Marina Schiano, Distinctive Presence in the Fashion World, Dies at 77


Marina Schiano, who left home as a teenager in Italy to become a leading model before making an even greater impact as a fashion industry executive, stylist and confidant of designers and artists, died on Sept 8 in Porto Seguro, Bahia, Brazil. She was 77.

John Calcagno, a longtime friend, said the cause was complications of surgery following a recent diagnosis of kidney cancer. Ms. Schiano had lived in Brazil since 2001.

Once established as a model in New York in the late 1960s, Ms. Schiano enmeshed herself in a circle of well-known designers, artist and writers, exhibiting, by all accounts, an eye-catching stylishness and unflappable self-confidence that was hard to ignore.

Over a long career she worked for two of the most influential designers of the modern era, Yves Saint Laurent and Calvin Klein. She dressed celebrities for imaginative photo shoots for Vanity Fair magazine, working with photographers like Annie Leibovitz and Herb Ritts. Diana Vreeland, the influential editor of Vogue, was an early fan and supporter, and the jewelry designer Elsa Peretti — when she, too, was a model — was a friend and frequent companion on evenings out in Manhattan, where Ms. Schiano became part of Andy Warhol’s celebrated clique.

“She was admired by everyone who was important at that time in New York: Halston, Andy Warhol, Saint Laurent, Diana Vreeland, the society ladies who loved her,” the fashion journalist André Leon Talley, a friend since the mid-1970s, said in a phone interview.

As a model in the late 1960s and early ’70s, Ms. Schiano didn’t look like her competition — her features were more assertive than conventionally pretty — but she nevertheless appeared in the pages of Vogue, in its American, British and French editions, as well as in other fashion magazines of the time.

Ms. Vreeland was particularly taken by her. “I suspect that Diana Vreeland liked her because somehow she reminded her of herself,” the designer Diane von Furstenberg, who met Ms. Schiano in about 1970, said in a phone interview.

“Diana Vreeland liked to discover people who looked different,” she added.

It was as a model that Ms. Schiano met the designer for whom she would become muse and, eventually, employee: Mr. Saint Laurent. Ms. Schiano both reflected and inspired his aesthetic of the period, with designs that were refined but often comfortably wearable.

“She really embodied the vision of what Yves Saint Laurent was about and what he had in mind about women,” said the makeup artist Francois Nars, a close friend of Ms. Schiano’s since the 1980s.

In 1972, Mr. Saint Laurent and his partner, Pierre Bergé, hired Ms. Schiano to run their new men’s wear boutique on Madison Avenue. She eventually became president of the company’s North American operations.

Ms. Schiano had virtually no business experience when the two men took her on, but her self-assuredness and understanding of the brand won them over, said Madison Cox, president of Fondation Pierre Bergé-Yves Saint Laurent and the widower of Mr. Bergé.

“She was smart, she was no-nonsense, she was a hard worker and she was the perfect ambassadress, as opposed to a corporate gentleman in a gray suit,” he said.

She had an emphatic presence: about six feet tall in heels, always impeccably dressed, seemingly always wearing red lipstick, her hair a lustrous ebony. “She was walking down the street as if she was walking down the catwalk,” Mr. Cox said.

And then there was her voice: deep, husky and heavily flavored with her native Italian.

“She told me that Helmut Newton had said to her, ‘I wish I could photograph your voice,’” Mr. Nars said.

By the early 1980s, Ms. Schiano had moved to Calvin Klein to oversee publicity. Her own look was grander than Mr. Klein’s trademark minimalism; what she could offer, however, were contacts and a sense of unquestionable chic.

“She was photographed by John Fairchild at Women’s Wear, always for Saint Laurent, with Saint Laurent, in Saint Laurent,” said Mr. Calcagno, a colleague in that era, referring to the editor of Women’s Wear Daily. “I think Calvin wanted some of that glamour.”

After a few years working for Mr. Klein, Ms. Schiano joined Vanity Fair as the magazine’s executive style editor.

“I wasn’t looking for someone to just get clothes,” Tina Brown, who was editor of the magazine at the time, said in a phone interview. “I was looking for someone who could be our sort of style setter for the magazine, in a way that was combining fashion, a social point of view and an ability to handle the big personalities and get them to do covers that were out of the box.”

For one shoot Ms. Schiano dressed Madonna in specially-made children’s clothes; for another, for the cover of a 1993 issue, she had Cindy Crawford in a black maillot giving the singer-songwriter K.D. Lang, in dapper men’s wear, a hot cream shave in a barber’s chair.

“She was herself a sort of a peer to the people we photographed,” Ms. Brown said, “and that made a big difference to their willingness to cooperate.”

After leaving Vanity Fair in the mid-1990s, Ms. Schiano introduced her own line of bold jewelry; the standout items were oversize rings in silver and gold adorned with semiprecious stones. Though sold at high-end stores like Barneys New York, the collection was only moderately successful.

Moving to Brazil in late 2001, Ms. Schiano mostly gave up her designer wear for simple white cotton caftans and lost touch with all but a core group of New York City friends. “I think she was done — she was done with the whole scene,” Mr. Nars said.

Marina Schiano was born in Naples on Nov. 18, 1941. She rarely spoke about her parents, Michele and Anna (Facciolli) Schiano, and left home as a teenager.

“It’s almost as if she’d been an orphan,” a friend, Isabel Rattazzi, said by phone.

She carved out a modeling career for herself, first in Italy and then elsewhere in Europe and New York, photographed by top names of that era like Hiro and Bert Stern.

She is survived by her husband of more than four decades, Marcus Vinícius Coelho, a photographer; and a brother, Claudio Schiano. Another brother, Mariano, died more than a decade ago.

In 1973, Ms. Schiano married Warhol’s business manager, Frederick Hughes, in a City Hall ceremony. The marriage was short-lived.

Ms. Schiano’s Neapolitan roots remained part of her identity in her New York years. Friends and colleagues were often invited to her Art Deco-furnished apartment at 521 Park Avenue for home-cooked Italian meals. She’d sometimes regale them with her impersonations, of the designer Valentino, for example, or the author Truman Capote.

“I was told she was very good at imitating me,” Ms. Von Furstenberg said, “but she imitated everybody.”

On the job, when things didn’t go as well as she had hoped on a photo shoot, for example, Ms. Schiano could let colleagues know of her displeasure in a full-throated way.

“She was a diva,” said the writer Bob Colacello, a longtime friend and former Warhol associate. “but it was based on the fact that she was talented and creative and impatient with people who didn’t get things as quickly as she did.”

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