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In History: Roberto Cavalli's inventions - from sand blasted denim to leopard print dresses

Chloe Burney
16 April 2024

Roberto Cavalli, the ‘more is more’ designer otherwise known as the Leopard King, passed away aged 83 on Saturday. He was known for his flamboyant animal-print-infused designs, but his legacy stems far beyond his exotic style.

In recent years his name has flown under the radar, but with ‘mob-wife aesthetic’ shooting to the forefront of trend, his eclectic style resurfaced.

His passing marks another tragic loss from the golden era of fashion – when slip dresses and supermodels were the order of the day.

The Florence-born designer – who was dubbed the "king of excess" by Vogue – launched his eponymous label in 1970, but it wasn’t until the 1990s that his flashy style became the go-to among a slew of covetable A-listers.

Roberto Cavalli, however, once said: "I don’t define myself as a stylist or as a designer. I prefer to call myself an artist of fashion". Whether you consider him a designer or an 'artist of fashion', one thing is for sure, he was a purveyor of style. Thanks to Cavalli, our wardrobes now contain comfortable jeans as well as a repertoire of animal skins from snakeskin prints to cheetah prints.

Paying homage to the late designer, has created a timeline of the King of Leopard's achievements over the years. Roberto Cavalli will go down in the history books as one of the fashion greats of this generation.

Image Credit: PA Media

Timeline: Roberto Cavalli's milestones

1970: Roberto Cavalli showcased his debut collection made up of painted leather looks. This new technique saw him commissioned by other design houses including the likes of Hermès and Pierre Cardin.

1972: Cavalli opened his first boutique in Saint-Tropez in 1972. He was one of the founding fathers who turned the once small fishing village into a hotspot for the upper class and fashion elite.

1988: Applying artistic techniques to denim, he presented his first printed jeans.

1994: The designer showed the first sand-blasted jeans, which were a triumph in the '90s – just look to the style of the era-defining film Coyote Ugly for proof.

1995: He worked with Lycra and denim to create a new form of stretch denim. This not only diversified the denim market for years to follow but also made sitting down in jeans a whole lot easier.

2000: Roberto Cavalli launched a cheaper spin-off line Cavalli Jeans (later renamed Just Cavalli). Just Cavalli was relaunched in 2023.

2004: Cavalli sponsored the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Costume Institute 'Wild: Fashion Untamed' exhibition. The showcase explored the human connection to animal skins. Cavalli told Vogue in 2001, "It's not really that I love to use animal print, I like everything that is of nature... I start[ed] to understand that God is really the best designer, so I started to copy God."

Animal print was soon to become his signature sign-off.

In the same year, Cavalli received backlash from the Hindu community for designing a line of underwear for Harrods which featured the images of Hindu goddesses. The line was eventually withdrawn and formal apologies were made.

2005: In June, Cavalli was hired to revamp Playboy’s bunny costumes.

In September, the designer launched Roberto Cavalli Vodka, which was – of course – wrapped up in a snakeskin-covered bottle.

Roberto Cavalli x H&M

2007: Cavalli teamed up with the rich and famous. Christina Aguilera and Jennifer Lopez both asked the designer to create costumes for their concerts. Meanwhile, the Spice Girls wore custom-made Cavalli numbers for their global reunion tour.

In November, he launched a pioneering collection for H&M, which sold out within hours. This built the foundation for covetable designer collaborations that are still sell-outs today.

The Spice Girls in custom Cavalli

2008: Cavalli collaborated once more, this time with Coca-Cola. 300,000 limited edition bottles were dressed in his designs.

2011: The designer reluctantly retired at 71 years old.

Since then, Cavalli continued to practice what he preached. He lived a lavish lifestyle with his wife of 34 years at his Tuscan estate, complete with several pools and a vineyard. Becoming the embodiment of the extravagance that he sold for five decades, his home was fitted with Ferraris, helicopters, a yacht and more.

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