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R.I.P. Anna Piaggi: Our September 1998 Interview With the Style Icon


Anna Piaggi
, who died yesterday at the age of 81, once told me that on a trip to London she visited 87 boutiques in one weekend. That's a commitment to fashion.

The Italian fashion editor and style icon was adored by fashion fans worldwide for her always-eye-popping personal style. Although she dressed wildly there was an analytical approach to her sartorial choices. When I interviewed her in 1998 (which is re-printed in full below), she told me "Once in awhile I try on what I have and I see.... It's like the word 'algebra.' It goes really by reduction and deduction. It's a little bit mathematical and scientific." At the time she was obsessed with clinical work clothes. That summer she had been wearing pharmacy jackets --  one from Margiela and one that the Chanel dressing room attendants wore. She told me she longed to come to the United States to see all the amazing uniforms workers in this country wore. She was particularly interested in the aprons at McDonalds.

Piaggi got her start as an editor in the 1960s at Ariadne and later became a contributing editor to Italian Vogue. She was the subject of an exhibit in 2006 at the Victoria & Albert museum in London which claimed her collection included 2865 dresses and 265 pairs of shoes. Three of her greatest partners-in-crime were the designer Karl Lagerfeld, milliner Stephen Jones and shoe designer Manolo Blahnik. Piaggi told me,  "I think that the head and the feet can make an extraordinary look." When I asked her if she wore her signature flamboyant costumes to the office she responded, "Also for the supermarket. My life is quite normal. But I enjoy dressing all the time." And fashion addicts around the world enjoyed her dressing as well. The world will be a lot less fabulous without her.

Mickey Boardman: Have you always dressed the way you do now?

Anna Piaggi:
Dressing has always given me great pleasure. It all started during my very frequent trips to London. I developed a great friendship with a fantastic person, Vern Lambert, who had stores in the Kensington Market, which was a legendary place. Unfortunately, he is no longer living. He was the one who introduced me to the great pleasure of inventing and putting things together. This was in the mid-60's. At the same time, I met Karl Lagerfeld, who was in Paris doing Chloe. He was doing beautiful prints and had very sophisticated and avant-garde taste. I worked for magazines and I was crazy about shopping and seeing boutiques for the magazine. I remember in London during one weekend I saw 87 boutiques! [Laughs.]

Are there any designers now who inspire your personal style?

AP: I keep very open to the young ones. I've been looking at the fashion schools a lot: St. Martin's or Middlesex Polytechnic in London, Studio Bercot in Paris. I've also been looking, through the years, to the Belgian fashion school. The Japanese also seem to always be right.

MB: Do you like deconstruction?

AP: I like it as long as it's done with skill--as long as it's original and it comes with real inspiration and with the habit of draping things, like Comme des Garçons. Rei Kawakubo's always right in a way because she has been turning dresses inside-out and front-to-back so much that it has become incredibly professional and convincing. 

MB: Have you ever felt underdressed? Do you have a casual way of dressing?

AP: This summer, in Milano, I've been dressing in work clothes--you know, the tunic one wears in the pharmacy. Very clinical. I have a lab coat from Martin Margiela and one from Chanel that the dressing-room attendants wear. This I would call simple, but there is a meaning. I don't think dressing up always has to be overdressing. There is also a way to dress with a certain minimalistic humor. I like to dress very concisely. It doesn't always have to be masses of feathers and things. But I think it is also good to risk overdressing if there is an idea. It's good to have two extremes.

MB: Is there anything that inspires you about American style?

AP: I dream about going around in America; it must be incredible. I haven't been there for many years, but I'm sure there are so many inspirations. Mentally, I feel like an immigrant in the 19th century who still thinks of America as a very adventurous place. I think it's possible to find fantastic things, like the McDonald's apron. And also movie costumes. It must be extraordinary how many different uniforms are available.

MB: There are a lot of designers who think less is more. How do you feel about this school of thinking?

AP: I think "less is more," as it is done by a few designers in Milano, is extremely modern. I must say that. Prada, Miu Miu and Jil Sander are visually contemporary. I think it is a very good contrast between that and haute-couture richness. I like extremes.

MB: You're famous for your hats. Are there any other accessories you feel naked without?

AP: There are wonderful hat designers like Stephen Jones and Philip Treacy. A hat is a wonderful accessory. I wear these really tiny ones by Stephen Jones. You have a little hat and Manolo Blahnik shoes, of course. I think that the head and the feet, they can make an extraordinary look.

MB: Do you know exactly what you're going to wear in advance?

AP: Once in a while I try on what I have and I see...it is like the word "algebra." It goes really by reduction and deduction. It's a little bit mathematical and scientific. Normally I go very much by intuition. I've been dressing for so many years and I know myself.

MB: Do you dress for work like you dress for the fashion shows?

AP: Also for the supermarket. My life is quite normal. But I enjoy dressing all the time. ★

Photos by Roxanne Lowit

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