s guidance, presented the 1986 resort line. The following year Muriel Grateau became Complice’s designer. As The New York Times reported in March of 1987, Grateau shifted the tone of the collection from Montana’s “tough chic” to a “new wan and winsome look,” with feminine jersey dresses that draped and fell across the body in princess lines.

From 1987 to 1990 Complice experienced flat sales while Girombelli concentrated her attention on her new client Christian Lacroix. Lacroix was offered, but declined, the opportunity to design for Complice. In 1990, Dolce and Gabanna were hired to revitalize the brand. Their leadership altered the Complice identity yet again as the pair offered more sensual and audacious styles that earned critical acclaim. For example, in the fall of 1992 they presented a show inspired by the swinging sixties, complete with peace symbols and flower prints. That spring their circus-themed collection included jeweled leather pants and chenille catsuits. By 1992 Complice had reasserted itself on the fashion stage and in September the company posted a wholesale volume of $300 million ($18 million in the United States). The brand’s popular appeal was confirmed when in October of that year Madonna wore a Complice design on the cover of Vogue.

Although the Complice label has ceased production, the Genny company is still in business. In June 2001 Genny was purchased by the Prada group. In 2011, Genny came under the control of the Swinger International Group.

Complice, Fall/Winter 1992 Photograph by Niall McInerney, Fashion Photography Archive

References and Further Reading

Find in Library Gross Michael. ““A Portrait of Genny”.” New York Magazine , 11 March 1981: 18 .

Find in Library La Ferla Ruth. ““Fashion—Inside Milan: Naming Names; Who Pulls the Strings?”” The New York Times Magazine , 6 October 1991 .

Find in Library Woram Catherine. “Genny SpA.” In Contemporary Fashion , edited by Taryn Benbow-Pfalzgraf and Richard Martin , 2nd edn. Detroit : St. James Press, 2002 .