Emanuel Ungaro opened his house in 1965. In 1968 he moved his atelier and offices into an elegant building at the river end of the Avenue Montaigne, and it was from these rooms that he built one of the great, and one of the last privately held, couture houses in Paris. His father had been a tailor in Brindisi, and Ungaro's story begins with a respect for the tailor's shears, for the needle and thread, that had been taught to him when he was still a young boy. As a young man, he draped toiles (muslin patterns) for the great Balenciaga, which, in fashion terms, is like saying he chiseled into Michelangelo's rock.
His peers in 1970s Paris—Karl Lagerfeld, who designed Chloe, and Yves Saint Laurent—presented distinct visions of the feminine mystique at a time when the Western world was reconsidering what it meant to be a woman.
Lagerfeld's Chloe was almost sexless; his ideal woman seemed a perpetual virgin. He looked from Paris to London, where he found inspiration in flower children and house parties, frilly lace and nostalgic frock coats and vintage-y clothes. His designs concealed the body and highlighted the life of the mind.
YSL hit the sexual revolution head-on, exploring the unspoken sexual fantasies of the haute bourgeoisie. He dreamed of places far from the stuffy Right Bank-Imperial Peking, Czarist Russia, and especially the liberated St. Germain des Prés * on the Rive Gauche (the name of his prêt-à-porter brand). He put women in gypsy dresses, the famed le smoking, or trouser suit, and the sporty looks epitomized in Catherine Deneuve's wardrobe for Belle du Jour. But his fantasies were like Belle's: There was always an element of submission to a man's desires running through every stitch.
Ungaro's woman—his most famous muse was the fierce Anouk Aimée—had nothing to do with her counterparts. She was brazen, a sexual game-player, but always the one in control. Hot, bright fuchsia was his signature color for a reason. He may have given nods to the far away and long ago—the signature Grecian draping, harem-style turbans—but throughout his long career, he never let go of his dream of the haughty woman of the 16tharrondisement, a woman who knew what she wanted and was always in control.
Lindsay Lohan chez Ungaro? That beautiful dream has been lost to a tart.