STYLE ICON ANGELO DONGHIA

The dec­o­ra­tor to the stars of 1970s New York, whose client list in­cluded Grace Mirabella and Diana Ross

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Dubbed ‘the Saint Lau­rent of so­fas’, Amer­i­can de­signer

Angelo Donghia (1935–1985) might now be a house­hold name like his great friend, Ralph Lau­ren, had he not died aged just 50 from an Aids-re­lated ill­ness.

The son of an Ital­ian im­mi­grant tai­lor, Donghia was born in Van­der­grift, Penn­syl­va­nia and stud­ied in­te­rior de­sign at Par­sons School of De­sign in New York. He grad­u­ated in 1959 and launched his ca­reer just as the Big Ap­ple was hit­ting its hippest era: fash­ion de­sign­ers Hal­ston and Ralph Lau­ren be­came friends and clients, as did Liza Min­nelli, Diana Ross and Vogue ed­i­torin-chief Grace Mirabella. Dressed in Ralph Lau­ren suits and driv­ing a cream Mercedes, the charis­matic Donghia won a de­served place in the In­ter­na­tional Best Dressed List Hall of Fame and was a reg­u­lar fix­ture in style mag­a­zines through­out the 1970s and 1980s. What makes him an icon? At a time when big fash­ion de­sign­ers were just cot­ton­ing on to the po­ten­tial of li­cens­ing prod­ucts such as per­fume and sun­glasses, Donghia was al­ready carv­ing out a mul­ti­mil­lion dol­lar em­pire sell­ing bed­li­nen at Bloom­ing­dale’s, as well as fab­ric and fur­ni­ture ranges across the US. His style was all about lux­u­ri­ous crafts­man­ship, re­laxed, ‘fat’ lounge seat­ing (of­ten in his favourite grey flan­nel), and shim­mery sil­ver-leaf ceil­ings; he was fond of cut­ting wall­pa­pers into squares and lay­er­ing them to cre­ate elab­o­rate tex­tures. His ma­jor pro­jects in­cluded a Moroc­can-in­spired, heav­ily pat­terned show­room for Hal­ston, a gleam­ing stain­less-steel home cin­ema for film com­poser and con­duc­tor Marvin Ham­lisch, and an all-white Fifth Av­enue apart­ment with jun­gle green­ery for Ralph Lau­ren.

Donghia’s own homes re­flected his love of en­ter­tain­ing – he was known to hold im­promptu din­ner par­ties in his bed­room, mov­ing aside the bed and gath­er­ing guests in front of the fire. His New York town­house had an Art Deco look that was in­flu­enced by the work of French de­signer Jean- Michel Frank, but he also owned a Florida home with a much more ca­sual feel: it had white-painted wooden walls, pieces of bam­boo fur­ni­ture and ze­bra skins on the floors. His motto was sim­ple: ‘ You should feel at all times that what is around you is at­trac­tive… and that you are at­trac­tive.’

Donghia made a gentle­men’s agree­ment with Ralph Lau­ren that he would not de­sign fash­ion and Lau­ren would not go into fur­ni­ture, which was hon­oured un­til Donghia’s death. To­day, the de­signer’s epony­mous com­pany is owned by Vene­tian tex­tile man­u­fac­turer Rubelli, and still sells his lux­u­ri­ous fur­ni­ture, fab­rics and wall­cov­er­ings (donghia.com).

Donghia’s motto was sim­ple: ‘ You should feel at all times that what is around you is at­trac­tive... and that you are at­trac­tive’

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