Anna Piaggi, one of the last great exotics (part 2)

30 Dec

Anna Piaggi photographed by Edland Man


Anna Piaggi: ‘My nature has always been to be superficial’.

Manolo Blahnik dubbed her ‘The world’s last great authority on frocks’.

Anna Piaggi stated she had never been photogenic and, as she got older, she adopted Queen Elisabeth I’s technique to style her appearance, white face, cartoon features painted on like doll-cheeks and mouth, blue and silver waves on her cut-short hair (because it was better to support a small cockamamie hat).  She made the International Best Dressed List repeatedly and joined its hall of fame in 2007.

She combined history with eclecticism and electrified this with eccentricity. Her collages of garments were styled to tell a story, like her famous Doppie Pagine (D.P.) in Italian Vogue were collages of pictures which told a story.

She became a spectacle, an entertainment and both a commentary on as a remark to what was shown on the catwalks. Whatever it was, Anna had one already and had been wearing it for years. Predicting what would come next, through knowing what had come before, was her talent.


Anna Piaggi and her husband Alfa Castaldi

Alfa Castaldi & Anna Piaggi

Alfa Castaldi

Alfa Castaldi (1926-1995) has been one of the key figures in Italian fashion photography. He started his career in the ’50s as a reporter in post-war Milan where he worked in a close relationship with Ugo Mulas. The base was the ‘Bar Jamaica’ in Brera where all the artistic and literary intelligentsia of the city used to gather in a sort of bohemian lifestyle. Alfa was a sophisticated intellectual, coming out of an academic career in History of the Arts at the University of Florence. But becoming a critic didn’t appeal to him and soon he became fascinated by the editorial world and the new photographic reportage language. So he turned to photography and started to collaborate as a free-lance with the major italian magazines of the time.

Anna Piaggi met Alfa Castaldi while working as a translator for publishing house The Mondadori Group. They got married in 1962 in New York. Alfa charmed Anna into his bohemian word and encouraged her to work in fashion. Clothes were not her original interest.

In the late ‘60s Alfa opened a studio to work on portraits, still life and fashion in association with Anna. His range of collaborations spanned from the main italian fashion magazines to weekly news magazines until Condè Nast opened the italian Vogue edition in 1969 (Novità became Vogue Italia in 1966) of which Alfa became a regular contributor.He has published two books on the italian fashion scene: “Mass moda” with Adriana Mulassano in 1979 and “L’Italia della Moda” with Silvia Giacomoni in 1984.  He expanded into advertising, creating campaigns for the likes of Giorgio Armani, Laura Biagiotti, Fendi, Gianfranco Ferré, Karl Lagerfield and Ottavio and Rosita Missoni. His magazine coverage also expanded, with his work appearing in L’Uomo Vogue, Vanity, Vogue Bambini, Vogue Sposa, and, outside the Condé Nast Publications, Amica, Panorama and L’Espresso.

Alfa Castaldi photograph of Bar Jamaica

Anna Piaggi: ‘It has been a pleasant and moving experience, thanks to the quiet determination and the pure ‘being Aries’ of Paolo Castaldi (both of us were born under the sign of Aries – Paolo on March 21st, I on March 22nd). Fate and for me, the detached but deep sensation of feeling a mother-son bond.

I’m grateful to Alfa and Paolo for this reason, too. I’ve never had children and my story with Alfa was, in a certain sense, ‘monomaniac. We shared a deep affection and the love for our jobs: my admiration for Alfa’s culture had no limits and the same can be said for his ‘entity’ through the bond between us, which gave us a mutual freedom. The shots selected by Paolo express Alfa’s spirit at its best in the world of the Bar Jamaica. I cannot help but thank Paolo and the Bar Jamaica, where I met Alfa in the late 50’s. This was a world that really belonged to Alfa; thanks to his pictures, it still belongs to him today…’


Anna Piaggi at work

Anna Piaggi at work

Anna Piaggi at work 2


Anna Piaggi’s Fashion-ology exhibition

Poster for Fashion-ology exhibition

Anna Piaggi Fashion-ology with Stephen Jones

Anna Piaggi Fashion-ology

Anna Piaggi Fashion-ology

The Victoria & Albert museum displayed an exhibition on Anna Piaggi in 2006, named Fashion-ology, which attracted 25.00 visitors. All items were drawn from Anna’s personal archive, which was stored in Milan. fashion-ology highlighted her extensive collection of vintage couture and designer clothing including garments by Balenciaga, Fendi, Galliano and Poiret. Drawings, photographs, faxes, storyboards and Polaroids revealed Anna’s working style and a film brought to life her extraordinary home and archive.

Anna was reluctant to spell out what she did and only very rarely showed her methodological hand. The –ology suffix which transformed the word fashion in the title was an attempt to capture her world of contradictions, her illogical logic as she called it, as well as revealed systems of frivolity, patterns and angles in her work, her algebra of intuition.

The exhibition also celebrated Anna’s love of fashion illustration, drawings by Karl Lagerfeld of her inimitable style, the dramatic spreads for Vanity magazine by Antonio Lopez (see my posts on Antonio Lopez), and a specially commissioned 3D tableau by Richard Gray, the British illustrator who for years contributed to her pages. Luca Stoppini, art director of Italian Vogue and the designer of her Doppie Pagine spreads, had together with Anna created a dramatic work especially for the exhibition. The presence of collaborators showed her loyalty and explained the thirteen ‘favourite’ outfits in the final section, created by the designers she promoted at the beginning of her career. They were displayed on a final A, painted in the bright red used by Ettore Sottsass for the 1969 Olivetti typewriter which Anna Piaggi used daily – and of course the red of her lipstick.

The Red A with 13 favorite outfits ,Fahion-ology exhibition


Anna Piaggi and milliner Stephen Jones

Anna Piaggi & Stephen Jones

Anna Piaggi & Stephen Jones

Anna Piaggi & Stephen Jones

‘Stephen Jones is the maker of the most beautiful hats in the world’ : Anna Piaggi once said.

She was the muse of the British milliner and one of his most loyal fans. She suggested the title Stephen Jones & The Accent of Fashion, referring to the unique accent Stephen Jones brings in every new collaboration with designers.

For the exhibition  and accompanying catalogue, Anna Piaggi, paid homage to Stephen Jones in the form of a photo collage, especially designed for the exhibition. Together with Jones, Brado Fabiani and Luca Stoppini, she created a series of images of her own collection of Stephen Jones hats, in the familiar environment of her apartment in Milan.

Anna Piaggi's collage for Stephen Jones

Stephen Jones between a collection of hats he made for Anna Piaggi


Marc Jacobs winter 2012 inspired by Anna Piaggi and Lynn Yeager








Anna Piaggi by fashion illustrator Joana Avillez

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