The Italian Dior: Federico Forquet
“The Italian Dior is named Forquet” is how Harper’s Bazaar Italy described haute couturier Federico Forquet. Born into a wealthy family, his childhood was spent between his family’s palace in Naples and their castle in Forino, which were frequented by artists, musicians and the Italian Royal family. As a child he was talented with music and thought he would become a concert pianist. It wasn’t until he met his soon-to-be mentor, Cristobal Balenciaga, that he turned his fashion dreams into reality. He met Balenciaga in 1954, when Balenciaga came to visit Ischi. Forquet’s friend was supposed to meet him, but got stuck in Rome, and asked Forquet to go in his place. Balenciaga was Forquet’s idol, however it wasn’t until months later that he traveled to Balenciaga’s Parisian atelier and presented him with over 100 drawings. Balenciaga set aside 12 and told Forquet he could see his potential.He asked him to create a small collection. In eight days, Forquet put together a 120 piece collection and Balenciaga hired him immediately and Forquet spent the next four years at his side learning everything about Haute Couture.
One of Balenciaga’s clients, Russian princess Irene Galitzine, launched her own line in Rome and asked Forquet to be the designer. He left Balenciaga to pursue this partnership and in 1959 he invented the “Pyjama Palazzo”, attire truly meant for the aristocratic set to wear as they lounged around their actual palazzos. This outfit became so popular, that he became famous for it, and was eventually able to open up his own atelier in 1962. He is a very independent designer, and often worked alone so he would be true to his visions.
Federico Forquet Pyjama Palazzo for Vogue Patterns
Sketches and designs by Forquet for Princess Irene Galitzine's line from Hamish Bowles' biography on the designer: "The World of Federico Forquet: Italian Fashion, Interiors and Gardens"
He did all of his own designing and fittings himself. He had one assistant, the cousin of socialite and noblewoman Marella Agnelli with whom he was close friends. Although he often dressed Marella, her cousin Allegra became his mannequin and atelier assistant as a teenager, later becoming his model and muse. He created the gown she wore for her coming out party in Rome. It was an exquisite white gown made of thousands of tiny lily of the valley flowers in relief, each one sewn by hand onto a silk corset. The two cousins were photographed by Richard Avedon and Irving Penn, and were often featured in Vogue.
Allegra in her coming out dress designed by Forquet.
An example of his hand cut and hand sewn little flowers.
He became known for his love of theatrics, by way of his use of colour and patterns. His garments were streamlined, but often featured bright and bold prints and combinations. For one fashion show, he asked the models to gallop down the runway so the fabric “billowed after them like sails”.
In one interview, Forquet says “Listen, I like life, I like friends. I like the sun. I like the stars, the moon, animals, good wine. I am a happy person. And remember, when you love somebody or something, the affection comes back to you.
His loyal customers and friends included fashion elites like Diana Vreeland, C.Z Guest, Babe Paley and Annette Reed. Elizabeth Arden commission him to design a ready-to-wear line for her shop, and Jackie Kennedy actually asked her wardrobe designer, Oleg Cassini, to copy on of Forquet’s gowns! He also worked as a costume designer for film, leading him to dress actresses such as Sophia Loren, Jane Fonda, Anita Ekberg and Faye Dunaway.
He closed his atelier in 1972 once the pret-a-porter industry made it difficult for him to continue as a couturier. He says he was no longer enchanted, as he did not want to participate in ready-to-wear or licensing out his name. He didnt stop designing however, and pivoted to his other two passions - interior design and garden design. He designed a line of fabrics for Gustav Zumsteg of famed Swiss silk house Abraham. They had created fabrics for his haute couture collections in the past so it was a natural partnership that helped launch him into the world of interior design. He and his partner purchased a plot of land with two stone houses and designed their country escape, he began designing custom furniture and worked with Zumsteg on more custom home fabrics. After seeing his own home, Allegra asked Forquet to decorate her flat in Rome, and he designed a fabric resembling Egyptian granite, that fooled Andy Warhol when he came by for lunch!
He has continued to design palazzos and villas, including the Royal Palace in Brussels. He is still working today, at 92 years old, designing gardens and interiors. He only designs what he likes, and his home in Cetona is still his pride and joy. In 2020, Vogue Editor at Large Hamish Bowles published the book The World of Federico Forquet: Italian Fashion, Interiors, Gardens (Rizzoli). He spent several years with the designer, combing through his possessions and archives. When Forquet was asked what he learned about himself while working on the book, he said “Can I tell you something terrible? I still like everything I did, right from the beginning. I would change very little, not even the details. It’s been almost 75 years, but I still like all the same things.”