Anna Piaggi, one of the last great exotics (part 1)

23 Dec

Anna Piaggi

Anna Piaggi ( (22 March 1931 – 7 August 2012) was one of the last great exotics – a fashion editor in the true and traditional sense of the word, in possession of the finest eye and, most importantly, sparkling intelligence and wit.  

This year the fashion world lost one of its true eccentrics when the scene-stealing,  print-mixing, hat-wearing, blue-haired style icon and contributor to countless fashion magazines, Anna Piaggi, passed away at age 81. A woman with a closet so over-the-top containing 932 hats, 265 pairs of shoes, and 2,865 dresses….(according to the Victoria & Albert museum)

I saw Anna Piaggi many times in Paris during fashion week and a few times I dared to go up to her, I needed to compliment her on yet another outstanding outfit. As she left a show, a crowd always stirred around to photograph her. When the Victoria & Albert museum dedicated an exhibition to Anna, I went to London with my friends. I had to experience being in a room filled with Anna Piaggi’s outfits and see all those drawings Karl Lagerfeld made of her. I cherish the memories.

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Anna Piaggi and Vern Lambert

Anna Piaggi & Vern Lambert

Bohemian fashion in the ’60s meant regular trips to London and there Anna met dandy antique clothing dealer Vernon Lambert (born in Melbourne Australia 1 August 1937 and died Milan Italy 19 August 1992). Together, dawn after dawn, they would set off torch in hand to trawl the street markets of Bermondsey, Portobello Road and Petticoat Lane in search of treasures of fashion’s past. These weren’t destined for some museum but worn by them to surprise, inspire and please passers-by: a Mary Quant mini, worn with a Georgian waistcoat or a war officer’s jacket and a Victorian courtesan’s feathered toque. Together they played a delightful dressing-up game that lasted over 25 years and was often more entertaining and original than the catwalk fashion shows witnessed in all the fashion capitals of the world.

Anna Piaggi persuaded Vern to move to Milan in 1973, where he opened a gallery with antique clothing, aesthetic and Arts & Crafts furniture and objets d’art. His incredible knowledge – he could spot a Dior or Lanvin across a room and date it – was mixed with a love for the frivolity and joy of the subject. Holding a dress up to the light, he would tell when it was made, by whom and even when it was altered.

To Vern life was the joy of researching, seeing, making connections and sharing his passions. He became a close friend and inspiration to Karl Lagerfeld, who celebrated Vern’s last birthday with him and Anna in Paris. They admired one another and shared a curiosity for fashion in its different guises. Vern was a fantasist, but he was always modest, generous and impeccably mannered.

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Anna Piaggi And Karl Lagerfeld

Anna Piaggi & Karl Lagerfeld 4

Anna Piaggi & Karl Lagerfeld

Anna Piaggi &  Karl Lagerfeld

Karl Lagerfeld once wrote ‘Anna invents fashion’ (and you know that’s true when the Kaiser says it)

For a decade after their first meeting in 1974, Karl Lagerfeld and Anna Piaggi were a unit. Karl drew her regularly for years to record the combinations of the day, the mixing of vintage couture, fashion and costume. Karl appreciated her motto, to dress as performance art: ‘She was a great performer, but she is also the writer of the play’. The drawings by Karl during the ’70s and ’80s were collected into the book Karl Lagerfeld: A Fashion Journal. Later Karl and Anna also published another one  Lagerfeld’s Sketchbook. Both books are real treasures and beautiful records of Karl’s sketches and Anna’s dressing art. Nowadays they are very collectable.

Karl Lagerfeld, A fashion Journal

Karl Lagerfeld Sketchbook-cover

Karl Lagerfeld sketch 1

Karl Lagerfeld sketch 2

Karl Lagerfeld sketch 3

Karl Lagerfeld sketch 4

Karl Lagerfeld sketch 5

Karl Lagerfeld sketch 6

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Anna Piaggi photographed by Tim Walker for W magazine

Anna Piaggi by Tim walker

Anna Piaggi by Tim Walker 2

Anna Piaggi by Tim Walker 3

Anna Piaggi by Tim Walker 4

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Vogue Italia, D.P. by Anna Piaggi

D.P. by Anna Piaggi

D.P. by Anna Piaggi 2

D.P. by Anna Piaggi 3

D.P.by Anna Piaggi 4

D.P. by Anna Piaggi 5

D.P. by Anna Piaggi 6

D.P. by Anna Piaggi 7

D.P. by Anna Piaggi 8

Anna Piaggi had a long relationship with Italian Vogue as a freelance fashion editor, starting in 1969 as reporter of trends and from 1988 as creator of her famous D.P.-Doppie Pagine (double pages), also revered to as Di Piaggi. Together with her husband, Alfa Castaldi, Anna set out each month to analyze an event, a happening, a garment, an accessory, a personality or a stylist, blending text and photographs in a unique and innovative way to create visual messages of rare effectiveness, admired by journalists all over the world. These double-page spreads were the subject for Fashion Algebra, published in 1998 to celebrate the first ten years in Vogue. The book brings together the best of the Vogue ‘Doppie Pagines’. Fashion Algebra is a very sought-after item,.

Fashion Algebra bookcover

Fashion Algebra pages

Fashion Algebra pages 2

Fashion Algebra pages3

Fashion Algebra pages 4

fashion Algebra pages 5

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 Anna Piaggi was in possession of sparkling intelligence and wit

In 1978, Anna described fashion to be like a ‘trance’, telling WWD (Women’s Wear Dailey): “It’s a moment, an expression. My philosophy of fashion is humor, jokes and games, I make my own rules. I never pick up something and just trow it on my back like that. There’s a little bit of study and it’s always better if I think about what I’m going to wear the next day. And what is to be avoided at all costs is the twinset look, the total look.”

Anna Piaggi in 1987

Anna Piaggi

Anna Piaggi .

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Next week part 2, about her husband Alfa Castaldi, the Fashion-ology exhibition, Stephen Jones and Anna Piaggi’s influence on fashion of today….

One Response to “Anna Piaggi, one of the last great exotics (part 1)”

  1. Soul Safari 23 December 2012 at 11:33 #

    amazing post. Just an overwhelmingly well researched and put together tribute to one of Italy’s great fashion spirits that keeps on inspiring us.

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