Master of the mix-match; A tribute to the late Emanuel Ungaro

Words Gabrielle Smith

Fol­low­ing the announce­ment of French fash­ion design­er Emanuel Ungaro’s pass­ing on Sat­ur­day 21st Decem­ber 2019; the indus­try is in mourn­ing. Last of the Great Paris cou­turi­ers, the late 86 year-old brought an eclec­tic and artis­tic flair to fash­ion with many remem­ber­ing him for his exu­ber­ant and flam­boy­ant designs whilst cre­at­ing gar­ments with a touch of old-school glam­our.

Emanuel Ungaro was born 1933 in Aix-en-Provence, South­ern France, to a fam­i­ly of Ital­ian immi­grants. He then relo­cat­ed to Paris at the age of 22 to learn his trade under the watch­ful eye of Span­ish mae­stro and cou­turi­er; Cristóbal Balen­ci­a­ga. 

Fol­low­ing sev­er­al years of guid­ance and train­ing, Emanuel began design­ing for the pres­ti­gious house of Cristóbal Balen­ci­a­ga for three years. Reflect­ing on his time under the tute­lage of Cristóbal Balen­ci­a­ga, Emanuel recalled it was here he learnt “rig­or and per­fec­tion­ism.” It was his strict­ness and per­fec­tion­ist nature that saw Jack­ie Kennedy, Bian­ca Jag­ger and Cather­ine Deneuve become fre­quent vis­i­tors to his ate­lier.

Ungaro hon­oured the fond mem­o­ry of his time work­ing as a tai­lor at Balen­ci­a­ga even after he was no longer with the fash­ion house; in 1986 he ded­i­cat­ed his fall and win­ter cou­ture col­lec­tion to ‘Mon­sieur Cristóbal Balen­ci­a­ga’.

After numer­ous years of work­ing under renowned fash­ion hous­es, 1965 saw Emanuel Ungaro launch his epony­mous label and debut col­lec­tion. This col­lec­tion remained sole­ly ready-to-wear, with­out a cou­ture dress in sight, “They are not my style. I am a man of this age and I will design for women of this age.” This stance saw Ungaro, along­side Yves Saint Lau­rent, hailed as some­one who estab­lished ready-to-wear as an alter­na­tive to cou­ture fash­ion. His sem­i­nal work and rep­u­ta­tion for bold colours and prints curat­ed a sen­su­ous spir­it which estab­lished him­self as a fix­ture in the Paris fash­ion scene for four decades.

A Mas­ter of the mix-match, Emanuel’s wild­ly eccen­tric flair for fash­ion bore him noto­ri­ety through­out the decades. In the 1960s and 70s Ungaro flour­ished; a time where fash­ion rules and reg­u­la­tions were abol­ished, you could wear what­ev­er you want­ed! Mil­lions of ele­gant and pol­ished women embraced his colour­ful and cre­ative com­bos. Fringe and feath­ers, ruch­es and ruf­fles, prints and pat­terns!

Fol­low­ing the mut­ed and oppressed fash­ion through the 1930–40s; the 1950s saw a rise in high waist­ed trousers, dress­es and skirts curat­ing svelte cinched in waists. The pin­na­cle of fem­i­nine fash­ion, and my beloved fash­ion decade, Emanuel Una­gro incor­po­rat­ed this overt fem­i­nin­i­ty to his gar­ments with a sense of rad­i­cal mod­ernism. The rare mas­ter of eclec­ti­cism broke bound­aries and estab­lished new ways in which to empow­er women through dress.

“It is a very sad thing,” said Diane von Fursten­berg.
“Ungaro reminds me of my youth…of hap­py, sexy print­ed dress­es.”

Look­ing back through fash­ion archives, Ungaro’s Spring/Summer 1993 ready-to-wear col­lec­tion remains a per­son­al favourite. The col­lec­tion embod­ies his sen­su­al and vibrant spir­it through his dis­tinc­tive play­ful mix & match­ing of colours and pat­terns. The con­trast­ing use of stripes, pol­ka dots and bold prints against sharp tai­lor­ing, sim­u­lates a stream­lined and fem­i­nine hour­glass sil­hou­ette. As the mod­els strut down the run­way, it is clear that Emanuel Unagro’s designs are cer­tain­ly ahead of their time. The clash­ing of pat­terns has become a sta­ple trend that we saw revis­it­ed this past fash­ion sea­son.