Emanuel Ungaro, Adventurous Fashion Designer, Is Dead at 86


Emanuel Ungaro, whose merging of attention-getting colors and patterns with sleek lines made him one of the most talked-about fashion designers in Paris beginning in the 1960s and served as the foundation for the fashion house that still bears his name, died on Saturday in Paris. He was 86.

The Emanuel Ungaro fashion house, which Mr. Ungaro sold in 2005, announced his death on its Facebook page. No cause was given.

Mr. Ungaro, who came from a family of tailors, established his fashion house in 1965 after working under the designer Cristóbal Balenciaga.

The celebrity journalist James Brady, in a “Brady’s Bits” column in 1987, wrote that Mr. Ungaro, whom he had known since the 1960s, financed his first show with a loan that used a girlfriend’s Porsche as collateral. The event, Mr. Brady wrote, was held in a small apartment. People sat on the balcony and peered in through windows to see the clothes.

Within a few years Mr. Ungaro’s creations were being worn by A-listers like Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and being seen in films on Catherine Deneuve (in “Le Sauvage,” 1975), Gena Rowlands (“Gloria,” 1980) and other actresses.

His ever-changing signatures over the years included stand-up collars, abundant use of suede, wrap dresses, mixed prints and more. He might pair a paisley blouse with a plaid suit, or prescribe a colorful shawl for a distinctive look, or go all in on polka dots.

“I hate boring clothes,” he told The Washington Post in 1977. “I hate seeing women dressed in a sad way.”

Mr. Ungaro explained his approach to design in 1994, when he opened a boutique in Manhattan.

“If you want to exist in fashion, and in any other manifestation of art, you have to disturb people,” he told The New York Times. “Provocation, in my mouth, means disturbing to the eye. Not disturb just to disturb, but disturb by showing something unexpected.”

Emanuel Ungaro was born on Feb. 13, 1933, in Aix-en-Provence, in southern France. His father, Cosimo, was a tailor who had fled Fascist Italy.

“My father is like a god to me,” Mr. Ungaro told The Boston Globe in 1965. “He taught me to respect line and quality, and to take pains with every stitch.”

After working for three years in his father’s tailoring business, determined to make a career in fashion but needing a bigger stage on which to do it, he left his hometown for Paris when he was 21.

“I arrived in Paris with two pairs of pants, three shirts and not one cent in my pocket,” he told The San Francisco Chronicle in 1992.

He spent two years as a stylist for Maison Camps tailors, then in 1958 took a job with Balenciaga’s fashion house. He spent six years there, absorbing Balenciaga’s ideas on line and color and how to drape the body.

Beginning in 1964 he spent about a year working with André Courrèges, who shook up the fashion scene in Paris that year with his mod “Space Age” collection. The next year, Mr. Ungaro established his own company, and The Times took note of one of his first showings.

“Emanuel Ungaro was a youth movement unto himself as he carried the Courrèges spirit one step farther,” the newspaper wrote.

His early work often drew mixed reviews, but by 1972 his collection was being hailed as the best of the bunch in Paris.

“He likes geometric patterns in multitudinous colors,” Bernadine Morris wrote in The Times that July. “He used to mix them up so much that you didn’t know where to look, but this time he has put everything together properly.”

The 1970s and ’80s were his best decades. In 1980, the Associated Press fashion writer Suzy Patterson called his summer show “one of his best couture collections ever — and certainly the most exciting seen so far this week.”

“As usual,” she continued, “Ungaro had a field day mixing fabrics with a whole rainbow of silks in the same outfit. In a favorite type of skirt, stripes or plaids and paisley appear on the same piece of fabric, and everything shimmers with Jacquard weave.”

By the mid-1990s his company was struggling, and in 1996 he sold a majority stake to Salvatore Ferragamo Italia, the Italian company best known for shoes; the agreement kept the Ungaro company independent, with Mr. Ungaro as president. In 2005, he sold his stake to Asim Abdullah, a venture capitalist, and retired.

Mr. Ungaro’s survivors include his wife, Laura Bernabei, whom he married in 1989, and a daughter, Cosima Ungaro.

“There are no rules in this business,” Mr. Ungaro told The Chronicle after a show that, a quarter-century into the life of his fashion house, still included surprising mixtures, like an aqua jacket with a taupe pleated skirt and mauve satin blouse. “The only rule you should have is to respect yourself and respect others’ dignity.”

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