Nino Cerruti obituary | Fashion


Fashion designer and businessman Nino Cerruti was first and foremost a native of the town of Biella in northern Italy, where alpine sheep, mountain water and its mill powers, fed from a millennium an industry of fine woolen textiles. He was brought up to the trades of spinning and loom – “I was born in a manger”, he said, “only instead of straw there was wool” – and he returned to these professions, and to Biella, for his last years.

Meanwhile, Cerruti, who died at the age of 91, became an international fashion name, whose relaxed suits made appearances in more than 100 Hollywood films, applying his extensive knowledge of the properties of good wool and other natural fibers to modern menswear. which did not depend for its form on an invisible inner framework of canvas, padding and lining.

At the age of 20, he suddenly inherited the family mill in Biella, founded in 1881 by his grandfather Antonio (Cerrutis had been made of wool since the 18th century), and undertook to improve the machinery with respect for the wool product, and uses it as a raw material. material to become “deconstructed” clothes, in fact very constructed, subtly belted by the cut and the sewing of their parts.

A design by Nino Cerruti for his fall-winter 1984-85 collection. Photography: Daniel Simon/Gamma-Rapho/Getty Images

To see its soft tailoring in action, watch the Cerruti-jacketed shoulders and torsos of Don Johnson and Philip Michael Thomas in the 1980s TV series Miami Vice, how the interplay of their muscles directly animates the fabric. Journalist Suzy Menkes wrote that in BC fashion stands for Before Cerruti, an ancient era of costumes like plate armor.

Cerruti was the first Italian industrial family business leader in the 1950s to combine old artisan techniques with new quality factory production – the beginning of “Made in Italy” ready-to-wear, now a standard in the fashion.

He first went to the Lanificio Fratelli Cerruti mill in Biella for a month during a long school vacation when he was 10, commissioned there by his father, Silvio, and as teenagers he and his two younger brothers saw Silvio being cared for locally. to fairly distribute the limited post-war fiber supplies and to restart production. Nino wanted to be a writer, but Silvio died in 1951, and as the eldest he gave up his degree in philosophy and took over, continuing his father’s innovations, especially in lightweight fabrics.

Cerruti realized that her company could be her best customer if she made clothes from her fabrics. At first he collaborated with tailors to show the fabric’s potential; to project an elegant image across Italy, he commissioned four short plays from famous writers, performed in Milan, Turin, Rome and in the far south of Naples, and designed the costumes himself.

In 1957, he entered the ready-to-wear market, which complemented and was to supplant men’s tailor-made, with the launch of his first brand, Hitman, in Milan, to which was added the “designer” brand Flying in 1962. Cross. Cerruti recruited talented disciples who could work in his ever-easier way, including Giorgio Armani from 1964 to 1970, to whom the world then credited Cerruti’s advances in deconstruction and men’s textiles for women’s fashion.

A Nino Cerruti fashion show in Paris, 1984.
A Nino Cerruti fashion show in Paris, 1984. Photography: Daniel Simon/Gamma-Rapho/Getty Images

Cerruti opened a boutique on the Place de la Madeleine in Paris in 1967, subsequently presenting men’s and then women’s collections during Paris fashion week, rather than in Milan; he then moved the company’s headquarters to Paris, although textile and clothing production remained in Italy.

Moviegoers had discovered Hitman and Flying Cross in the early 1960s when Hollywood was filming in Rome’s Cinecittà studios, or employing Italian crews to shoot epics in Spain. Male stars loved his laid-back clothes, which softened further in the ’70s when he added jersey fabrics and knits. (A Cerruti knit lives on: He wore a signature yellow sweater to his shows for more than 30 years, going through just three, with slight styling revisions.)

What stars wore off-screen they demanded for their on-screen wardrobes, including Richard Gere in Pretty Woman (1990), Harrison Ford in Clear and Present Danger (1994), Bruce Willis in Hudson Hawk ( 1991), Clint Eastwood in In the Line of Fire (1993) and Cerruti’s “muse” Kathleen Turner as private detective VI Warshawski (1991). The drape of a Cerruti suit could conceal any caliber of handgun with a few percent stretchy Lycra added to the fiber blend.

Because Cerruti controlled his Italian manufacturing base down to his main imports of Australian wool and Mongolian cashmere, he was less dependent than most designers on couture catwalk advertising to promote sales of perfumes and other sources of income. The activity is diversifying – jeans, a few accessories, remodeling for the Asian markets – but unlike many French houses, it will never be absorbed by a luxury conglomerate in exchange for promised capital injections.

Nino Cerruti in 1987. He brought together the old craft techniques of the 50s and the new quality factory production.
Nino Cerruti in 1987. He combines old craft techniques with new quality factory production. Photography: Raphaël Gaillarde/Gamma-Rapho/Getty Images

It was not until 2000 that Cerruti decided that the company’s cash provided insufficient capital for growth, then he took six months to audition a partner company, selling 51% to Italian industrial company Fin.part .

It ended in tears within a year, after Fin.part, which had taken full control, forced Cerruti, then 71, out for “irreconcilable differences”: Cerruti has declared that there was “a perpetual conflict”. Fin.part went bankrupt in 2005, the Cerruti name was sold to successive owners, none did well. Cerruti immediately returned to Biella to work in and for his factory and the city, in order to keep business and traditions viable despite the extreme globalization of textile production. He sold part of the factory’s shares in 2016 to the Brandamour company in the hope that their young entrepreneurs would secure its future.

Cerruti had two children, Julian, who worked with him as a fashion assistant, and Silvia, from a marriage that ended in divorce. He had been partnered with Sibylla Jahr since the 90s.

Nino Cerruti, fashion designer and textile industrialist, born September 25, 1930; died on January 15, 2022


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