Fashion editor Anna Piaggi was an old-school fashion eccentric. The longtime Vogue Italia contributor, who died on Tuesday in Milan aged 81, wore a wardrobe that was exceedingly varied — she claimed in interviews to never wear an outfit publicly more than once — but nonetheless had some common touchstones. Piaggi was particularly given to opera glasses, capes, canes, undersized hats (the better to show off her finger-waved blue hair), and elaborate shoes. If clothes are, as James Laver wrote, "the furniture of the mind made visible," then Anna Piaggi's mind was a riot of contrasting prints and textures, Stephen Jones headpieces, and corporate uniform items. Here are some of her best outfits.
To the opening of the 2006 Victoria & Albert Museum show dedicated to her wardrobe, Piaggi wore a Stephen Jones Union Jack hat and a flag as a cape. She poses at left with Vivienne Westwood, whose designs she often wore.
Here's a video of a similar hat being made, courtesy of the museum.
The milliner Jones placed a paper hat on one of the show mannequins at the exhibition press preview. Piaggi, of course, had completely changed clothes.
Piaggi was a frequent subject of street-style photographer Bill Cunningham. These photos, all from Cunningham's layouts, date from the 1980s and were originally published in Details magazine. Today, VFILES published a selection of scans.
She loved opera glasses.
In 1998, Piaggi told Paper magazine, "Mentally, I feel like an immigrant in the 19th century who still thinks of America as a very adventurous place. I think it's possible to find fantastic things, like the McDonald's apron." She also liked lab coats such as the ones worn by dressmakers at Chanel. That's her with a younger Karl Lagerfeld on the right.
These photos are all via Paper.
What's interesting about Piaggi is that she was interested less in dressing to convey status or prestige than she was in dressing as a kind of performance. Modern-day street style stars, like Vogue Japan fashion director Anna Dello Russo, may seem unusual. But Dello Russo's form of eccentricity is merely the wearing of head-to-toe in-season runway looks out of context on the street. Piaggi mixed hundred-year-old Paul Poiret and 1920s Chanel and 1970s Ossie Clark and 1980s Jean-Charles de Castelbajac and things from two seasons ago that no other fashion editor would consider wearing. And things that had no brand name at all — mountaineering jackets sourced from sporting goods stores and sweatshirts from touristy boutiques. Piaggi dressed thematically, and, as explained in a 2004 Observer profile, she dressed to give those around her pleasure, selecting outfits with references that she thinks might appeal to entertain them.
There's traditionally a lot of latitude for older women to dress after a dramatic fashion — just check out the ladies on the blog Advanced Style, most of whom fall near the "eccentric" end of the spectrum — but Anna Piaggi was an original unto herself. RIP.