French fashion designer Emanuel Ungaro dies aged 86

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Emanuel Ungaro, the French fashion designer who described himself as a sensual obsessive, has died in Paris at the age of 86.

Ungaro was a giant of old-school fashion, once memorably declaring: “One should not wear a dress, one should live in it.”

He retired in 2004 and died on Saturday after two years in a weakened state of health, his family said.

Ungaro was born in Aix-en-Province in southern France in 1933 to a family of Italian immigrants. He moved to Paris when he was 22 and learned his trade under the tutelage of the great Spanish couturier Cristóbal Balanciaga.

Balanciaga was a genius, Ungaro once told the Guardian. He “never talked. You had to learn and take from it the sense of quality. He was a very alone, very silent man”.

Ungaro went on to launch his own label, and presented his first collection in 1965. The show was restricted to daywear because his studio in the 17th arrondissement was not big enough for anything else.

He built a reputation for his use of bright colour and mixed prints, creating clothes that had a sensuous old-school glamour. Along with Yves Saint Laurent, Ungaro is seen as someone who helped establish ready-to-wear as an alternative to couture.

His friend and biographer, Christine Orban, once wrote that with Ungaro “sensuality is everywhere”.

“Emanuel … will create a garment too beautiful to be torn off, but clever enough to suggest to take it off with tenderness,” she wrote.

In 2001, Ungaro was the first fashion designer to be invited to address the Oxford Union.

When asked how important he thought it was to communicate femininity through clothes, he quoted Jean-Paul Sartre and Pablo Picasso, saying: “There are no rules and we have no one answer. You have to be your own critical mirror.”

Ungaro built a fashion empire that has since extended into perfumes, shoes, furniture, candles and glasses. His label was bought in 1996 by the Ferragamo family.

He officially retired in 2004 complaining the world of haute couture no longer matched “the expectations of today’s women”. He leaves a wife and a daughter.

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