“After 25 years, Roberto Cavalli has been discovered,” the designer joked in 2001. Although his career began with a bang in 1970 (and though his label predates that of Gianni Versace, to whom he is often compared), Cavalli spent almost two decades in relative obscurity before being reborn as a red carpet star in the 1990s.
An art student turned “fashion artist,” as he put it, Cavalli in the early 1970s earned commissions from Hermès and Pierre Cardin on the strength of his innovations in printing on leather. The sexiest stars of the day, including Brigitte Bardot and Sophia Loren, sported his clothes on the streets of the Côte d’Azur. A Bergdorf Goodman ad summed up his appeal with purple praise: “With extraordinary abandon, young individualist Roberto Cavalli has captured Italy with his untamed suede sportswear . . . some wildly savage, some regally elegant.”