Roberto Cavalli swapped ‘Fashion Planet’ (as he’s likes to call it) for Oxford University last night, where he gave a speech about his life in the fash lane. ‘I never expected to be in the fashion world,’ he told his audience. ‘I became a designer by accident.’
In keeping with the venue, which describes itself as ‘the last bastion of free speech’, the magnificently mahogany Cavalli was as outspoken as ever. His lecture spanned topics ranging from family (‘my muse for many years was my wife’) and the UK fashion industry (‘the best fashion is English fashion’) to statements that probably had his PR team face-palming in the audience. These included allegations of bribery regarding Jennifer Hudson’s last-minute dress swap at the 2007 Oscars, where J-Hud won Best Supporting Actress for Dreamgirls.
Looking dapper in a black sweater and matching jacket, Cavalli explained how upon graduating from art school in his native Florence, he made a name for himself printing on leather. He supplied a number of high-end fashion house including Hermès, but soon decided to travel to ‘the fashion planet and design the collections myself.’
Unsurprisingly, for a man whose work is synonymous with leopard print, he declared, ‘I don’t like minimal - I don’t like boring - fashion’. His favourite designers - Alexander McQueen (‘a genius’) and Gianni Versace – are those who shared a similar outlook. ‘I love fashion because it’s a little bit crazy. Fashion that is not crazy,’ Cavalli firmly stated, ‘is not fashion.’
Aptly, given last week’s scrum for Isabel Marant Pour H&M, he also touched upon his own 2007 collaboration with the Swedish brand. ‘Many people said no, you can’t do it,’ Roberto recalled, but he was persuaded otherwise by his fans. ‘I love it when they stop me in the street like a rock star,’ he laughed. When H&M offered him the opportunity to design a cut-price collection, he agreed because ‘because I started to think about the students, all the young [people].’
And while it’s become totally predictable for H&M collabs to end up on eBay mere hours after selling out (Marant’s collection, in fact, landed on eBay before it was even officially on sale), Cavalli had an even more bonkers experience with the auction site. On the eve of the Roberto Cavalli for H&M launch, he pulled up outside an H&M in New York and saw ‘a line outside with all the young people that wanted to buy my dresses, my jeans; men and women’. Feeling conspicuous, he ditched the cigar he was smoking. ‘A few days afterwards I saw my half cigar on eBay that someone was selling for $450!’
Half-smoked cigars aside, what is his fashion legacy? ‘I don’t know. I create, I like… I leave it to other people to judge,’ he replied. Despite being in his 70s, he could never see himself doing anything else. Fashion, he explained, is ‘in my DNA’. ‘When you love fashion it’s part of your life, part of your world.’
By Karen Yossman