PARIS — Irène Silvagni, the former artistic director of Yohji Yamamoto and fashion editor of Vogue Paris, died Thursday following a long illness.
Silvagni was born and raised in Paris, and began her career at Elle magazine, before entering the world of Vogue, first as European editor for the American edition, then as fashion editor for Vogue Paris. During her time at the magazine, she was known for championing then-unknown photographers such as Peter Lindbergh, Steven Meisel, Bruce Weber, Paolo Roversi and Ellen von Unwerth. She was known for her visionary embrace of new ideas, as well as her elegance and kindness.
In 1981, she was in the public eye as an editor when Yohji Yamamoto and Rei Kawakubo paraded for the first time in Paris in collections then considered shocking, but which would revolutionize fashion.
Meeting Yamamoto led to a decades-long creative partnership, with Silvagni serving as the designer’s creative director following her departure from Vogue Paris.
“She really had a love affair with Yohji Yamamoto because she respected him so much,” longtime friend Inès de la Fressange told WWD. As Japanese designers defied Parisian standards, caused a stir and received poor reviews, Silvagni embraced the direction. “It was a big, big change. For someone who was young in their 50s, this might have been hard to understand, but she knew something was up.
The partnership between Silvagni and Yamamoto has become revolutionary. “We can be very proud of that, to be the consultant of a genius. She was afraid of nothing. She was convinced that he was fresh and that he loved his job,” de la Fressange said.
Her time at Vogue, where she put de la Fressange on the cover when the model was over 30 – then a rarity in the fashion world – was enriched by her love of art.
“She comes from a generation of women who thought anything was possible. Thanks to her knowledge, knowing a lot about painters and writers, she was able to put that spirit into fashion. She knew that the painters of the 1930s were ahead of their time, and I think she was convinced that in fashion it should be the same. She wasn’t someone who followed something, she wanted to find out.
De la Fressange, whose children were named Silvagni aunt Irene, also recalled her kindness and her sprawling farmhouse in Provence, where she was known to host many people from the fashion industry over the years. “When I think of Irene, I immediately think of the people around her and the people she loved, because she had this admiration for gifted and talented people. She was creative, intelligent and open-minded, c That’s why she was so close to many photographers and designers, she could really understand their creativity without any prejudice.
Nathalie Ours, who worked with Silvagni during his time at Yohji Yamamoto, said his kindness trickled down to the rest of the team.
“She was not just inspiring to Yohji, but to everyone around her. She had a vision in a very generous way, she was always ready with new ideas to open her eyes,” Ours said. “It’s amazing how much we learned from her and how she was so generous. Sometimes people are very creative but not necessarily very generous. But she was generous and kind and really, really funny.
Discussing her time at Vogue and the legacy she left for fashion photographers, Ours added, “She worked with a generation of photographers who became iconic, and she really did.”
Photographer Nicoletta Santoro, now artistic director of Town & Country who began working with Silvagni during her own career at Vogue’s international editions, was a longtime friend.
“For me, Irène was much more than the editor-in-chief of French Vogue. She was like a second mother to me and she was my mentor. When I moved to Paris, newly married and twin, she supported my creativity, she gave my visual dreams a home, and she nurtured and nurtured me. She also guided me through the secrets of Parisian life and her love for her city ran deep,” Santoro told WWD.
“Irene also fought to nurture a new generation of talent who were underdogs at the time, giving respites to everyone I brought: Peter Lindbergh, Steven Meisel, Paolo Roversi, Max Vadukul. My life n t would not have been the same without her and she was a visionary and fashion doy like no other.
“Even if it sounds cliché, she was always available and attentive. Her sense of fashion, and above all of elegance, especially in her choice of jewelry balanced with the joie de vivre inherited from a war-scarred childhood,” added author Gerald Cohen, who met Silvagni when she was at Vogue and maintained a friendship with her through the years. “She obviously inspired and accompanied the minimalist movement of the time, notably supporting Ann Demeulemeester and Japanese designers, so it was only natural that she became Yohji Yamamoto’s advisor. She had of course worked with the greatest photographers including Oliviero Toscani, they fed each other with their work. It was only natural that his daughter Alexia would also become a renowned photographer.
Silvagni spent a life surrounded by art and artists. She was married to Giorgio Silvagni, producer of Palme d’Or winner “Eternity and a Day,” and her daughter Alexia Silvagni is a photographer who took care of her mother in her later years. His son, Jérôme Silvagni, died in 2018.