Queen of hot pants, fashion designer Mariuccia Mandelli, remembered

Innovative Italian designer behind Krizia label was known for creating contemporary and daring women’s wear, but also designed clothing for children and men

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 15 December, 2015, 2:06pm
UPDATED : Monday, 13 June, 2016, 12:45pm

Mariuccia Mandelli, an Italian fashion designer who electrified the catwalk with short shorts known as hot pants, knitwear whimsically emblazoned with animals, and trouser suits for the modern working woman, has died at her home in Milan, aged 90.

Italian media which reported her death did not say what she died of.

Mandelli was regarded as royalty in Milan, the fashion capital of Italy, for more than half a century. A onetime elementary school teacher, she launched Krizia, her fashion label, in the mid-1950s, drawing its name from a Platonic dialogue about female vanity.

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A decade later, still relatively unknown, she stunned the insular Italian design world by claiming an important fashion prize for a collection presented at the Palazzo Pitti in Florence. The award identified her as both a significant talent and a maverick: unlike many of her contemporaries, she had eschewed wild colours in favour of black and white.

Blacks, browns and creams – the shades of Italian coffees, the San Francisco Chronicle once observed – remained prominent in her palette for years. Her independent streak, likewise, lasted. Umberto Eco, the Italian author and philosopher, quoted in W Magazine, observed that Mandelli “invents the taste of her own public”.

She designed clothing for children and for men, and the Krizia line included jewellery, fragrances and champagne. But she was best known for women’s wear that was seen as contemporary and daring, a reflection of the feminist movement that coincided with Mandelli’s rise as a force in design.

“Women at the time expressed the will to change the system,” she once told Corriere della Sera, an Italian daily. Designers, she said, took their lead. “I tried to liberate women by eliminating what was superfluous, adapting clothing to daily life.”

She used fabrics that were mainstays of men’s clothing, such as pinstripe wools. She favoured trousers – whether jodhpurs, stirrups or billowy knickerbockers – over the more traditionally feminine skirt. And she made innovative use of pleats to project both power and style.

But she disdained women’s fashion that copied menswear, including the style of trouser suit that was once promoted for career women.

“We are going toward the year 2000 and women should go ahead and not backwards and strike out on their own,” she told The Washington Post in 1984. “To copy mannish clothes is to repeat an error.”

To avoid repeating the error, Mandelli designed a variation on what she considered the stale office uniform for women.

“She makes a [trouser] suit look soft and gentle by using unconstructed jackets and trousers that fit smoothly across the hips, then widen toward the ankles,” fashion critic Bernadine Morris wrote in The New York Times in 1988. “She experiments with the new knee and below-the-knee lengths in dresses and skirts. ... In all, Miss Mandelli provides a neat balance between wearable and inventive clothes, and shows Italian fashion at its best.”

In other outfits, she employed sheer fabric – or the absence of fabric – to alluring effect. In the early 1970s, Mandelli helped popularise the so-called hot pants that were distinguishable primarily for how little of the leg they covered.

Particularly recognisable was her knitwear – the sweaters that featured a menagerie of animals, including cats, parakeets, squirrels, foxes, horses, crocodiles, pandas, monkeys, giraffes, leopards, tigers, lions and elephants. (The Krizia headquarters was across the street from Milan’s zoo.)

Mandelli professed that she had started the design motif in part to overcome a phobia of animals.

The fauna of her famous knitwear at times overshadowed Mandelli’s other work, a signature of which was the use of unexpected base materials. Several specimens of short skirts and pants were made with eel skin.

“They used to call me ‘crazy Krizia’ because I was ready to try anything,” she once told the Toronto Star.

Her visage, with dramatic bangs and beguiling lips, was captured in a portrait by artist Andy Warhol. After Mandelli’s death, the Italian daily La Repubblica described her as similar to the clothing she designed: “strong, independent, practical.”

Mariuccia Mandelli was born in Bergamo on January 31, 1925. She recalled that she was seven when she began making clothing for her doll, Corriere reported.

She found an early mentor in an acquaintance who ran a tailoring shop and who told Mandelli’s mother not to send the girl to university because she would one day become a giant of fashion.

Mandelli studied in Switzerland and worked for a time as an elementary teacher before venturing into fashion, first sewing simple dresses and skirts with a friend.

A Chinese clothing manufacturer, Shenzhen Marisfrolg Fashion Co., bought Krizia in 2014.

Survivors include her husband and business partner, Aldo Pinto.

The Washington Post