Laura Biagiotti, Designer Called the Queen of Cashmere, Dies at 73

Laura Biagiotti, Designer Called the Queen of Cashmere, Dies at 73

“Biagiotti has come to represent decorum and fashion nuance unerring in its mainstream elegance,” Richard Martin wrote in the reference book “Contemporary Fashion” (1995).

Ms. Biagiotti later expanded, under the Laura Piu label, into designing and marketing comfortable large-size clothes for women, as well as lines for men and children and accessories, including sunglasses and perfumes. She named one fragrance, Roma, after her hometown.

But she was best known for her knitted cashmeres, transforming the luxury yarn into lavish innovations that included tent dresses inspired by ponchos to loose-fitting, ankle-length cardigans in complex, fanciful patterns that imbued the garments with a three-dimensional vitality.

Ms. Biagiotti’s company biography credits The New York Times with popularizing her as “The Queen of Cashmere.”

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Ms. Biagiotti, center, in white, in Tiananmen Square in Beijing 1988. She was the first Italian designer to present a fashion show in China. Credit via The Laura Biagiotti Estate

“Being a fashion designer is like taking vows,” Ms. Biagiotti told The Associated Press in 1987. “It becomes your religion for life.”

Born Aug. 4, 1943, Laura Biagiotti had envisioned a different life for herself, enrolling in a university curriculum in literature and archaeology in Rome. But the pull of her family’s business made her change course, and she joined her parents’ dressmaking studio, where her mother, Delia Biagiotti, designed the uniforms for Alitalia employees.

She soon struck off on her own, starting her own studio in Florence with Mr. Cigna before they married. Their daughter is her only immediate survivor.

Ms. Biagiotti collaborated with other fashion houses at first, but when she presented her own collection in 1972, she introduced what was still an uncommon material: cashmere, the fine wool fibers from the downy undercoat of the cashmere breed of goats.

Her original collection was so small, she recalled, that at her first show, models wore the same white jacket three times, with two skirts and a dress. She developed a passion for linen and also for the color white, which many mourners wore to her funeral last week.

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A model wears an outfit from Ms. Biagiotti’s autumn/winter collection from 2006-2007 in Milan in February 2006. Credit Alberto Pellaschiar/Associated Press

Of the challenges she faced as a woman in the fashion industry, she told an interviewer in 1981 that “a woman designer faces the same odds as a woman trying to get a job as a 747 pilot.”

Deeply proud of her national heritage, Ms. Biagiotti — who often wore a cashmere shawl woven in the red, white and green colors of the Italian flag — and her husband were leaders in philanthropic efforts by Italian fashion houses to restore the country’s cultural patrimony, and she expressed faith in the Italian fashion industry’s commercial potential.

“I’m convinced that the true gold mine in our country is the ‘Made in Italy’ label,’” she said.

Ms. Biagiotti had lived and worked in the Roman countryside, in Castello Marco Simone, since 1980. The castle dates to the 11th century, and its towers form the Biagiotti logo. But her collections were entirely modern, as well as typically comfortable and practical.

“There are some beautiful dresses designed by others that are so important that you cannot always wear them,” Mr. Martin quoted her as saying in “Contemporary Fashion.” “If you are in a bad mood or tired, if you have some problems, everyone understands that what you are wearing is simply dressing you up. But this does not happen with my designs.

“In fact,” Ms. Biagiotti said, “I would define my creations with the slogan, ‘A dress for when you want to be yourself.’”

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