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