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Italian menswear innovator Nino Cerruti dies at 91

MILAN — Nino Cerruti, the Italian fashion designer credited with revolutionizing menswear in the 1960s and who gave Giorgio Armani his first fashion break, has died, Italian media reported Saturday. He was 91.

Cerruti died in northwestern Italy, where his family has operated a textile company since 1881, the Italian news agency LaPresse reported. The Italian daily Corriere said he had been hospitalized for hip surgery.

Cerutti inherited the family business, based in the city of Biella in the Piedmont region, at age 20 upon his father’s death in 1950. He launched his first menswear company, Hitman, in 1957 near Milan, dedicated to creating sartorial elegance on an industrial scale and becoming part of the nascent men’s ready-to-wear sector.

Armani was hired as a young talent at the Hitman factory in the mid-1960s.

Armani recalled Cerruti as a creative entrepreneur with “an acute eye, a true curiosity, the ability to dare,’’ adding that “his gentle way of being authoritative, even authoritarian" would be missed.

“Even if our contacts thinned with the years, I have always considered him one of the people who has had a real and positive influence on my life,’’ Armani said in a statement. “From him, I learned not only the taste for sartorial softness, but also the importance of a well-rounded vision, as a designer and as an entrepreneur.”

In 1967, Cerruti founded the luxury menswear fashion house Cerruti 1881 in Paris, then the international fashion capital, while maintaining production in Italy. The softened silhouette, use of colors and the attention to both innovative design and tradition won clients like French film star Jean-Paul Belmondo.

Soon, Cerruti was in demand in Hollywood, with his designs worn on and off screen by such stars as Michael Douglas in “Basic Instinct,” Richard Gere in “Pretty Woman, and Tom Hanks in ”Philadelphia."

Cerutti also launched a womenswear line as well as perfumes, watches, accessories and leather goods. He also at one point was the designer for the Ferrari Formula 1 team.

Cerruti sold the company in the early 2000s, giving up also the design role. But he never severed ties with the fashion house, even as he turned his focus to the textile business, taking a front-row seat at Paris runway shows.

News of his death spread through the fashion world during Milan Fashion Week menswear previews.

Carlo Capasa, president of Italy’s fashion chamber, remembered Cerruti as “a great innovator” who was also “one of Italy’s chicest men.”

“He was the first to understand the importance of creativity in menswear and to give space to a young designer of immense talent like Giorgio Armani, changing the very criteria of how to dress,’’ Capasa said. “He was one of the first to have a strong international presence, representing to the world that unique combination of creativity and quality that came to characterize and still characterizes Italian fashion.”

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