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OBITUARIES : Eletra Casadei, 1953 - 2008

Designer earned wide acclaim for flaunt-it fashion

October 04, 2008|Mary Rourke | Times Staff Writer

Eletra Casadei, the California fashion designer whose prom dresses put away the Sweet Sixteen look and moved into strapless, backless, slit-to-here styles, has died. She was 55.

She died Sept. 27 at her home in Pacific Palisades. The cause was brain cancer, her sister Andrea Casadei Best said.

One of the first Los Angeles designers of her generation to gain a national reputation for something other than swimwear, Casadei claimed Old Hollywood glamour as her inspiration and fantasy dresses at affordable prices as her niche.

She introduced her TD4 (To Die For) line in the late 1970s for customers ages 14 and up. Before long their mothers were wearing the clothes and she launched a second collection, Casadei, for them. By the early 1980s, a boom time for flaunt-it fashion, Casadei was in her stride.

"Padded shoulders, draping, appliques, sequins, Eletra's evening dresses were over the top and a lot of fun," Pam Roberts, the designer's former publicist, told The Times.

Throughout the 1980s, Casadei's collections were carried in some 7,000 boutiques and department stores, most of them in the U.S. Prices ranged from about $100 to about $400.

A former fashion model, she wore her own designs and added a few accents, such as plum color streaks in her hair and iridescent fuchsia nail polish.

Dresses from her collections turned up on sitcoms and soaps as diverse as "Golden Girls," about four older women rooming together, and "Dynasty," about Denver socialites with glitzy tastes.

Casadei's best advertisements were the two fashion-music videos she created in the mid-1980s, modeled after the music videos that aired on MTV. Instead of costumes, she used dresses from her latest collection.

"Eletra pioneered fashion-music videos," Janet Orsi, another former publicist, said this week. "The idea was to capitalize on the music video phenomenon and marry it to fashion. Designers got to show their clothes in a new genre. It was a change from the typical fashion show."

Casadei's videos played in stores and wholesale showrooms as well as on MTV. She played the lead in "Adventures of the Countess," a mystery made in the style of a silent movie with scary mood music.

Her other video, "Prom Night," with a soundtrack of Steve Winwood music, shows girls at a dance that gets a lot more exciting when guys in black leather show up.

Casadei was born July 5, 1953, in the east San Francisco Bay community of Hayward, where she won the title "Maid of Hayward" as a teenager. She graduated from Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, majoring in business administration. Her first job, as a store buyer, was frustrating. "She was always wishing she could change the way the clothes were designed," Casadei's sister said.

She taught herself the skills of fashion design and opened a business office in downtown L.A.

Casadei scaled back her operation in the '90s but became known for her remakes of the most popular celebrity dresses at the Academy Award shows. Her version of the vintage Valentino gown that actress Julia Roberts wore in 2001 sold for $169.

Most recently she designed under the Casadei by Eletra Casadei label and owned a boutique in Pacific Palisades where she sold her ready-to-wear styles and made custom-order clothes. She continued working until a few weeks ago.

Casadei's only marriage ended in divorce. In addition to her sister, she is survived by her son, Nico Casadei Roe; her mother, Verna Casadei; and another sister, Janelle Brunelli.

A memorial service is planned for 3 p.m. Oct. 11 at Corpus Christi Church, 887 Toyopa Drive, Pacific Palisades.

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mary.rourke@latimes.com

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