She was, “the visual aristocracy of Italy,” said Manolo Blahnik. In the afterlife, Rosita Missoni conjectured, “no doubt she is giving [the angels] advice, perhaps on getting a colored streak in their hair.” At the September 21st memorial for Anna Piaggi, held at the Palazzo Reale in Milan, fashion’s great names celebrated the life of one of their most eccentric and iconic.
The woman they honored was the quintessential anarchist of style—a role she personified from within the shiny, groomed legions of the fashion elite. “She’s about the possibility of what fashion can be,” Steven Jones told The Observer in 2004. “It’s not about chic, or a grand gesture, as it was with Diana Vreeland…. With Anna it’s about fun and interest and frivolity.”
Anna Piaggi was born in Milan in 1931. Her father, who died when his daughter was seven, was a head buyer at La Rinascente department store. Her mother had “a great sense of humour…. She was naturally elegant, quite handsome.” As elegant women were prone to do, Mrs. Piaggi sent little Anna to a conventional boarding school outside of Milan. “It was rather academic … severe,” she recalled years later. It’s difficult to imagine Anna in uniform, one trim skirt amongst many.
In the 1950s Piaggi met the photographer Alfa Castaldi, who contributed regularly to Vogue Italia. They married in 1962; it was a stylish union that lasted until his death in 1995. In the 1960s, as a fashion editor and stylist for Arianna, she traveled regularly to tour the boutiques of swinging London. It was there—with the help of her dear friend, the collector Vern Lambert, whom she accompanied on his constant quest for exquisite vintage garments—that she learned to “mix the traditional with the avant-garde.”
Piaggi was a muse to Karl Lagerfeld, whom she considered, along with her husband and Lambert, “a triangle of extraordinary people.” In 1986, he published Lagerfeld’s Sketchbook: Karl Lagerfeld’s Illustrated Fashion Journal of Anna Piaggi. “The first drawing was made on a paper napkin in a Chinese restaurant in Paris,” she told The Observer in 2004. http://www.guardian.co.uk/theobserver/2004/aug/15/features.magazine57 She was particularly amused by Lagerfeld’s introduction, in which he wrote that she ”is not pretty… she is worse.”
Piaggi was editor in chief of Vanity from 1980 to 1983. In 1988, she was hired by Vogue Italia to create what was to become her influential doppie pagine (double page spreads).
Journalist Tamsen Blanchard described the experience of meeting Piaggi as “all-singing, all-dancing Piaggicolour.” Piaggi seems to be most effectively described as a sensation; a simple laundry list of the components of any one ensemble gets weighed down in text, looses the unlikely harmony of her final look.
She considered her dressing to be “professional play” and dressed to entertain. Her ensembles were designed to be relevant to the occasion. For example, for an Observer photo shoot, she called her beloved hat maker Steven Jones, to make a hat from the front page of the publication.
“I love hats and I love little canes and binoculars,” Piaggi summed up neatly. She considered her garments “friends,” and she has many, many of them. According to curators of “Anna Piaggi Fashion-ology,” the 2006 exhibition at the Victoria & Albert, her wardrobe contained: 265 pairs of shoes, 932 hats, nearly 3,000 dresses and 31 feather boas. “They are all things that have many lives,” she said. “They have already lived.” Have they ever.
It will come as great relief to many Worn Through readers that Piaggi’s well-lived, well-loved collection will remain intact. Her brothers, Alberto and Stephano, announced at her memorial that they will be launching a foundation to preserve her friends.