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MILAN — It was standing room only at the memorial event for Italian fashion journalist Anna Piaggi, held at the Palazzo Reale in Milan Friday evening. As a giant screen displayed a slide show of photographs of Piaggi alongside luminaries ranging from Karl Lagerfeld to Richard Avedon to Sir Paul McCartney, speakers paid tribute to the iconic fashion editor, famous for her eccentric outfits, love of hats and wavy blue fringe.
“Anna was unique, one-off and unforgettable,” said Rosita Missoni, who frequently spent holidays with Piaggi and her late husband, photographer Alfa Castaldi. “I am sure she can see us and hear us, and is giving a wry smile. We don’t know how she appeared to the angels, but no doubt she is giving them advice, perhaps on getting a colored streak in their hair.”
Manolo Blahnik, Stephen Jones, Carla Fendi and Franca Sozzani were among the other speakers at the event — organized by the Italian Chamber of Fashion and city cultural officials on the sidelines of a private viewing of a Picasso retrospective at the same venue. The crowd included a wide swath of Milanese high society, as well as fashion figures such as Elio Fiorucci, Giuseppe Zanotti and Stefano Tonchi. Also present were Piaggi’s brothers Alberto and Stefano, who announced they were launching a foundation to preserve Piaggi’s extensive collection of clothes and accessories.
A recurring theme among the speeches was Piaggi’s blatant disregard for practicality. Jones recalled the last time he had lunch with Piaggi, weeks before her death on Aug. 7. “She was wearing Manolo patent boots, white frilled lace pantalets, a John Galliano camellia-printed chiffon dress with giant red and blue peonies all over it, a Dolce & Gabbana denim jacket with little gold fringes. She had Chanel jewelry on, little gloves and a big lavender hat with yellow pansies. And on top of that, she had a fairly large red parasol with frills all around it. She was a complete vision, and of course it was 40 degrees [Celsius]. We came out of the restaurant, and she said, ‘Stephen — it’s a little hot, isn’t it?’” Jones recalled, to laughter from the crowd.
Jones added that another time, Piaggi was preparing to go to a health resort with Missoni and called him with an unusual request. “She said, ‘I need to have some hats which are waterproof.’ And I said, ‘Why, Anna?’ And she said, ‘Well, I can’t be naked in the spa,’” he related.
The milliner said Piaggi’s legendary love of hats was evident in her home, which was piled high with shiny black hatboxes. “They were everywhere — on top of vases, in cabinets, on piles of magazines. Each one was displayed carefully, like flower arrangements, or almost like cherished family photographs,” Jones said.
Her cousin, respected Italian newspaper journalist Natalia Aspesi, noted that Piaggi’s reputation stretched well beyond Italy’s borders: “Although she was so famous worldwide, I am sorry to say she was less well regarded in Italy.”
Speaking in Italian, Blahnik described his friend and muse as “the visual aristocracy of Italy.” He said they would spend hours on the telephone, talking not about fashion but about women that Piaggi admired — everyone from Marisa Berenson and Penelope Tree to Angela Molina and Amanda Harlech. “I miss Anna’s voice,” said Blahnik. “Milan is no longer Milan for me without Anna. I miss her, et voilà.”