MILAN – Beppe Modenese, the force behind the coalescence of Italian ready-to-wear fashion in the northern city of Milan, has died. He was 90.
Modenese died Saturday in the fashion capital. No cause of death was given.
Dubbed “Italy’s Prime Minister of Fashion” in 1983 by Women’s Wear Daily, Modenese remained a front-row mainstay into recent seasons, maintaining the official title of honorary president of the Italian fashion council, the Italian National Fashion Chamber. An impeccable dresser, he was known for one extravagance: red socks.
“Beppe Modenese contributed like no one else to the birth of the Italian fashion system,’’ fashion council president Carlo Capasa said in a statement. “We lose a reference figure and an icon, many of us also lose a generous friend. We will miss his intelligence and elegance, his sense of humor, and his wit, but Beppe leaves us a great legacy to honor.”
Modenese started his fashion career in the 1950s in Florence, working with Giovanni Battista Giorgini to organize the first Italian runway shows in Florence in the early 1950s, as Italian fashion began to gain an international following around such houses as Emilio Pucci and Roberto Capucci.
He was instrumental in later moving the center of fashion gravity from Florence’s Pitti Palace to Milan, persuading such founding fashion names as Missoni to make the transition, and sharing a lifelong friendship with the late founder Ottavio Missioni and his widow, Margherita.
He was among the founders of the Italian High Fashion Syndicated, which later became the Italian National Fashion Chamber, which he led for many years. During his tenure, runway shows were concentrated in the now-old Milan convention center, but now have since decentralized to locations throughout the city, with many designers constructing their own venues.
As the head of the fashion council, Modenese discovered many talents, notably Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana, who made their Milan runway debut in 1985.
The Amazon Prime series, Made In Italy, includes an episode focusing on another important chapter in his career promoting Italian fashion as a system, his organization of Idea Como, which he engineered as a place for designers and textile makers to meet.
Giorgio Armani recalled their early days in Milan, both as outsiders, Armani having arrived from the Lombardy province of Piacenza and Beppe from the neighboring Piedmont region.
“This perhaps gave us more enthusiasm, a desire to invent a life and a job that we tried and tested, day in, day out,” Armani said in tribute. “Beppe dealt with public relations with the elegance and taste that everyone has always appreciated, but also with a different organizational and, I would say, political vision. A system had to be organized: the pret-a-porter system, and he did it so well that it still bears his mark today.”
Modenese was also remembered by conductor Riccardo Muti, who wrote in a tribute published in Corriere della Sera, that he got to know the fashion protagonist during the two decades that Muti was music director of La Scala, which Modenese frequented with his partner Piero Pinto.
“After the performances we would go to their Milan home for extraordinary evenings, both for the quality of the guests and conversations, both deep and light, full of irony and humor," Muti wrote, adding that Modenese was “a great music lover, who never missed the Ravenna Festival,” founded by Muti's wife.
Modenese will be buried in his native down of Alba, in the neighboring region of Piedmont. His longtime partner, Piero Pinto, died in 2018. He is survived by two nephews.