Albini Walter (1941-1983). Italian designer. He left his inspired mark on the 1960s and 1970s, anticipating many trends and opening the door to the great success of Italian prêt-à-porter. He was born Gualtiero Angelo Albini in Busto Arsizio, Lombardy, on March 3, 1941.
The beginning of his career
Against the advice of his parents, he abandoned the study of classics to attend the Institute of Art, Design and Fashion in Turin. He was the sole male student. At 17 he began to work with magazines and newspapers, making sketches of the fashion shows, first in Rome, and then in Paris. In 1961, he moved to Paris to complete his studies and stayed there for four years. There he met Chanel, falling under her spell. He studied her creations in detail in the pages of old issues of important fashion magazines which he bought in bulk.
Albini’s first collection
Then in 1963, the designer created his first collection for Gianni Baldini. After meeting Mariuccia Mandelli in Paris, he worked three years for Krizia. This where he experimented in industry methods. Then in the last season Albini worked with Karl Lagerfeld, who was just starting out. He later designs for Billy Ballo, Cadette and then for Trell, Billy Ballo, Paola Signorini and many other. In his work of that time one can already see a tribute to Poiret.
Towards the end of the 1960s, by now an established designer, he creates for the most important Italian houses, for Cole of California, and he works with Gimmo Etro on printed fabrics. His parallel research on cutting — ever more lightened — and on fabric is a constant of Albini’s work. Thanks to him a new relationship is established between the designer and the textle manufacturer, at long last equal in status, giving birth also to the new idea of “groupages” of advertising pages in specialized magazines.
His first proposal, to Montedoro, of the “uni-max” formula dates to the 1970s, when he suggested a uniformity of both cutting and colors for men and women. It is also the period of the famous Anagrafe collection, with eight brides in long pink dresses and eight widows in short black ones. The following season, for Misterfox, he created a Pre-Raphaelites Collection. It was an example of how he could bring his own cultural passions to fashion in an original way. He continued his work for Montedoro, designing loose-fitting men’s and women’s collections. He is by far the most celebrated and sought after Italian designer, but also the most intolerant of restrictions.
The following collection was presented at Maremoda Capri. It showed how he mastered the art of combing cultural passion with fashion. Then he presented another collection called Rendez-vous, which was presented at Pitti and inspired by Art Deco with printed fabrics and embroidery-work.
FTM and Albini’s collections
By then, Walter was the most famous Italian designer. The FTM Group took up the distribution of his collections, designed with common elements in a single style for five separate fashion houses each specialized in a different product: jackets, knitwear, jersey, dresses, shirts. The houses were Basile, Escargots, Callaghan, Misterfox, and Diamant’s (replaced by Sportfox few months later). He obtained a complete line and presented it in Milan instead of Florence. Others who separated from Florence in this way weret Caumont, Ken Scott, Krizia, Missoni and Trell. It was the beginning of Italian prêt-à-porter. But while the international press called him “the new Italian star,” “as charismatic as Yves Saint-Laurent“, the Italian press proved to be myopic and provincial, as did the distribution system.
The end of the contract with Misterfox
Albini, disheartened, broke all his contracts but one. He continued his relationship with Misterfox and with them produced a new men’s and women’s line. It carried his name and was presented for the Spring-Summer season in London in 1973. It was the first appearance of a new formula that was later much imitated. There was a primary line with a strong and driving image, and a limited volume of sales. It was economically supported by a second and more simple Collection aimed at a larger market. Albini, who lived (and designed) like a character by F. Scott Fitzgerald, called it The Great Gatsby. This was the moment to create that unstructured jacket, the shirt-jacket (sometimes made of the same fabric as the shirt worn below), which was to be so important for the future of fashion in Italy.
The Autumn/Winter 1972 collection was a huge success for the first time a designer designed for five independent fashion houses simultaneously. In 1973, he opened his own showroom in Milan in via Pietro Cossa in a complete mirrored space where he put the Misterfox collection. In that same year he bought a house in Venice. There, at the Cafe Florian, he mounted a memorable show, presenting clothes which seemed to come out of a timeless dream. The show was later brought to New York.
His extraordinary creative talent was by now recognized all over the world. He was able to give form to his own personal dreams and to ideas found in the broader culture with a light touch. And yet, Albini didn’t receive enough support, he didn’t have a solid commercial organization behind him.
