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.