Seeing Paul Surridge, the new creative director for Roberto Cavalli, at the helm of what is arguably the most lavishly provocative label in fashion, is akin to encountering a Zen Buddhist monk on a rococo papal throne. Surridge, 43, is a soft-spoken Englishman whose minimalist aesthetic was honed in the men’s wear design studios at Jil Sander and Calvin Klein; Cavalli has long been the go-to label for, say, a champagnefueled bacchanalia at an oligarch’s mansion. Madonna, Beyoncé, and plenty of other über divas have rocked the red carpet wearing Cavalli’s signature plunging goddess gowns—a riot of animal prints, titillating cutouts, and cascades of crystals, sequins, and ostrich feathers. This opulent seduction fantasy sometimes verged on kitsch, but always captured the male gaze.
The defining gaze, of course, was that of Roberto Cavalli, the Florentine designer who liked to refer to himself an “artist of fashion.” An adventurer and bon vivant, Cavalli, 77, was in many ways fashion’s answer to Hugh Hefner. His Latin lover image—permatanned, sunglassed, shirt open to the waist, cavorting on yachts with a succession of international beauties—was central to the brand he built in his name. The anecdotes about his antics are legion. In 1977, he was asked to judge a Miss Universe competition and ended up marrying the first runnerup, Eva Duringer. Then there was his tiff with Michael Jackson over a certain sequined jacket. After the performer tossed the jacket into the crowd during a concert, proclaiming it was “too hot,” Cavalli made a public vow neve