September 2011

IMAGE: Appearances Bohemian Wrapsody

Decades before the high-low style sensibility of gypset, there was Giorgio di Sant’ Angelo  by BOOTH MOORE

  • Veruschka’s 1968 <i>Vogue</i> shoot in the Arizona expanse.
  • The Grand Canyon provides backdrop for Sant’ Angelo fashions in a 1970 <i>Look</i> spread.

This month, the Phoenix Art Museum presents the first ever retrospective of Giorgio di Sant’ Angelo, the fashion designer whose no-holds-barred career ran from the late 1960s to the early 1990s. It will feature more than 40 ensembles and accessories, as well as sketches, runway footage, interviews and collection books.

The timing for a tribute to the designer with the piled-on, multi-culti aesthetic couldn’t be better: Aztec patterns and western influences can be seen in many of this year’s fall collections—Proenza Schouler, Rodarte, Diane von Furstenberg and Isabel Marant, to name just a few. And his norm-eschewing sensibility has reverberated through the years with the likes of Tom Ford at Gucci (those feather jeans), John Galliano (the Eskimo, geisha and Poca-hontas collections), Anna Sui and Haider Ackermann.

Born in Italy and raised in Argentina and Brazil, Sant’ Angelo had a cross-cultural upbringing that informed his style. But once arriving in New York City, he marched to his own drummer. While designers such as Pierre Cardin and Courrèges were tapping into the ’60s space-age mindset with sleek, mod clothing, Sant’ Angelo was making a completely different statement, mixing American Indian, gypsy, Asian and African influences with eclectic fabrics and rich ornamentation. Fashionable celebs responded: His clients included Mick Jagger, Lena Horne and Diana Ross.

The West was the backdrop for many of Sant’ Angelo’s most famous style-magazine editorials, including his breakout in the July 1968 issue of Vogue, an eight-page spread with his model-muse Veruschka clothed in colorful fabrics, ropes and furs—thus introducing the world to his signature nomadic chic. An October 1970 Look piece, shot in the Grand Canyon, was billed as a celebration of “Indian style,” complete with war paint, feathers, furs and skins.

Sant’ Angelo was known to say, “I’m not a fashion designer but an artist who works in fashion—an engineer of color and form.” Sounds like another groundbreaking designer who was recently the subject of a major museum retrospective—Alexander McQueen. Sept. 17–Feb. 12,

Images 1-4: Franco Rubartelli
Images 5-6: Fred Maroon