If reading Grace Coddington’s memoir taught me anything, it is how easily a fashion name can be forgotten. It makes me sad, but fashion moves pretty fast and some names get left behind in the process. At least some of the current designers on the daily press roster won’t be talked about four decades from now, and I wonder which ones they’ll be.
How many of you recognize the name Walter Albini? Grace Coddington referred to him as “the other most fashionable designer of the day” when alluding to the early ’70s (the other one being Yves Saint Laurent). So why does no one ever talk about him? It’s not like he wasn’t groundbreaking, because he certainly was. He was just as prolific as Karl Lagerfeld, and in many ways, two steps ahead of the game. Except that he had the bad luck of passing away shortly after his 40th birthday. (What’s fascinating is that the details of his death are never referenced nor revealed, by biographers or friends, which says something about the respect for privacy our society once had.)
Born in 1941 in northern Italy, Albini attended Istituto d’Arte, Disegno e Moda in Turin, as the only male student admitted an all-girls school, and graduated with a degree in fashion design in 1960. In 1965, after five years in Paris, he returned to Italy as a designer for Krizia, where he remained for three years (interestingly, Karl Lagerfeld was also working there at the time). In 1968, he presented his own line, compromised of sixteen elegant suits, half of which were black and called “the windows,” and the other half, which were all beige, was called “the wives.”
Aside from being an extremely talented and bright designer, Albini had many firsts in the fashion world. He was the first to photograph his own collections, something Karl Lagerfeld is well known for now. He was the first to use music during his runway presentations in lieu of the announcer. He was the first to initiate a series of innovative reforms in fashion that responded to the changing modern market, allowing the designer to break free from the anonymity of the world of ready-to-wear production. In many ways, he developed the full circle of ready-to-wear production, from manufacturing to design to marketing. His 1971 collection is officially considered the birth of pret-a-porter. The collection, compromised of day wear, evening wear, outerwear, shoes, and accessories including hats and jewellery, was designed by Albini in collaboration with well-known producers from each field, also making him the first to launch the now-popular fashion collaborations. He would label these “Walter Albini for…” followed by the name of the manufacturer.
Albini’s work graced the pages of every important fashion magazine at the time. Together with his contemporary Yves Saint Laurent, he championed the woman in a men’s suit, though we now tend to only refer to the Le Smoking. So why is it that no one knows his name?
Two years ago, Maria Luisa Frisa and Stefano Tonchi wrote a retrospective, Walter Albini and His Times: All Power to the Imagination, and the designer’s work has slowly been creeping up on various fashion blogs. But it just doesn’t seem like enough.
Albini, Vogue Italia
Prime Mover of Design, Dazed Digital
Walter Albini and His Times, alessionesi.it