The Krizia spring butterfly is not your ordinary lepidoptera. Cartoon-like in concept, she can be found flying across luxurious, oversize cashmere sweaters, sometimes fluttering long eyelashes and swinging her own net, sometimes wearing a little gold crown and a sash that proclaims her "Miss Krizia."
The real Miss Krizia is green-eyed, auburn-haired Mariuccia Mandelli, who was in town recently for a charity showing of her fall collection.
A woman of many Italian words (she doesn't speak English), Mandelli needs only a few, which she voices through her interpreter, to describe her work: "Simple with ironic touches."
There are, she says, "absolutely no frills, no complications" to her designs. "I like everything very pure, very clean." Some might call her silhouettes "very poor," she says, "but I design to give a woman shapes that will remain with time."
Her fall collection (priced from $300 to $10,000 and available in July at the Beverly Hills Krizia boutique) is notable for its signature sweaters, sweeping ribbed-wool overcoats, crushed velvet blazers, metallic leather skirts and pants and slinky silk gowns.
The butterflies--with their obvious touches of irony--are replaced on thigh-length cashmere sweaters by wolves--sympathetically "captured" by Mandelli, who says she is opposed to their destruction.
The Milan-based designer began her career in 1954 after a university education and a two-year stint as a grammar school teacher. Borrowing the name Krizia from a dialogue by Plato, she began with skirts.
Traveling around Italy, two suitcases in hand, she sold the skirts from store to store. Next came the fruit dresses, with their single bunch of grapes, that caught the eye of Italian critics and American retailers. Mandelli says her detractors "complained that the line was made of nothing. The secret, though, lay in that nothing."
To young designers starting out today, she advises "a solid cultural background. It's the foundation for everything you do later. Finish university, then go to design school."
Mandelli, who says she is often "the last one to leave a party," is also a dreamer, who likes to have time to herself. Vacations are spent on a little-known island in the Caribbean with her husband and business partner, Aldo Pinto, reading books that often come from an Italian publishing house she owns with two other women.
The designer of 10 collections a year for labels that include Krizia, Krizia Poi and the new Krizia Moods, Mandelli also signs her name to more than 20 licensed products, ranging from furs and hats to jeans, sunglasses, perfumes and knitting yarns.
She has come a long way from the days of skirts sold out of suitcases. Her offices, showrooms and "thinkery" are now housed in the Palazzo Melzi d'Eril in Milan. Along with restoring the palace to its original splendor, Mandelli converted the stables into a theater used for fashion shows, plays, ballets and art exhibits.