Romeo Gigli

Rio Ali

Designer Biography

DOI: 10.5040/9781474260428-FPA259

Often referred to as “Italy’s poet designer,” Romeo Gigli is recognized for making his mark by going against the grain of fashion excesses in the 1980s that the decade is so famed for. He has often been compared to Paul Poiret and Christian Lacroix for his distinct vision of understated grandeur during this period, one that embraced voluminous, cocooning silhouettes, opulent fabrics, and fashion’s antidote to the discomfort of high heels, the flat pump.

Born in Italy in 1949, Gigli’s father was a second-generation antiquarian bookseller and his mother was a contessa. His childhood was steeped in art history and gave him an appreciation of beauty and antiquity that later informed his work. After being orphaned at the age of eighteen, Gigli’s training as an architect was halted and he began a ten-year stint traveling around the world.

Arriving in New York in the late 1970s, Gigli embarked on a career as a fashion designer, creating the women’s collection for Piero Dimitri and frequenting the famed nightspot Studio 54. After a failed attempt at establishing his own label in 1981, in 1984 he met Carla Sozzani, who went on to become his girlfriend, muse, and business partner. Another essential member of the business partnership was Donato Maino; the trio lived, worked, and vacationed together.

During the mid-1980s Gigli garnered a great deal of press attention; commentators stated that his change in proportion heralded a distinct change in attitude and altered the course of fashion. In 1989 he debuted in Paris and the collection drew rapturous applause; it is reported that some editors were even moved to tears of joy. He launched his first fragrance, Romeo, during the same year and capitalized on the positive press he was receiving.

In 1991, the affordable G Gigli collection was launched. However, behind the scenes a bitter battle was ensuing between Gigli and his business partners, and later that year it was announced that he had parted ways with Sozzani and Maino, whom he claimed had defrauded him. Although the designer was resolute in continuing to design under his name, legal disputes followed him and thus it became increasingly difficult to do so.

In the early twenty-first century, Gigli designs an exclusive collection for Joyce, the long-established chain of Chinese boutiques that bought his first collection in 1985.

Romeo Gigli, Fall/Winter 1995. Photograph by Niall McInerney, Fashion Photography Archive

References and Further Reading

Find in Library Buxbaum Gerda , ed. Icons of Fashion: The 20th Century . Munich, London, and New York : Prestel, 1999.

Find in Library Jones Terry , and Avril Mair , eds. Fashion Now! Cologne : Taschen, 2012.

Find in Library Watson Linda. Vogue Twentieth Century Fashion: 100 Years of Style by Decade and Designer . London : Carlton, 1999.