Fashion Heroes: Romeo Gigli

His is a name that not many people know today but for those who do, Romeo Gigli was one of fashion's greatest game-changer from the start of his career in Milan in 1985. 

The Gigli soft look (as it was known then), which comprises body-hugging dresses with draped bubble skirts, romantic shawl-collar necklines, gentle shoulders, bandeau-swathing and cocoon shapes had captivated the fashion world and influenced the Establishment. This was in stark contrast to the aggressive managerial women look who were dressed "to kill" in severely tailored suits with broad shoulders. This change in the course of fashion, which grew in popularity in the early 1990s, led to the fashion press hailing the young Italian designer as the "Giorgio Armani of the 1990s".

Born in Bologna, in Italy, to aristocratic parents, Gigli was an orphaned by the time he turned 18 after his father, Alfa, died in a tragic accident. Gigli's mother, Ancora, followed a few months later. The heartbroken teenager, who was on the cusped of adulthood, then dropped out of university and decided to travel.

Some vintage looks from the Romeo Gigli shows in Milan in the early 1990s.

For the next 10 years, Gigli gallivanted throughout Asia, then ventured to South America and Africa. In an interview with London's The Telegraph, Gigli recalled: "For me, travelling was forgetting. There were so many new things to think about and see." 

Gigli sold off his father's books and reinvested the proceeds in collecting things that interested him, particularly costumes and fabrics. When he arrived in New York in 1977, Gigli's radical look, which comprised of small pants and floating jackets made from Indian fabrics and tailored in London, turned heads. He parties every night at the famed Studio 54, and soon mingled with A-list celebrities and the fashion elites. His interest in fashion grew after a local fashion designer asked Gigli to consult on the brand and for several years thereafter, he studied fashion. His 25-piece debut collection, shown in 1985 in Milan, was bought by leading fashion stores, including Joyce and Browns.

With all the hype surrounding his designs, Gigli was poised to become fashion's biggest star. Them as quickly as he rose to fame, Gigli's light began to dim. 

In recent interview, Gigli revealed how a dispute with his business partners in 1991 led to him losing control of parts of the Gigli brand. His business partners were Carla Sozzani, Gigli's then-girlfriend and sister of Italian Vogue 's now-long-standing editor Franca, and Donato Maino, Sozzani's husband (yes, Carla was married and the two was having an affair). 

The split, reported in many news publications, was revealed at a 1991 collection during which each guest was handed a note of semi-explanation and a funereal white flower. A few months later, Gigli says he discovered that his re-acquired name came with a crippling debt - in effect, he did not own it at all. Ever since, says Gigli, he is still fighting for his identity.

Cut to present day, Gigli is a happily married man with a 14-year-old daughter, named Delitta. He continues to collaborate with other designers and retail brands, including Barneys New York, Callaghan, Donghia and Louis Vuitton, while teaching fashion in Milan. He currently collaborates with Hong Kong department store, Joyce, and produces a line, called Joyce by Romeo Gigli, for them. 

For a piece of history from the heydays of Romeo Gigli, check out THE FIFTH COLLECTION or click on the link below. To see how to work the dress, read on to the next post and let our Curator show you how to rock the dress for both day and night. 

Off-shoulder dress by Romeo Gigli, SGD 357, from THE FIFTH COLLECTION -- SHOP NOW