Her professional life was as a journalist and stylist, principally for Vogue Italia; but Anna Piaggi’s fame also rested on her status as muse to designers such as Karl Lagerfeld and the British milliner Stephen Jones, and on her ability to upstage even the most daring of fashionistas.
Her wardrobe was colossal. In 2006, when the Victoria & Albert’s exhibition “Anna Piaggi Fashion-ology” showed her collection of vintage couture and designer clothing (including garments by Balenciaga, Fendi, Galliano and Poiret), visitors were informed that she had 265 pairs of shoes, 932 hats, nearly 3,000 dresses and 31 feather boas.
In the latter part of her life her home was a one-bedroom apartment in a converted 14th-century convent in Milan, where she shared even her drawing room with her outfits. Her knowledge of fashion history was encyclopedic, and the shoe designer Manolo Blahnik once said of her: “She is the only authority on frocks left in the world.”
Anna Piaggi herself dressed to entertain, and had been known to bring several trunks of fantastical clothing for a single weekend. Nothing — harlequin dresses, zebra trousers, spats — was too outré. One recent interviewer found her with “lips shiny and red, painted with two sharp peaks like a star of the silent movies from the Thirties. And there are pink circles of rouge high on her cheeks, as though they have just been pinched.
“Around her neck is a multicoloured jangle of plastic key rings ... Underneath is a shirt covered with Roy Lichtenstein-style cartoon characters, a pair of trousers printed with big bold letters ... and ... elegant little pink sandals with buttons sewn on.”
Stephen Jones once made her a small trilby in orange metal, which she wore with a silver coat: “It looked amazing,” he recalled. “I think the coat was a thermal one for mountain rescue. It doesn’t have to be Dior with Anna. She’s always worn 1920s shoes with Dolce trousers and a vintage Patou coat and a plastic belt, and a ski pole for a walking stick and crazy blue hair and a funny hat. She’s about the possibility of what fashion can be. It’s not about chic, or a grand gesture, as it was with Diana Vreeland [editor-in-chief of Vogue from 1963 to 1971]. With Anna it’s about fun and interest and frivolity.”
She seldom, if ever, disappointed, even if the effect could occasionally be unintended: at Paloma Picasso’s wedding in 1978, her feathered hat burst into flames as she walked past a lit candelabra.