If you’re a millennial who grew up on a diet of BlackBerry Messenger, tabloid celebrity news (never forget Paris Hilton, Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan crammed into Hilton’s Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren), and style icons who donned Von Dutch trucker hats and Alexander McQueen skull scarves, you may also remember Roberto Cavalli.
During the aughts, the Italian fashion designer was a red carpet mainstay, dressing everyone from newly solo Beyoncé and “Dirrty”-era Christina Aguilera to Kate Moss and Jennifer Lopez in eye-catching, figure-hugging ensembles that epitomized the decade’s look-at-me excess. From the time he founded his eponymous brand in 1972 until his retirement in 2014, Cavalli delivered a panoply of tiger stripes, giraffe spots, butterfly wings, chiffon wisps, sequins, glitter, glitz and glam. His aesthetic was in the same over-the-top vein of Versace and Dolce & Gabbana, but it came with a smokier, sultrier air of indulgence.
These days, however, the Roberto Cavalli brand has returned to the scene with a slightly different energy thanks to the appointment of Sicilian-born designer Fausto Puglisi.
Puglisi took over as lead creative consultant in October 2020, after the house had gone a year without a designer at the helm (prior directors besides the namesake included Peter Dundas and Paul Surridge). At that point, Puglisi had long enjoyed popularity with his own self-named line, which, since 2010, had obtained global renown for its sporty-yet-extravagant Italianate aesthetic and celebrity following. (Nicki Minaj and M.I.A. wore Fausto Puglisi while performing with Madonna at the 2012 Super Bowl.)
Yet, where the Roberto Cavalli look of yesteryear was perpetually party-ready, dripping in nature motifs and often barely-there (see Victoria Beckham at the Swarovski Fashion Rocks gala in Monaco circa 2005), Puglisi is looking to steer the label toward more contemporary sensibilities. For his Spring-Summer 2022 collection, presented at Milan Fashion Week on Wednesday, this vision manifested via bejeweled Birkenstocks, and separates like leisurewear bodysuits, palazzo pants and hoodies, among the de facto Cavalli loudness – and loucheness.
“I think the concept before was that everybody had to be a goddess,” Puglisi said over Zoom from Milan a few days before his catwalk show. “For me, I’m less about the glamazon and more about a democratic approach to the wardrobe, while still keeping the brand’s spirit of fun.”
For the brand’s menswear line, he’s taking a similar approach, eschewing the old “Saint-Tropez playboy” aesthetic for something more relatable. “It’s not the moment of a playboy; it’s the moment of a much more inclusive and expansive dream,” he said.
When it comes to Hollywood, Puglisi’s Cavalli has quickly become a celebrity favorite. Jennifer Lopez wore a sharp-shouldered canary yellow dress with crystal-encrusted leopard brooches for a Global Citizens concert in May. The following month, Megan Thee Stallion sported a custom feather-trimmed gown with a high slit to the BET Awards. Puglisi has also created a custom look for Kim Kardashian (Kardashian is also a noteworthy fan of throwback Cavalli).
At the show in Milan on Wednesday, model Amelia Gray Hamlin (actor and reality TV star Lisa Rinna’s daughter) and “Veneno” star Daniela Santiago sat front row. Fashion’s most powerful figure, Anna Wintour, was there, too.
And yet, at the same time, the public appetite for the Cavailli of old has been growing thanks to Gen Z’s ongoing penchant for Y2K fashion. Beauty influencer Bretman Rock, for example, wore a resized Roberto Cavalli dress featuring enormous tiger stripes and a furry trim to the 2021 MTV Video Music Awards – the same dress the late singer Aaliyah wore to the same event in 2000. Meanwhile, in her music video for “Brutal,” released in August, Olivia Rodrigo donned a shimmering mini dress previously worn by Britney Spears in 2003.
But Puglisi isn’t worried; in fact, he’s here for all of it. “I never imagined the requests we’re getting,” he said. “I have an enormous amount of gratitude for the people who are supporting not only me, but also the brand, and all of the high-profile individuals out there who are wearing it.”
While red carpet style will always be sexier and more eye-catching than everyday pieces, it’s with those wearable options that Puglisi flexes his knack for melding the Roberto Cavalli legacy with his own understanding of the current moment, skillfully easing the brand into the future.
“Many people might not know this, but when Roberto was starting, he used to print and paint denim himself in Florence. He obviously went on to great success, yet it all started in a humble way,” Puglisi said. “I think the democratization I want to build (ties that all together)… You can have this glamour and this high-impact look, but it can still be rooted in something more universal. So, going ahead, I want to be the king of frocks, yes, but also the king of day-to-day jeans and tees.”
But don’t expect too much of a shift, though. With a smile, Puglisi promised: “I will never be a minimalist designer.”
Top image: Victoria Beckham in Roberto Cavalli in 2005.