Nino Cerruti, one of the most emblematic figures of 20th century luxury men’s prêt-à-porter, an innovative designer who passed away on Saturday at the age of 91, will have imprinted his elegant yet relaxed style in the world of fashion and textiles.
“I have always dressed the same person, myself”, confided the Italian couturier. Slender, he wanted to be the first to try his creations, many of which are kept in the weaving workshop founded in 1881 by his grandfather in Biella, in northern Italy.
“A garment exists only from the moment someone wears it. I would like these clothes to continue to live, to be imbued with life, because that is how I lived them”, said this designer, nicknamed the “clothing philosopher”.
Born on 25 September 1930 in Biella, he was forced to abandon his philosophy studies at the age of 20, after the death of his father Silvio, to take over the family textile company and thus bury his dream of becoming a journalist.
Nino Cerruti was the most French of Italian designers when he opened his first boutique in 1967 in Paris, Place de la Madeleine, the starting point of a luxury brand that quickly went global.
The revolution of women’s fashion
In the midst of a student protest in 1968, this heir to the textile industry brought his revolution to the catwalks by parading men and women in the same clothes.
“Pants gave women freedom,” says the designer, who made them for brands like Coco Chanel. At the time “it was a courageous choice, because women in trousers were not allowed in some restaurants.”
In the mid-1970s he created his first women’s collections, which 20 years later will represent 20% of the group’s turnover.
Gradually it expanded its territory, launching itself into the perfumes, clocks, shoes and also jewelry store.
In the sixties he met a certain Giorgio Armani, four years his junior, and hired him as a designer for men. The duo, who had a profound impact on the fashion world, split a decade later after Armani’s decision to found their own home in 1975.
Then, in the 1970s, Nino Cerruti invented the first unstructured jacket, a discovery that introduced “casual chic” in high-end menswear.
He is a master of casual sophistication, but believes the term “elegance” has “a terrible old taste”, preferring the concept of “style”. “Having style is mixing culture and art”, according to Nino Cerruti.
Lover of the yellow sweater
Abundant hair, an aquiline nose, a smirk, this patriarch of Italian fashion never leaves his favorite yellow sweater he wears at every show.
He “Signor Nino”, as he is affectionately called by his employees, wears movie celebrities, Richard Gere, Marcello Mastroianni, Robert Redford or even Jean-Paul Belmondo and makes brief appearances in Hollywood films such as Cannes Man (1996) or Holy Man (1998).
But in a context of fierce competition between the large luxury groups, which left little room for independent fashion houses, in 2001 the designer sold his “Cerruti 1881” brand to Italian investors.
“They don’t have a label strategy but an industrial strategy!” he protested two years later, before witnessing the bankruptcy of the new owners in 2005.
The Cerruti brand was then sold to the American investment fund MatlinPatterson, only to end up in Chinese hands in 2011, with its sale to the Trinity group.
Nino Cerruti had returned to the starting point after the sale of his group, in the family home in Biella, at the foot of the Alps, to devote himself to wool spinning, a springboard for the worldwide success of his brand.