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Connie Uzzo, a longtime confidante and executive at Yves Saint Laurent, died Tuesday at age 85.
She died at NYU Langone Health due to urosepsis and overwhelming infection, according to her longtime friend Brian Saltzman, M.D.
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A celebration of life will be held at a later date for Uzzo, who requested to be cremated, he said.
Raised in a large family in Brooklyn, N.Y., Uzzo, whose maiden name was Arato, always stayed true to herself despite circulating in the upper echelons of the designer universe. Not your stereotypical willowy thin, over-accessorized fashion insider, Uzzo was known for her unwavering work ethic, straightforward manner, quick humor, and fierce loyalty to Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé. In turn, she was very loved by that high-powered duo, just like her closest of friends.
Driven by her affection and friendship, she would hop the Concorde to deliver a painting or wrap Christmas presents for her nearest and dearest. Her signature look was a Saint Laurent mumu and Birkenstock sandals, but Uzzo wasn’t above kicking off her shoes after entering a friend’s apartment.
Former WWD fashion editor Bobbi Queen said Tuesday, “She was just the real thing in a world full of artifice.”
Uzzo worked for the French-born Jacques Tiffeau who established himself on New York’s Seventh Avenue. Tiffeau then introduced her to Saint Laurent’s business partner, Bergé. She moved to Manhasset, N.Y., as a young bride and later divorced. She had started her career in fashion working for Monte-Sano & Pruzan, where Tiffeau had also worked. After commuting from Long Island to work in Saint Laurent’s New York boutique, she took an executive role at the company, helping to direct the American business for 28 years.
That longevity could be chalked up to Uzzo being “fiercely loyal and a great businesswoman who was the least likely representative of a French couture house that you could imagine. She wasn’t reed thin. She maintained her Brooklyn roots. Mr. Bergé understood how good she was and she was one of his dear trusted friends,” former Saks Fifth Avenue fashion director Ellin Saltzman said.
A jack of all trades and Berge’s right hand for years, Uzzo was the consummate confidante who knew every last detail about the business, but was unfailingly unassuming and direct. At different stages her title changed from vice president of Yves Saint Laurent Tricot in New York to director of licensing, among others. Uzzo played an integral role in the U.S. division when the designer unveiled his Russian collection in 1976 and the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute staged an exhibition of his work in 1983.
After leaving the company, Uzzo was later hired by another prized style setter — the architect Peter Marino.
Having befriended Uzzo in the late 1970s, Josie Natori said: “Connie was the most unassuming person, the most kindhearted, genuine and really unique. She didn’t give a hoot who you were. In the meantime, she was the most loyal friend. She was Miss Saint Laurent. If you wanted to know anything about YSL or anybody there, just ask Connie. She was the left, the right, the front, the back — she did everything. She guarded the brand like a hawk.”
Another designer friend, Ralph Rucci, recalled how Uzzo was “the compassionate heart” providing Saint Laurent and Bergé with “the dimension of sensitivity. She would ask people a list of their lives, their children and give them recipes. And at the same time, she was the bulldog. No one could get any further than the line that Bergé set for her.”
After hearing of Uzzo’s death on Tuesday, Rucci watched a YouTube clip of Saint Laurent’s 2008 funeral at Église Saint-Roch. As notable attendees like LVMH’s Bernard Arnault, then-French President Nicolas Sarkozy, his then-wife Carla Bruni and Kering’s François Pinault arrived, “Who was on the front of that staircase in her Chinese tunic and her bedroom slippers with white socks? Connie. She kept up that line with a face of such dignity that you didn’t need any kind of superfluous atmosphere or persona. She was her own. Her strength Bergé would not find anywhere. She was an original,” Rucci said.
In 2000, Uzzo exited YSL as American market director, after 28 years of working closely with the stores, licensees and franchises.
One colleague said at that time, “She was the eyes, ears, nose and soul of YSL in this country.”
Mary Ann Wheaton, a longtime friend and former colleague, pretty much reiterated those words Tuesday. She said Uzzo was “totally indescribable and one-in-a-million just for Mr. Saint Laurent and Mr. Bergé to trust her so, so much.”
Queen said: “No matter how fancy a crowd she moved in in Paris or New York, she was always herself. She would do anything for Pierre Bergé. She was very involved with Saint Laurent’s gardens in Marrakech. She also had fabulous taste. Her apartment in Paris was done by Jacques Grange. It was this tiny little loft and it was wonderful.”
People-watching in the Beverly Hills Hotel’s two foyers was one of Uzzo’s favorite practices to gauge how people were really dressing and what Saint Laurent should be showing, Wheaton said. The two women met when Wheaton turned up for a job interview at Bidermann Industries to work for the YSL men’s division, wearing $3,000 worth of newly purchased YSL spring merchandise “absolutely soaked in snow,” due to a freak April storm. “I was so overdressed it was embarrassing,” Wheaton said, recalling how a barefoot Uzzo greeted her in a mumu from the designer.
Unlike at other designer houses, Uzzo “was the only person who would sell — not give, not loan — the same celebrity twice, including Jackie Onassis. She had such a close relationship with her and took care of Jackie’s personal wardrobe. Our celebrities always paid and that was because of Connie,” Wheaton said. “She truly was the most important and significant person for Saint Laurent in the U.S. She was their spy. She was their eyes and ears. She may not have looked like the chicest person in the world, but she knew exactly what to do.”
Upon meeting Alber Elbaz at his 1996 going away party before he joined Guy Laroche, Uzzo felt such immediate kinship that she gave him the keys to her Paris apartment and told him to live there as long as he needed to, Saltzman said. Years later she connected Elbaz with Bergé, who hired the designer for the house’s ready-to-wear line, he added.
In the ’80s through a deal with R.J. Reynolds, Yves Saint Laurent, a smoker himself, secured a minimum $1 million a year deal for his Ritz cigarette that was produced under license. While the launch was reported to be an “enormous success,” Uzzo — ever the straight shooter — acknowledged how, “Everybody is so against smoking today. It is a touchy subject.”
So much so that some shoppers wrote letters to the designer. “A lot of people in America are against smoking. We’ve gotten some flavor, but we got more flack, when we named our perfume Opium,” Uzzo said then.
Throughout her career, she never had a second agenda, Rucci said. “The only thing she was thinking about was helping.”
Uzzo is survived by a brother, Peter Arato.
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