The couturier Emanuel Ungaro died on Saturday at the age of 86. Ungaro’s signature was his audacious mixing. Before launching his own label in 1965 he trained under both Cristobal Balenciaga and André Courrèges, and the two influences swirled together in his work which blended a classical discipline and a pop aesthetic. Color, print, polka-dots, and frills came together in rule-breaking ways in Ungaro’s designs and his sexy, drapey clothes “exploded the French bourgeoisie,” as a successor to his label succinctly puts it. Decades later, his oeuvre symbolizes go-go ’80s joie de vivre. It’s a sensibility that has been coming around again recently.
In the 14 years since Ungaro sold his business, many designers have sat in the creative director seat (the label has cycled through nearly as many owners). Lindsay Lohan herself got a shot at it, somewhere between Herbie Fully Loaded and her reality show Beach Club; her tenure was disastrous and short-lived. Others better understood the house’s legacy. Here, they share their memories.
Giambattista Valli worked under Emanuel Ungaro before launching his own line He was one of the big masters of haute couture, with a very personal kind of universe. He was a great technician, having trained under Cristobal Balenciaga and André Courrèges. He was someone very demanding, but in a very positive way because he knew it was in you. We had a great relationship. I was bringing him all over the world, to India, to Morocco. I was trying to bring oxygen to the house, and to him. We worked in parallel a lot, he on the haute couture, and me on the ready-to-wear. For seven years I learned a lot from him. He was not listening to critics, just his own dreams and obsessions. This atmosphere doesn’t exist anymore in Paris. He had Jackie Onassis, Liliane Bettencourt, these beautiful women—the highest elements of the haute couture with the highest muses. It was fantastic.
Peter Dundas, whose label Dundas is two years old, designed Emanuel Ungaro in 2006 and ’07
I was sad to learn of Mr. Ungaro’s passing. He was part of my fashion vocabulary long before I worked for the house. Leafing through vintage fashion magazines as a kid, I totally connected with his aesthetic. Unapologetically sexy, bold sassiness was to me Parisian couture at its best! The fearless mix of patterns, whether floral, animal, or polka-dots or all of these together is about a type of woman I relate to even today.
Working in the house on the corner of Avenue Montaigne following his great footsteps was an immense honor for me and a dream come true. The artistry and talent of the ateliers was incredible. I learned so much! My favorite time there was working with them in the ateliers, watching them work almost as surgeons creating the house drape work on my dresses. It was my first outing as an artistic director and I had to grow up in public which was wonderful, but at times an overwhelming experience. I tried to protect myself from becoming daunted by the expectations by interpreting the brand heritage following my instincts as to how it should evolve. I am grateful for the support and enthusiasm I got both internally and from the media. Shyness prevented me from meeting the great man himself, but he was always on my mind. I think he leaves behind an incredible legacy celebrating the beauty, sensuality, and femininity of women all over the world.
Esteban Cortazar designed three runway collections at Ungaro in 2008 and ’09; he now designs an eponymous collection
I’ve been remembering Monsieur Ungaro, his work and my time at the house all day today. Working at Ungaro is one of the most meaningful experiences of my life as it brought me to Paris (hard to believe I’ve been living there for 11 years) and pushed me to new levels of incredible craft and experiences that changed my life forever. The ateliers, “Les Petite Main,” the showrooms in Avenue Montaigne, and the most incredible couture archive I’ve ever witnessed.
Shortly after I was appointed, he invited me to his beautiful home for dinner with his wife Laura, and they were so kind and supportive. I will remember that night forever. I feel so lucky to have contributed to his gorgeous legacy of beauty, color, sensuality, flamboyance, and enthusiasm.
Fausto Puglisi was creative director from 2013 to 2017; his own label is based in Milan
When they asked me to design for the house of Ungaro I felt so much happiness and excitement. Mr. Ungaro’s DNA was part of my childhood fantasies and a strong code in my imagination. He was probably the first to explode the French bourgeoisie in such a happy, sexy, untamed way. Without boundaries. Mr. Ungaro was the king of the beautiful clash. Everything was louder chez Ungaro, but always extremely sophisticated. His love for color, the masculine suits, the jackets in Prince of Wales checks paired with the most delicate and feminine lace, with the most crazy polka dots and the incredible animal print and those huge couture shoulders. And what about the multicolored gigantic flowers prints? I believe fashion nowadays owes so much to Mr. Ungaro. His woman was never an object, she was the subject, she was the leader, she owned her body. He was exaggerated in the most exquisite Italian way.
When I started my work for the house, I tried to study his roots. I respect so much his vision, and I was happy because I started, step by step, to re-open a dialogue with the most important stores around the world. So many celebrities and artists wanted to wear the fashion of Ungaro again. I believed, since day one, his beautiful and extreme blouses could become the most fresh t-shirts for a woman to wear at work. I knew I was going to translate his beautiful oeuvre for a modern woman living nowadays. No more in the shining ’80s. To work on the suits, the jackets, and the big palazzo pants has been one of the most beautiful experiences in my life. Walking around his magic archive in Paris, keeping in my mind and in my heart, Mr. Ungaro’s cuts, patterns, and beauty, this was a treasure and a beautiful experience I'm sure will stay with me forever.
Originally Appeared on Vogue