WWD reported yesterday that Ungaro is yet again parting with their head designer. Since Emanuel Ungaro’s retirement the company has struggled to stay vital and keep its name relevant. Ungaro protégé and successor Giambattista Valli was appointed head designer when the couturier stepped down but after irresolvable conflict with management he left and started his own label. Since then the house has seen Vincent Darre and Peter Dundas come and go.
Ungaro Parallele, 1983
Ungaro, like Balenciaga and Balmain, is a name whose legacy and appeal exists almost entirely with couture and consequently is extremely difficult to interpret for the contemporary market. The company has chosen designers who have worked the brand’s Latin flair, positioning itself as a seller of colorful sexy dresses for young women, sans the sophistication of its couture lineage. The latest designer to fail with this approach is Esteban Cortazar. Valli (who they should never have let go) has ingeniously resolved the issues between couture culture, ready-to-wear, and youth appeal. In the time since he left Ungaro, Valli has established himself as a purveyor of sophisticated sexy dresses, couture fantasies, and a cool that has made him the staple for young socialites, celebrities, and aristocrats. He is exactly what Ungaro should be, he is what it was.
Couture is just one route to go, done right the brand could enjoy the same status as Balenciaga, or more recently Balmain. Yet, Emanuel’s oeuvre is not limited to only those kinds of expressions. Unlike his post-Balenciaga contemporaries of the 60’s (Givenchy, Cardin, and Rabanne) Ungaro held a multi-cultural point a view that made him increasingly important as designers like Armani, Versace, Kenzo, and Romeo Gigli emerged in the 70’s and 80’s.