MILAN — Italian designer Lorenzo Riva, who briefly helmed the house of Balenciaga in the 1970s, died Saturday at age 85 at the San Gerardo hospital in Monza, the town where he was born and a 45-minute drive outside Milan.
Riva was best known for his bridalwear and haute couture creations that won fans among celebrities and socialites over the years, ranging from Penélope Cruz, Jerry Hall and Emmanuelle Seigner to Whitney Houston and Isabella Rossellini, among others.
A sharp and outspoken creative with a slender frame inherited from his mother, an atelier model, he opened his first workshop on Monza’s Via Vittorio Emanuele II in 1956 at age 18, inspired and encouraged by his three sisters and mother.
He unveiled his first couture collection at Palazzo Pitti in 1972, before moving to Paris, where he briefly helmed Balenciaga in the second half of the 1970s.
Riva returned to Italy in 1984, opening a new permanent atelier in Monza with his business partner Luigi Valietti, and made his haute couture debut at the Alta Roma showcase in Rome in 1991.
A friend of marquee Italian artists from the 20th century including Enrico Baj, Lucio Fontana and Mimmo Rotella, with whom he collaborated on his couture gowns, Riva ventured into ready-to-wear in 1995, staging his first dedicated runway show on the Milan catwalk.
Valietti took to his Facebook profile to express his sorrow over Riva’s death. “Goodbye Lo [Lorenzo], with the same elegance that has always characterized you, you’ve left us. I will never be able to forget you. Yours Lu [Luigi],” Valietti wrote in a caption flanking a picture of Riva crossing a street in Milan.
After scaling his business internationally, staging destination shows — including one in Tokyo in 1998 — in 2012 the designer sold a majority stake in his brand to Ittierre, the Italian manufacturing company, which would experience financial struggles in the following few years, racking up a total debt of 88.7 million euros by 2013. Ittierre was eventually bought out by Italian investment firm IKF Holding.
In 2018, Riva turned 80 and decided to relaunch his fashion activities, introducing L’Or by Lorenzo Riva, a new brand unveiled with a show at the casino in Campione d’Italia, Italy.
A year later, the Museo della Seta, or Silk Museum, in Como, Italy, staged a retrospective exhibition on the designer titled “The Maestro is in the Soul. Lorenzo Riva: Fifty Years of Haute Couture” curated by Paolo Aquilini and showcasing sketches, images and gowns retracing his longstanding career in fashion. This included collaborations with the movie industry, as the couturier designed costumes for the 1999 comedy film by Mario Monicelli “Panni Sporchi,” or “Dirty Linen” in English, and in 2015 for “The Best Offer,“ or “La migliore offerta” in Italian, a 2013 psychological thriller directed by Giuseppe Tornatore.