Anna Piaggi Archive
With her small red mouth like a star in a silent movie, a cluster of sky-blue curls falling over her right eye, Anna Piaggi (1931–2012) was an eclectic collage of frivolity and erudition, invariably hatted with a scaffolding of sorts perched on her head. Her legacy as an unflagging aesthete began while she was still alive.
In 2006, the prestigious Victoria and Albert Museum in London honoured her with an exhibition titled Fashion-ology, for which it sent a brilliant curator, Judith Clark (then 38), to Milan to rummage through the fashion editor’s immense collection. “Hats, hatboxes, handbags, gloves, walking sticks, costume jewellery, stage costumes and invitations filled her house in the city centre,” says her nephew Stefano Piaggi. “Although the apartment was spacious, more belongings were stored in two storage units.”
Now, this extraordinary collection (one thousand dresses, eight hundred hats and several hundred pieces of jewellery) has been catalogued and moved to an archive instituted in 2013, the year after the signora della moda passed away. It was begun by her brother Alberto (who died in 2015) and his son Stefano, who continues to manage its contents by collaborating with museums and cultural institutions. A portion of these pieces are seen on the previous pages.
In the 1950s, Anna Piaggi was a young member of Milan’s genteel bourgeoisie. With her future husband the photographer Alfa Castaldi, she frequented the bohemian scene at Bar Jamaica in the Brera neighbourhood. One decade later, in London, her sense of style began its natural course alongside eccentrics such as the self-described “shoemaker” Manolo Blahnik, the photographer David Bailey and the antiquarian Vern Lambert.
In Paris, she could be found at Le Palace, a discotheque she used to go to in the 1970s with the couturier Karl Lagerfeld. The two became inseparable. He photographed her assiduously, documenting her (equally assiduous) changes of look. She supplied him with moments of curious inspiration, such as when she accompanied him to Château de Penhoët and fed the chickens while dressed in vintage underwear.
Her taste for beauty and whimsy guided her inventions, which Quirino Conti describes as inscrutable, saying “Her masterpieces are riddles, thrillers, mysteries à la Ruth Rendell.” Indeed, from the inventory of her wardrobe, enigmatic objects of all sorts pop up. Stefano Piaggi says, “Anna had a knack for reusing elements by giving them a surprising interpretation. One of many examples is the yellow head lamp worn by construction workers. She would wear one as a necklace, and this type of thing much influenced fashion designers. I remember when she used to come over to the house at Christmas. She was always colourful. She’d arrive accompanied by Alfa, who always wore a military jacket, and Vern with his red hair, looking like a dandy. They would bring us the strangest gifts, objects they collected here and there.” Often, these objets trouvés became inspiration for the articles she wrote for 24 years in Vogue Italia.
For her monthly column dubbed Doppia Pagina (“double spread”), Piaggi layered typography and pictures, forming a visual type of poetry. “My obsession with graphics is innate. I was born in Milan, the capital of design. My sense of design and my graphic-designer brother influenced my way of working very much,” writes Piaggi. When Franca Sozzani became the editor-in-chief of the magazine in the late 1980s, she began scouting for a “wacky variable”. Sure enough, she found one in Anna Piaggi.
Concept and Creative Direction Susanna Cucco
Photography Marco Pietracupa
Fashion and Design Consultant Vito Deserio
Set Design Michela Natella
THANKS TO Stefano Piaggi and Archivio Piaggi
Design Fedra Malara
Assistants Angelo Iannone (Photography)
Design Research and Coordination Sara Dassi