Italian Fashion Designers

When compiling a list of top Italian fashion designers, we stopped counting when we reached 60. Here are our picks for the most recognized names in the field today, in alphabetical order:

1. Armani
Legendary Italian fashion designer Giorgio Armani was born on 11 July 1934 in Piacenza. His career began as an assistant designer for Nino Cerruti, but he left in 1970 to work as a freelancer. With a partner, Sergio Galeotti, he established the Armani label four years later.

In the 1980s Armani began designing for numerous Hollywood names, which catapulted him to international fame. In 2001, Forbes named him the most successful Italian fashion designer and estimated his net worth at $1.7 billion. Armani was the first designer to ban models with a body mass index (BMI) under 18. He has designed uniforms for various sporting events and has recently opened a restaurant in New York City.

2. Dolce & Gabbana
Domenico Dolce, born in 1958, near Palermo, Sicily, and Stefano Gabbana, born in 1962 in Milan, began as a couple, but separated in 2005. Unlike others in a similar situation, they were able to continue their business partnership and achieve outstanding success with their sleek and stylish clothing designs.

They have utilized their celebrity connections to great effect at their runway shows but have been dogged by legal wrangles, including a 2009 tax evasion charge. By 1997, their annual turnover was £400 million, and it topped £597 by 2005, making them one of the most financially successful Italian fashion designers.

3. Ferré
Born in Legnano on 15 August 1944, Gianfranco Ferré originally graduated as an architect in 1969 but began designing accessories a year later. He started his own company in 1974 and launched his first women's collection in 1978, followed by his first men's collection in 1982, and his first couture collection in 1986. Ferré became Stylistic Director of Christian Dior in Paris from 1989 to 1997.

Sophisticated white shirts have become the symbol of his personal signature in fashion design. His label offers several lines of men's wear, plus an underwear line, a sports line and a range of fragrances. His range of licensed products now includes shoes, stationery, luggage, home furnishings, perfumes and timepieces. Ferré won a number of prestigious awards during his career, including the L'Occhio d'Oro for Best Italian Fashion Designer six times. 70% of Ferré sales are achieved in export, with the US being the biggest market. Ferré distributes in exclusive boutiques worldwide.

Ferré died on June 17, 2007. On June 25 of 2008 the company entered into a worldwide joint venture with Dubai-based GIO Developments. The first project will be erected in Dubai. GIO Developments will oversee the real estate, construction, management and operations aspects of the projects, while Gianfranco Ferré will oversee content, design and style. 

4. Prada
Prada was founded by Mario Prada as a leather goods shop in Milan, Italy. After his death in the mid-1950s, Mario's daughter-in-law ran the company for almost twenty years, succeeded by her daughter, Miuccia Prada, in 1970.

Miuccia, born Maria Bianchi on 10 May 1949, had a Ph.D. in Political Science but with her husband, Patrizio Bertelli, set about expanding Prada's product line. In 1979 she released a set of backpacks and totes, followed by a nylon tote. A shoe line was released in 1984, the classic Prada handbag in 1985, and a women's wear collection in 1989. Prada's popularity skyrocketed and it became identified with affluent working women who held demanding jobs. Men's ready-to-wear collections were launched in the mid-1990s. Prada's originality made it one of the most influential Italian fashion designers, and the brand became a premium status symbol in the 1990s.

In 1983, Prada began expansion across continental Europe and the US and later Japan. The company went on an ultimately unsuccessful merger and purchasing spree which slowed in the 2000s. Prada manufactures its wares in Italy, apparently keeping labor costs down by using Chinese laborers at the plants. Prada, along with Calvin Klein and Gucci, is known for the practice of casting new models to walk exclusively in their runway shows. An exclusive or opening spot in a Prada show is among the most coveted bookings in the modeling world.

5. Valentino
Valentino Clemente Ludovico Garavani, best known as Valentino, was born on 11 May 1932 in Voghera, Lombardy. Valentino became interested in fashion while in primary school when he apprenticed under his aunt Rosa and local designer Ernestina Salvadeo. At 17, he moved to Paris and studied at the Ecole des Beaux Arts and at the Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne. Later he apprenticed to Jacques Fath, followed by Balenciaga, Jean Desses and Guy Laroche. In 1959 he decided to return to Italy and set up in Rome.