Then in 1974 he ended his collaboration with Misterfox and left the showroom.
The crisis of Albini
The crisis arrived in 1974-1975. Though his collections continued to amaze for the particular beauty of his creations, with their refined fabrics printed in patterns such as murrhines and paisley. In this way he relaunched the Kashmir-inspired prints which moved from fashion to home furnishings, with a success that lasted many seasons and still continues. Among the other famous patterns that he created, besides the stars, stripes, and dots, were faces, dancers, Scottish terriers, the zodiac, Madonnas, a hound’s-tooth design, and the giant Prince of Wales printed on silk and on velvet.
Total look by Albini
Creator of the total look, he embodied it first of all in a completely personal way. He identified his way of life with his creative style. Furnishing his houses to match his fashions and designing in similar style fabrics, objects, furniture, glassware and coordinated interiors for design magazines such as Casa Vogue. An excellent draftsman, when he skips a season, as in Autumn-Winter 1974-1975, he proposed, in a moment of reflection and as an alternative to the Collections, an exhibit of his sketches dating from 1962 on.
Importance of traveling
He travelled a lot, especially to India, the Far-East and Tunisia, where he bought a house in Sidi-fou-Said. The Collections that followed were inspired by those journeys. In 1975 he presented the first solo men’s collection, in this also anticipating the future. In January 1975, in Rome, was his first high fashion runway. It was in collaboration with Giuseppe Della Schiava, who manufactured the printed silks to one of his drawings. The collection was inspired by Chanel and the 1930s, his passions as ever. “High fashion is dead, long live high fashion,” he said, his ideas always against the trend. His second collection was totally in pink, inspired once again by Chanel and Poiret, while his prêt-à-porter collections for Trell were inspired by a revived “bon-ton,” contradicted the following season by an “urban guerilla” style.
From time to time his men’s collections were presented by male friends and by female friends. This was to emphasize the unisex concept. Busts that narcissistically reproduced his own image, through life-size photographic portraits of himself made by all his photographer friends, and on panels carrying a mask reproducing his handsome face. Sometimes, polemically, the collections were reduced to a grouping of “robes trouvées”. This as if to state that what really counts is only the ars combinatoria (art of combining things). Once he dreamed up a scandalous exhibition of personalized phalluses dressed as a devil, Mickey Mouse, and Lawrence of Arabia, and also as Lagerfeld, Fabio Bellotti, and Saint-Laurent.
In 1978, he relaunched his own line Walter Albini in collaboration with Mario Ferrari. The collection was presented in front of 3,000 spectators in Milan at the Pallazzo Della Permanente. Then following this achievement, the Spring Summer 1979 collection was presented at the Rotonda della Besana. The end of the collaboration Albini-Ferrari was short and quick. After that, the designer continued to work for fashion houses but was not anymore motivated.
The style and the prints
The ever recurrent motif in his fashion was the style of the 1930s. With half-belt jackets, flat necks, large trousers, the shirt-jacket, sandals, two-toned shoes, Bermuda shorts, and later on sleeveless jackets, knitwear caps pulled down over the eyes, and the first heavy-duty boots. In the last years he worked with Helyette, Lanerossi and Peprose. He entrusted Collections bearing his own name to Marzo, a new company, but the manufacturers didn’t follow their instructions. Paolo Rinaldi, his most faithful working partner and press agent, was always at his side. In the early 1980s, the press, always concerned with “new entries,” ignored him.
Albini passed away in Milan at the age of 42 on May 31, 1983. He left behind an unforgettable lesson in style. It is to be studied again only after his death, in the light of his great achievement, nourishing his myth. The designer gave a vigorous push to Italian prêt-à-porter as an expression of design applied to fashion in an innovative way but with solid historical roots. He invented the new image of a woman wearing a jacket, trousers, or a shirtdress.
He again suggested that the revival is an intelligent form of research and reinvention, and used irony and dissent as a means of criticism. Additionally he affirmed the total look. Also he paid great attention to accessories and details. To him they were even more important than the dress itself, while adopting a maniacal perfectionism that was somehow detached and natural. Additionally he worked without holding anything back, but never in haste or roughly or with mediocrity. He never accepted compromises, a diminution of style, or restrictions imposed by the market.
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