The Wild Kingdom

How Fausto Puglisi keeps reinventing one of Italy’s most exhilarating brands.


When in Florence getting to sip champagne with the legendary Eva Cavalli, former creative force of the Italian fashion empire, is a dream come true. I walked into her Florentine villa, filled with jaw-dropping art, opulent décor, mixed with Roberto Cavalli’s iconic animal printed throws, pillows and table covers, having an absolute “Alison-in-Wonderland” moment. The Austria-born beauty (stunning at 63 just as she was during her Miss Europe coronation,) who at a young age married Roberto Cavalli and instantly rose to the helm of megabrand, welcomed me with her charming personality. Surrounded by countless memorabilia from Cavalli’s fashion house history, I couldn’t help but dive into the storied tale of this atelier.

“Roberto specialized in printing. He patented the revolutionary technique of printing animal patterns on leather, and used it in his first collection of leather gowns,” Eva explained. “Since we met, we’ve both loved nature, and animals. I thought of applying his technique to printing animal motifs on denim. It was an experiment. To our surprise, the next sensation was born,” she continued, pointing at archival images. “We designed sand-blasted jeans and elevated denim with prints, gold stitches, and rich embellishments to a new, luxury level. It went viral,” Eva reminisced on their early days. “Roberto encouraged me to drive the design. I wanted to make every woman feel glamorous in a classic silk dress. I created our signature maxi-slip dress that I cut diagonally from the upper torso to lower hip. This cut flows with the body’s curves and adds flexibility. We designed a full collection, and did the runway show with Naomi, that I styled with new animal-printed tights. The response was sensational. We were opening stores, and branched off to the lifestyle space, menswear, animal printed decor, bags, accessories, beauty and perfumes. I didn’t expect any of this,” Cavalli added with a smile.

Fast forward to 2019, Cavalli Groups hit a turbulent time and went through an acquisition by Hussain Sejwani. The appointment of the new creative director Fausto Puglisi in 2020 marked a new beginning. An extension of Italian legacy, the Sicilian-born designer has revolutionized the fashion house since day one by infusing a creative formula, stemming from his closeness to music and pop culture. Puglisi, came with an impressive list of celebrity endorsers from Madonna, Jennifer Lopez and Zendaya, to Nicky Minaj, Miley Cyrus and Taylor Swift. He is the secret sauce that is driving Cavalli’s resurrection.

“When I was 18, I left for New York with a small collection in my suitcase. Obsessed with American pop-music, I knew that my brand must be connected to its icons,” explained Puglisi. “I waited tables in the restaurant where I met Patti Willson, the stylist of David LaChapelle and Whitney Houston. I pleaded with her to check out my collection. She did and a week later I flew to the Grammys to dress Whitney.”

What is the secret formula behind Puglisi’s success? “I have a great in-house team. My vision is to foster the image of glamour and sophistication that Cavalli stands for,” he explains. “Italian craftsmanship is imperative, but I also bring a view of inclusivity and diversity of cultures into design. I’m reinterpreting the heritage of Cavalli in the context of a new era.” That era continues to knockout the crowd with asymmetric sultry gowns, sexy cutout mini-dresses, flowy maxi numbers in animal prints, and rich embroideries from feathers, sequins to mega-rhinestones. And while trends may come and go, for Puglisi some things will always stay the same. “My passion for music, pop-culture, and closeness to the world’s most talented music artists will be always at the core.”

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