NEW YORK, NY.-
Nino Cerruti, the dashing Italian fashion designer and textile scion who modernized menswear with his soft, unstructured tailoring and dressed generations of movie and television stars on screen and off, died Jan. 15 in Vercelli, Italy. He was 91.
His death, in a hospital, resulted from complications of hip surgery, according to Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera.
It was 1950, and Cerruti was just 20, when his father died, and Cerruti took over his familys textile mills in Biella, in the Piedmont region of Northern Italy, giving up his university studies in philosophy and journalism. Within a few years he had reimagined the family business as a fashion company.
Cerruti was the founding father of the postwar designer revolution, Suzy Menkes, fashion critic of The International Herald Tribune, wrote in 2001, adding that he had presaged the Made in Italy revolution, in which traditional workmanship was parlayed into a streamlined factory-made luxury product.
From the get-go, Cerruti knew how to make an entrance. In 1960, the year the Federico Fellini film La Dolce Vita came out, he chose its voluptuous star, Anita Ekberg, to introduce a new color for his fabrics by leading a flotilla of Fiats to the Excelsior Hotel on Romes Via Veneto, where Ekberg smashed Champagne bottles as she marched into the hotels lobby. The cars and Ekberg were all sheathed (actually, the cars were painted) in the same rich petrol blue, as Michael Gross wrote in his introduction to Cinema: Nino Cerruti and the Stars (1994).
Cerruti was an early adopter of unisex dressing, though he loathed the term as being too anatomical. Couple-dressing was his preferred phrase, and in the late 1960s his Paris boutique on the Place de La Madeleine called Cerruti 1881 in homage to the year his familys firm was founded sold his and hers velvet pantsuits. (He had introduced a womenswear line in 1968.)
He had already taken the starch out of traditional menswear by removing linings, mixing patterns and fabrics, and experimenting with new weaves and colors that would work with his modern, supple styles. Alain Delon, Jean-Paul Belmondo, Michael Caine and Orson Welles were customers, as was Faye Dunaway and Coco Chanel, who in 1969 bought a pair of mens velvet pants and had them tailored to fit her.
In those days, Cerruti favored velvet himself (he often said he was his ideal customer). There isnt a yard of black velvet left in Rome, Count Rudi Crespi, Cerrutis publicist at the time, told Eugenia Sheppard of The New York Times in 1968, the year Cerruti began opening boutiques in department stores. Both men and women are wearing it.
Cerrutis film career began in 1965, when he dressed Belmondo for Les Tribulations dun Chinois en Chine (Up to His Ears when it was released in English), a dark slapstick comedy about an unhappy millionaire who keeps trying to kill himself. He went on to dress Delon, Catherine Deneuve, Yves Montand and Liv Ullman, among other European stars in films.
In Hollywood, he made Dunaways straw hat for Bonnie & Clyde and Jack Nicholsons wardrobe for the 1987 film The Witches of Eastwick. For Clint Eastwood, who played a Secret Service agent in the 1993 film In the Line of Fire and needed to blend into a crowd, Cerruti used different textures of wool for his gray suit so that he would look banal.
Along with outfits by Armani and Gianni Versace, Cerrutis clothing was worn by Don Johnson and Philip Michael Thomas in Miami Vice, the 1980s television hit that had turned the traditional cop show into a fashion-forward music video, and in doing so these three Italian designers had marked the decade with tropical chic suits and T-shirts in candy colors. No earth tones, Michael Mann, the shows executive producer, had decreed.
Cerruti had some 130 film credits, including his work for Richard Gere in Pretty Women, Michael Douglas in Wall Street, Christian Bale in American Psycho, Tom Hanks in Philadelphia and Kathleen Turner in The Jewel of the Nile. Yet he never visited a film set. As he told Gross, If you love films, you should never go on the set, so as not to have your illusions shattered.
Nino Cerruti was born Sept. 25, 1930, in Biella to Silvio and Silvia (Tomassini) Cerruti. He is survived by his longtime companion, Sibylla Jahr; a son, Julian; a daughter, Silvia; his brothers Alberto and Attilio; and two grandsons. His marriages to Diana Gates and Chantal Dumont ended in divorce.
Blue-eyed and well over 6 feet, Nino Cerruti was always a dazzling figure who skied and played tennis like a professional. (He made athleticwear for those sports and others, and sponsored players like Jimmy Connors.) Hes just so gorgeous, Elaine Kaufman, owner of Elaines, the celebrity canteen on Manhattans Upper East Side, would tell Margaret Muldoon, Cerrutis longtime American publicist, every time he visited her restaurant, as Muldoon recalled in a phone interview.
Cerruti had many designers over the decades, including a young Giorgio Armani, who worked for Cerrutis company in the 1960s. For a few years in the mid-1990s, Narciso Rodriguez was the lead designer, notably creating Carolyn Bessettes pearl-hued silk crepe wedding dress for her marriage to John F. Kennedy Jr. in 1996.
In addition to menswear and womenswear, Cerrutis company had numerous licensing deals for accessories, perfume and eyewear, and boutiques all over the world
I like to describe my operation as a modern version of the handcraft bodegas of centuries ago, Cerruti told Esquire magazine in 1987. It is important to know each link in the chain. I consider myself very close to the theory of industrial design: using modern technology to reach the market. Its a very modern challenge: the continuous harmonization between the rational or scientific world and the emotional or artistic world.
In 1994, he was the official designer for the Formula 1 Team Ferrari. Among many awards, Cerruti was made a Cavaliere del Lavoro, or Knight of Labor, by the president of Italy in 2000. The following year, the Cerruti brand was sold, in a forced takeover, to Fin.part, an Italian conglomerate, which had bought 51% of the business the year before; it paid $67 million for the remaining shares, Womens Wear Daily reported at the time.
In 2015, cultural foundation Fondazione Pitti Discovery organized an exhibition of Cerrutis private wardrobe at the Museo Marino Marini in Florence, a retrospective of his life told in six decades worth of luxurious suits, jackets, trousers and evening clothes (along with the capes he also favored).
He had saved his clothing not for posterity but because he never threw anything out, including a moth-eaten wool jacket he had held onto because he liked the fabric, as Guy Trebay reported in his review of the show for The Times. If a style was innovative, he wrote, Mr. Cerruti probably wore it first.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times