Phoenix Art Museum presents the first ever Museum retrospective to highlight the extraordinary ingenuity of American designer Giorgio di Sant’ Angelo. The winner of two Coty Awards and two Council of Fashion Designers of America honors, Sant’ Angelo’s notable three-decade career generated a wide array of collections, including Gypsy (1969) and Natives of the Americas (1970), all of which were innovative for their pioneering use of stretch fabrics and powerful expression of the era. Featuring more than 40 ensembles and accessories, the exhibition spans the late 1960s through the early 1990s and provides a stunning overview of Sant’ Angelo’s influence and legacy.
“Sant’ Angelo was an artist with the exceptional ability to see beyond the established fashion norms, creating designs that were revolutionary in every sense – from the fabric, to the cut, to his interpretation of cultural influences. His dynamic creativity defined him as a designer and his ingenious use of stretch fabrics went beyond high fashion to influence the look of mainstream clothing,” commented exhibition curator, Dennita Sewell. “This exhibition brings to new light the magnitude of Sant’ Angelo’s influence and his continued impact on fashion designers and stylists working today.”
Giorgio di Sant’ Angelo is drawn from Phoenix Art Museum’s extensive fashion design archive, the Texas Fashion Collection, UCLA archives and private collections. In addition, the exhibition will feature never-released, original footage of runway shows and interviews, photographs and sketch books.
Giorgio di Sant’ Angelo (1933-1989) rose to prominence during the late 1960s with his exuberant and colorful accessories and collections. With an eye for fantasy, Sant’ Angelo created expressive collections that merged his own Latin upbringing with gypsy, Aztec, American Indian and Asian influences among others. Eclectic mixes of vibrant fabrics with rich ornamentation were combined in free-body designs to reflect his ideas of modern sensuality. By reversing the role of stretch fabrics from innerwear to outerwear, he revealed the shape of the natural body as a modern fashion fundamental. “Silhouette as we’ve known it, as something imposed by fashion is finished. The only silhouette for 1971 is the body,” he proclaimed.
Throughout the 1970s, Sant’ Angelo’s designs became more streamlined to reflect the changing times and the active lifestyle of the modern woman. Easy to pack, easy to fit, easy to wear his clothes were both contemporary and practical. Always a step ahead of the fashion industry, Sant’ Angelo’s very feminine collections of the 1980s had a soft–edge, mixing gossamer weight stretch fabrics with lace and chiffon in layered body-aware designs that transformed with the movement and individuality of the wearer. The body suit was the foundation upon which he built layers such as the sarong skirt in a vibrant rainbow of colors.
Born Count Jorge Alberto Imperatrice di Sant’ Angelo e Ratti di Desio in Florence, Italy, he was raised in Argentina and Brazil and trained as an architect and industrial designer in Italy. He studied art, ceramics and sculpture in Spain and France, under Pablo Picasso among others. In 1962, he was awarded an animation fellowship at Walt Disney Studios in California but soon relocated to New York City and began freelancing in a wide range of design areas including industrial, textile, interiors and jewelry. His experimental Lucite jewelry and accessories caught the attention of Vogue editor Diana Vreeland who commissioned him to style and create works for fashion editorials. In 1967, Sant’ Angelo collaborated with photographer Richard Avedon to create the now iconic image of Twiggy with a flower drawn on her eye that ran on the cover of the July issue of Vogue. His fashion career came to the fore with the July 1968 issue of Vogue which featured an eight page editorial of model Veruschka, his lifelong muse, photographed by Franco Rubartelli in the Arizona desert. Sant’ Angelo clothed her by wrapping yards of colorful fabrics, fur and ropes in looks that defined the color and texture of the nomadic hippy look in high fashion. Reacting against the boxy shapes of established fashion, Sant’ Angelo’s clothes presented a new fluidity and flattering sensuality in fashion. His private clients included celebrities such as Lena Horne, Mick Jagger and Diana Ross who were attracted to Sant’ Angelo’s exaggerated, glamorous and highly original designs and his youthful passion for life.
Sant’ Angelo was known to say, “I am not a fashion designer but an artist who works in fashion—an engineer of color and form.” His wide reach across design areas reflected his myriad of talents and viewpoint of fashion as a total lifestyle. He was among the first designers to encompass elements in home furnishings and environmental fragrances which are now industry standards.
Left: Giorgio di Sant’ Angelo, Italian (1933-1989). Dress, fall 1968, synthetic jersey. Collection of Phoenix Art Museum, Gift of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Photo by Ken Howie. Center: Giorgio di Sant’ Angelo. Courtesy of MAO MAG. Right: Giorgio di Sant’ Angelo, Italian (1933-1989). Dress, c. 1974, synthetic jersey. Collection of Phoenix Art Museum, Gift of Mrs. Kelly Ellman. Photo by Ken Howie.