Born: Count Giorgio Imperiale di Sant'Angelo in Florence, 5 May 1933; raised in Argentina; immigrated to the U.S., 1962. Education: Studied architecture in Florence, industrial design in Barcelona, and art at the Sorbonne. Career: Animator, Walt Disney Studios, Hollywood, 1962-63; textile and jewelry designer, 1963-67; designer, Sant'Angelo, New York, from 1966; launched Sant'Angelo Ready-to-Wear, 1966; di Sant'Angelo Inc. established, 1968; began licensing for sportswear, outerwear, suits, neckwear, fragrances, home furnishings; firm continued after his death, 1989. Exhibitions: Metropolitan Museum of Art, Costume Institute, 1999. Awards: Coty American Fashion Critics award, 1968, 1970; Inspiration Home Furnishings award, New York, 1978; Knitted Textile Association Designer award, New York, 1982; Council of Fashion Designers of America award, 1987; Fashion Designers of America award, 1988. Died: 29 August 1989, in New York. Company Address: 611 Broadway, New York, NY 10012, U.S.A.
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Giorgio di Sant'Angelo (the "di" was later dropped) was a child of the 1960s. Unlike many of the decade's talented new designers— including Pierre Cardin, André Courréges, and Rudi Gernreich—who suffered symptoms of career burnout as the 1960s came to a close, Sant'Angelo soared on a creative high. His formative years, leading up to his move to New York, included an education in the arts in Florence and a studio apprenticeship with Picasso who urged Sant'Angelo to trust his own restless creativity and to keep trying new artistic ventures.
Sant'Angelo, who had an affinity for the new plastics developed with futuristic technology, designed Lucite jewelry and accessories in colorful geometric shapes. Diana Vreeland, editor of Vogue from 1963-71, found his designs to be in step with her own ideas and gave him carte blanche as a stylist. The results of their association during the late 1960s were stunning examples of the breadth of Sant'Angelo's originality. His concoctions of colored Veruschka were the peak of fashion fantasy. This option of make-believe went beyond mere merchandise shown in a magazine layout. His work was theatrical, exotic, and on some level could be considered performance art; this taste for escapism through dress coincided with the escalation of the Vietnam War beginning in 1968.
Inspired by hippie and street fashions, Sant'Angelo also translated ideas that would fit the marketplace. His love of ethnic clothing was evident, and his gypsy looks included elements of romanticism. Introducing a modern component, he incorporated Lycra body suits with these varied influences. He offered women a chance at self-expression through dress. In 1972 Sant'Angelo left behind his gypsy and Native American inspirations and concentrated on body-conscious designs combining knits and wovens. His 33-piece collection was shown at the Guggenheim Museum and further emphasized Sant'Angelo's commitment to fashion design as an artform. "To me, soul means freedom and inner confidence," Sant'Angelo commented on the collection. "I express it in happy, bright colors, and in simplicity of design." He presented matching knit shirts, tops, trousers, and bras that folded into an envelope for travel. These pieces were based around a body stocking and formed the 1970s American fashion silhouette.
An old advertisement read, "Giorgio Sant'Angelo Spoken Here," a true statement as how he saw his work as a new language in fashion. He admired the ideas of Rudi Gernreich, whose work also contributed key elements to modern design. He also respected the work of Halston, Elsa Peretti, Betsey Johnson, Stephen Burrows, Oscar de la Renta, Yves Saint Laurent, Pierre Cardin, and Valentino. Throughout the 1980s fashion shifts, Sant'Angelo worked on classical refinements of his own concepts. Poised for a timely reemergence as a name in fashion, Giorgio Sant'Angelo died in 1989. A truly original free spirit was lost forever, yet his name lived on with his company, and as inspiration for a new generation of designers making retro the hottest trend of the late 1990s and early 2000s. Among his admirers were David Meister, whose spring 2002 collection was reminiscent of Sant'Angelo styles from throughout the 1970s, as well as Marc Jacobs who winked at the hip decade's duds in his spring 2002 showing.