Valentino's international debut took place in 1962 in Florence. His first show was a huge success and his designs were suddenly in demand. In 1966, he moved his shows from Florence to Rome, and by the mid-1960s he was considered the undisputed king of Italian fashion designers. In 1964, Valentino met Jacqueline Kennedy, who helped make him a sought-after designer in the USA. Throughout the 1970s Valentino spent considerable time in New York City. 1989 marked the opening of the Accademia Valentino, in Rome, for the presentation of art exhibitions. In 1998 Valentino and his partner Giancarlo Giammetti sold the company to HdP, an Italian conglomerate controlled, in part, by the late Gianni Agnelli, the head of Fiat. 

Valentino and Giammetti are renowned for their extensive collection of art. Valentino owns villas and apartments around the world, all boasting an extensive array of art pieces. He also spends much time on T. M. Blue One, his 152-foot yacht. Valentino: The Last Emperor, a feature-length documentary on the designer, premiered at the 2008 Venice International Film Festival. The film had its North American premiere at the 2008 Toronto International Film Festival and became the highest-grossing documentary debut of 2009.

To celebrate the 45th anniversary of Valentino's career, a fashion extravaganza took place in Rome in July 2007. During the festivities, the Mayor of Rome announced that the site of the Valentino museum would be a building in via San Teodoro. In 2007 Valentino announced that he would retire after his final Haute-Couture show in Paris. It was presented at the Musée Rodin on January 23, 2008. Valentino was presented with the Medal of the City of Paris the following day for his services to fashion.

6. Versace
Gianni Versace (December 2, 1946 – July 15, 1997) was an Italian fashion designer and founder of Versace, an international fashion house which produces accessories, fragrances, makeup and home furnishings as well as clothes. He also designed costumes for the theatre and films.

Giovanni (Gianni) Versace was born in Reggio di Calabria, Italy, on December 2, 1946, where he grew up with his older brother Santo and younger sister Donatella, along with their father and dressmaker mother, Francesca. Versace began his apprenticeship at a young age, helping his mother find precious stones and gold braid for embroidering dresses. He studied architecture before moving to Milan at the age of 26 to work in fashion design. In the mid-1970s, his knits drew the attention of headhunters at Genny and Callaghan. Versace presented his first signature collection for women at the Palazzo della Permanente Art Museum of Milan. His first menswear collection followed in September of the same year. The first boutique was opened in Milan's Via della Spiga in 1978. He was influenced by Andy Warhol, Ancient Roman and Greek art as well as modern abstract art.

Versace was shot dead on July 15, 1997, aged 50, on the steps of his Miami Beach mansion as he returned from a morning walk. 

Donatella Versace

Donatella Versace (born 2 May 1955) is Vice-President of the Versace Group and Chief Designer of the Versace fashion line. She owns 20 percent of the entire stock market assets of the company. In the mid 1970s, Donatella followed her older brother, Gianni, to pursue knitwear design in Florence. Donatella had planned to work for her brother in Public Relations, but she was more valuable to Gianni as a "muse and critic".

Donatella was the first designer to use notable celebrities to wear her clothing on the catwalk and in other public media such as advertisements. Donatella soon proved to be the public relations giant within the Versace label and spread its name throughout Europe and the United States. In July 1998, a year after Gianni Versace was killed, Donatella mounted her first couture show for the Versace Atelier at the Hôtel Ritz Paris. She now oversees the production of a dozen collections each year, but is equally famous for her celebrity friends and extravagant parties. 

Branching into other fields, the company created the grand, luxurious Palazzo Versace resort on the Gold Coast of Australia. Another Versace development, the world's tallest hotel, the Burj al-Arab in Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE), features a large collection of Versace furniture and beddings in its expensive and lavish rooms. Plans for the Palazzo Versace Dubai were announced in May 2005. While the Versace Group is not as financially robust as it was in its earlier and peak stages, the Versace Group has publicly made clear that Donatella and Allegra Versace will hopefully bring new life to the Versace label.