Vintage designer bio: Emanuel Ungaro
After hearing of the sad passing of one of fashions most singular designers last month we decided to focus our latest designer bio on Emanuel Ungaro. A master of bold colour, outlandish floral prints and incredible draping, along with designers like Thierry Mugler and Claude Montana, Ungaro ruled the 1980s fashion scene. However, his career was more diverse and interesting than the excess he was known for in his 80s heyday.
Signature details of vintage Ungaro clothing:
- Large striking floral prints.
- Draped, ruffled and pleated details.
- Shoulder pads to create a dramatic silhouette.
- Favourite fabrics include silk, velvet and wool.
- The haute couture is obviously made in France and the ready to wear line was most often made in Italy to a very high standard.
Background - the early years.
After working for Balenciaga for three years, Ungaro decided to create his own fashion house in 1965. At Zeus Vintage we've had a few of his early pieces from the mid to late 60s and it's interesting to see the difference between then and the look he is known for now. Rather than creating a bold maximalist aesthetic many of his early designs echo what the Parisian and British designers around him were doing. He created clean lines (beautifully constructed, of course) with less of a focus in draping or heavy floral prints and more of creating his own take on the futurism and mod style looks that were popular at the time. Whether it is a splash of texture or a slightly irregular print, you can see in his early work the flamboyance that is soon to come.
Not only did Emanuel Ungaro create incredible haute couture designs in 1968 he formed the Parallèle label which was his ready to wear line. He was also quite adept at creating classic tailored menswear after the formation of his Ungaro Uomo line in 1975.
The Heyday - the 1970s and 80s.
It was in the 1970s that you can see in Ungaro's work the fun that he started to have. The incredible draping that became synonymous with his name was featured on bohemian style dresses with bold pops of colour. This transitioned perfectly to the 1980s where his signature look was a shoulder padded, draped dress usually with a bold, in your face floral or abstract print that made the wearer feel like a powerful, independent woman. The floral patterns on vintage Ungaro dresses were for the modern woman, they weren't the sweet, feminine florals of the 1950s - they were loud and demanded your attention and this attitude is why they still work so well in a woman's wardrobe today.
At Zeus Vintage we love the exuberance and personality of an 80s Ungaro print but actually my personal favourite designs by him were when he had a slightly darker palette and focused more on silhouette or had a more subtle pattern. These kind of pieces created an almost Gothic, film noir style look with bold shapes or employed Victoriana references like a ruffled high collar and mutton sleeves. I've added a few pictures of pieces we've had in the past and some now to represent what I mean. It is this ability to create differing aesthetics yet still create a cohesive vision for his fashion house that Ungaro should be remembered as one of the greats.
After Ungaro - the 1990s to today
In 1996 the Ungaro fashion house was bought by Italian label Ferragamo. During this time Ungaro hired designers as creative directors who would become prestigious in their own right like Giambattista Valli and other lesser known designers but they came and went and the house of Ungaro started struggling. In 2005 Emanuel Ungaro retired and the house carried on without him and started losing a lot of money. The perfumes that Ungaro created earlier were still making money, however.
In an attempt to revitalise the brand and give it a youthful feel, in 2010 Lindsay Lohan was appointed artistic director. This became a moment that not many will forget but not for the right reasons. The collection that Lohan alongside her designing partner, Estrella Archs was panned critically and many high end department stores stopped selling the line after this misstep. The collection was described as "tasteless", "old-fashioned" and "a bad joke" by Vogue. I'll link to the collection here so you can see it in all its nipple pasty, cropped-harem-jumpsuit glory. We do feel like the collection was misjudged and not to our taste but we appreciate that there were slight references to Ungaro's past in an balloon sleeve or a pleated / draped detail on the first dress. Ungaro himself was furious at the collection calling it a 'disaster' and said he felt 'frustrated that there isn't a thing [he] can do'. Lindsay Lohan didn't continue with the house after that collection.
After this the house of Ungaro has changed creative director too many times to count and hasn't produced a runway collection since spring 2018 (about 3 years ago) instead opting for the cheaper lookbook. Despite the struggles of the house in the last two decades, Emanuel Ungaro is remembered as a fashion giant who made women feel powerful whilst still being full of personality and his vintage clothes certainly reflect that.
You can shop our collection of Emanuel Ungaro clothing here including an incredibly rare haute couture dress.
Or you can check out our Pinterest board of our favourite Ungaro looks below:
- Scott (co-owner of Zeus Vintage)