Born: Born Gualtiero Albini in Busto Arsizio, near Milan, 9 March 1941. Education: Studied fashion and costume design, Istituto Statale di Belle Arti e Moda, Turin, 1959-61. Career: Illustrator for Novità and Corriere Lombardo periodicals, Milan, and freelance sketch artist, Paris, 1961-64; freelance designer for Krizia, Billy Ballo, Basile, Callaghan, Escargots, Mister Fox, Diamantis, Trell, Mario Ferari, Lanerossi, Kriziamaglia, Montedoro, and Princess Luciana, Milan, 1964-83; established Walter Albini fashion house, Milan, 1965; signature ready-to-wear collection introduced, 1978; Walter Albini Fashions branches established, London, Rome, Venice. Died: 31 May 1983, in Milan.
Vercelloni, Isa, and Flavio Lucchini, Milano Fashion, Milan, 1975.
Mulassano, Adriana, The Who's Who of Italian Fashion, Florence, 1979.
Soli, Pia, Il genio antipatico, Venice, 1984.
Buiazzi, Graziella, ed., La moda italiana: Dall'antimoda allo stilismo, Milan, 1987.
Bianchino, Gloria, and Bonizza Giordani Aragno, Walter Albini, Parma, 1988.
Sozzani, Carla, and Anna Masucci, Walter Albini, Milan, 1990.
"Walter Albini," in the Sunday Times (London), 15 October 1972.
"In Focus: Walter Albini," in International Textiles (London), No.523, 1975.
Etherington-Smith, Meredith, "Albini's New Image," in GQ (New York), October 1976.
"Walter Albini, the Designer's Designer," in Manufacturing Clothier, 1976.
"Lo stile multimaglia in sfumature rare," in Vogue (Milan), October 1978.
"Walter Albini: Italian RTW Designer is Dead," in Women's Wear Daily (New York), 3 June 1983.
"Walter Albini, Men's Wear Innovator, Dies at 42," in the Daily News Record, 3 June 1983.
Skellenger, Gillion, "Walter Albini," in Contemporary Designers, London, 1990.
* * *
In William Shakespeare's Richard II, "report of fashions in proud Italy" are the vanguard for what comes to England only in "base imitation." Walter Albini epitomized the brilliant epoch of Italian fashion in the 1970s, when it seized the international imagination. At least as much as any other designer, if not more, Albini had the Italian spirit con brio. Journalists compared him to Yves Saint Laurent and Karl Lagerfeld, designers whose careers outlasted Albini's flash of brilliance. Albini brought his obsession with the 1920s and 1930s to the elongated line and youthful energy of the 1970s; his collections of 1969 and 1970 tell the story of his encapsulation of the time: Gymnasium and Gypsy and China in 1969; Antique Market, the Pre-Raphaelites, Safari, Military, and Polaroid in 1970.
Sadly, Albini so brilliantly embodied the 1970s for Italy (as one would perhaps say of Halston in the U.S.) because of the détente of his work by 1980 and his death in 1983, just after his forty-second birthday. Isa Vercelloni and Flavio Lucchini, in their 1975 book, Milano Fashion, described Albini's mercurial yet gifted personality and habits: "From adolescence he still retained the capacity of dreaming, but with the ability of giving body or a semblance of reality to his world of dreams. He had the rare quality of even doing this without spoiling it. This is why women like his dresses so much. They recognize immediately that imagination is given power."
It was a wide-ranging imagination, indicative of the 1970s in its travelogue-inspired wanderlust, that captured the vivacity of Diana Vreeland's Vogue of the 1960s. Like Vreeland, Albini loved the 1920s and extolled the freedom of women and reminded them of their liberation during that period. Also like Vreeland, Albini was smitten with North Africa and the potential for exoticism. He played with paisley and was fascinated by the pattern and design asymmetry as well as the mysterious women of China. His pragmatic exoticism is evident in a spring 1980 t-blouse and party skirt combination, described in a Harper's Bazaar March 1980 ad as "the mystique of madras. A bit sophisticated for midnight at the oasis…but divine for sunset on the patio."
So many collections were produced in his own name and others between the late 1960s and 1980 that he touched upon many themes, but he returned consistently to the 1920s and 1930s. He had moved to Paris because of a lifetime preoccupation with Chanel, whom he had glimpsed during her late years, but he more substantively used her as a touchstone for his collections. His fall 1978 knits, as photographed by David Bailey, intensified the luxury of Chanel tailoring, although slightly oversized, in a palette of bronze and browns. For his Mister Fox line in beautiful geometrics, he approximated Sonia Delaunay, but echoed the feeling of Chanel. His movie and fashion magazine passions would encompass Katharine Hepburn and Marlene Dietrich, but for Albini these merely confirmed the role of Chanel in freeing women to be comfortable in sportswear- and menswear-derived styles that were luxuriously tailored for women.
Besides Chanel, Albini's other passion was for ancient Egypt, for which he felt mystical affinity and which served as an inspiration for his men's and women's fashions—especially his fashion drawings. By the mid-1970s, Albini's style was predominately an amalgam of ancient Egyptian motifs (although often attributed elsewhere in the East) and Chanel, using the Chanel suits and proportions with the accommodations of wrapping á la Egyptienne and the excuses of Venice, North Africa, and India for billowing harem pants and other pantaloons of which Chanel would scarcely have approved. In 1978 a riding skirt, with its fluid drape, was teamed with a short cropped jacket, combining tradition with contemporary 1970s style.
In some ways, Albini was the precursor of Gianni Versace. His intensely personal style respected many historical exemplars and was passionately defended and highly expressive. Like Versace, Albini combined a studious infatuation with the past with a passion for his own synthesis of styles and a comprehensive style attainment and conviction that was his own; he created this with a fervor approaching fanaticism that reinforced the sense of abiding adolescence and keenest ebullience for the work.
Vercelloni and Lucchini asked Albini what his motto was; he said, "Enjoy today and leave unpleasant things for tomorrow." For Albini and the extravagant fashion he created, fate held no tomorrow and no unpleasantness.