c.2015 New York Times News Service

c.2015 New York Times News Service


Manuela Pavesi was a passionate archivist of her own past, hanging on over time to cherished mementos of a life in style. Not long ago, she reminisced about the pinafore she wore as a schoolgirl in her native Mantua. “I still have it,” she said.

Pavesi, whose death March 13 at 65 profoundly saddened the fashion world, often mined that past to forge a reputation as a photographer, influential stylist and Miuccia Prada’s close collaborator — her right hand, as has often been said — throughout a career spanning more than 40 years.

“Her vocabulary ran to decades,” said Masoud Golsorkhi, the editor of Tank magazine, to which Pavesi was a frequent contributor. He added, “For her, fashion was a living, breathing creature that had to be looked after and sustained like a garden or obscure endangered species.”

On or off camera, Pavesi was a maverick, rarely glimpsed without the crinkly-eyed smile or the clusters of vintage jewelry that were her signatures. Yet her aesthetic could be elusive.

“It’s hard to define someone so unconventional in terms of their process or their thinking; you can’t put them in a box,” said Marc Jacobs, who recalled being photographed some years ago by Pavesi for Industrie magazine. He was trussed in women’s Prada, he remembered, while she wore flowing pajamas, “with two little clips in her hair.”

“She was like this little woman with this great big energy,” Jacobs said. “Whether she wore pajamas or a uniform, she was an original.”

Her strikingly progressive vision first asserted itself in Vogue Italia, where she was a stylist in the 1970s, working with legendary image makers like Helmut Newton, Guy Bourdin and Irving Penn.

“She anticipated fashion,” said Franca Sozzani, the magazine’s editor, referring to Pavesi’s penchant for combining disparate elements of designers’ collections in a single look, a practice rare in those days.

Once Vogue had hired her, Pavesi abandoned her youthful ambition to study psychology. Later, she shot fashion for the magazine’s international editions. As recently as last month, her photographs appeared in Vogue Japan, a model chastely garbed in cashmere, pearl earrings and uptown pumps, her patrician attitude slyly undercut by dark, gartered hose.

Pavesi memorably captured the influential art and fashion collector Cecilia Matteucci Lavarini for i-D magazine, Matteucci Lavarini’s features hidden behind an Alexander McQueen silver mask and a Prada feathered boa from Pavesi’s personal archive.

“She would embrace things or become interested because they were wrong, or maybe because they were right,” Jacobs said. “They caught her eye and pulled at her heart. Her love of fashion was such an emotional and genuine thing.”

Her touch, insolent and a sometimes a bit risqué, could be felt in a 1986 Pirelli calendar shot by Helmut Newton and published just last year, one model filling a gas tank in a dress that has all but slid off her curvy frame, another straining as she pushed at a tire, her shapely backside highlighted by form-fitting bicycle shorts.

Pavesi was a mentor to a number of designers, including Jonathan Anderson, who said, without elaborating, that her inspiration helped ignite his fashion career. But she is perhaps best known as Prada’s friend and collaborator, consulting with her on collections.

Sisters under the skin, the two sometimes dressed alike, wearing dirndls on the Alpine slopes or, on more formal occasions, turned out identically in Prada suits, looking like nothing so much as a pair of chicly buttoned-up boarding school matrons. Prada delivered a terse, but emotional statement at Pavesi’s funeral in Mantua, Italy, saying simply, “She was my friend for 40 years.”

Pavesi, who often wore Prada, disdained the obvious and seemed not to make a fetish of consistency, veering in her own wardrobe choices from a naïve-looking crew neck and gingham skirt to a leather jumper banded through the bodice like a cage.

She had little use for banality. As Golsorkhi of Tank recalled, “'It will sell well, but it isn’t fashion,’ would be her ultimate curse.”