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Obituary: Nicola Trussardi

NICOLA TRUSSARDI was one of the generation that led the renaissance in Italian style during the 1970s and 1980s, when small family enterprises mushroomed into huge fashion and accessories empires. His contemporaries, designers and business entrepreneurs like himself, put Italian fashion on the map. Their design, production and marketing acumen transformed a cottage industry into a global business.

As a result of Nicola Trussardi's dedication and tenacious spirit, Trussardi is one of the most familiar names of Italy's luxury fashion brands. He was a man of ambition and recognised that the family business of glove- making - founded in Bergamo, outside Milan, by his grandfather Dante Trussardi in 1910 - was going nowhere during the young fashion boom of the Sixties. "Gloves were a thing of the past," he remembered, "rendered obsolete by the socio-cultural revolution . . . and I had two options before me: either turn my hand to something else, or try and rebuild the business, to preserve and update the good family name that had been acquired over the years."

Nicola Trussardi was born in Bergamo in 1942 and, having graduated in economic and commercial sciences from the Catholic University in Milan, entered the family business in 1970 on the sudden death of his father and brother. He began transforming the business by venturing into fashion at about the same time that young designers like Gianni Versace, Giorgio Armani, Gianfranco Ferre and the Missonis were beginning to make their mark.

The house tried hard to become part of the hip and trendy ready-to-wear movement, but the results were a bit hit-and-miss. However, its leather fashion and accessories were a huge success. Nicola Trussardi introduced ranges of watches, jewellery, shoes, bags, luggage and belts all bearing the familiar sleek greyhound logo, and by 1998 sales had reached about $485m in 118 Trussardi boutiques around the world. More recently Trussardi launched the T Store and a jeans line designed by the Paris-based American designer Jeremy Scott.

Nicola Trussardi remained fascinated, though, with the processes of leather- making and modernised the fine glove-making skills of his atelier, developing new and sophisticated techniques for working leather that gave opportunities to expand into new fields. Home furnishings, aircraft and helicopter interiors all display the imprint of the Trussardi style. He worked with Lancia, Leyland and Alfa Romeo and launched a range of expensive leather-finished bicycles and Velobikes. In the early 1990s he expanded the business to invest in banks, real estate companies and chemical industries, and set up joint ventures in the United States, Europe and Japan.

He was a dynamic and focused businessman and kept a tight rein on the company, controlling every aspect of the business from finance to design and advertising campaigns. "Few people are so sincerely involved in every aspect of their work as Nicola Trussardi," says the fashion photographer Steven Klein. "It was great to collaborate with a designer who was so readily available to the photographer and so willing to take chances." Trussardi was charming, highly regarded by his staff, good at media relations and conscientious if a problem had to be solved.

Trussardi enjoyed a life surrounded by beautiful things and powerful friends, and was a close friend of the former Italian premier Bettino Craxi before he was toppled in corruption scandals in the early 1990s. Trussardi was once described by Luciano Pavarotti as "one of the best ambassadors of `Made in Italy' in the world. All his crea-tions are characterised by great taste, great style, especially in choice of materials."

He owned a Renaissance villa at Bergamo and enjoyed sailing near his home on the tiny elite island of Elba, off the Tuscan coast. The house, designed by a pupil of Le Corbusier, was filled with a fine collection of modern art including works by Magritte and De Chirico. There he entertained Pavarotti, Umberto Eco, Queen Noor of Jordan, Tina Turner and Robert Altman. He made a guest appearance as himself in Altman's 1994 fashion movie Pret- a-Porter.

Like a modern-day Renaissance princeling he had a passion for the arts and transformed a former hotel, the Palazzo Marino alla Scala, into the company headquarters, with a museum and art gallery on the upper floor. He was keen to raise cultural awareness and hosted exhibitions of work by Picasso, Allan Jones and Van Gogh, and photography by Dennis Hopper, Eve Arnold and Robert Mapplethorpe. His interest in the arts spread to music when he participated in a festival dedicated to Paganini at the Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg in 1995 and jointly sponsored a Pavarotti and Friends concert for the charity War Child the following year.

His death came as a result of an accident when he was driving home to Bergamo after the private view of a new exhibition in his gallery on Monday. His car went out of control on a road exit ramp and crashed at high speed.

Nicola Trussardi, fashion designer and businessman: born Bergamo, Italy 17 June 1942; married Maria Luisa Gavazzeni (two sons, two daughters); died Milan 14 April 1999.