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Anna Piaggi, Italian Writer and Style Icon, Dies at 81

The woman Manolo Blahnik called "the world's last great authority on frocks" is best known for her collection of 2,865 dresses and 265 pairs of shoes, some of which she designed herself.

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The name Anna Piaggi isn't very well known in Hollywood -- unless you're talking to fashion people. Because people in the fashion industry around the world all knew and celebrated her. Like the late Isabella Blow and Diana Vreeland before her, her eccentric and very large personal style made her media image larger than life -- and she lived up to it, time and again.

Although she had started her career in the world of Italian publishing as a translator and went on to write for Vogue Italia, Piaggi -- who died Tuesday in Milan at age 81 -- is best known for her collection of 2,865 dresses and 265 pairs of shoes, some of which she designed herself and many of which were documented in a 2006 exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London called "Fashion-ology." 

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Piaggi famously always wore bright red lipstick, two doll-like coral-colored circles on her cheeks as blush and a smattering of you-can't-miss turquoise eyeshadow. She almost always wore large hats -- some tophats (one a Union Jack), some garden-party brimmed hats -- and many were designed by her great friend, the British milliner Stephen Jones. She also colored two shocks of her hair in the front that peaked out of her chapeaus a bright blue -- wearing pastel hair long before anybody in the East Village. 

Her multicolored furs, floor-length patterned skirts and rabid use of rainbow hues -- she was like a walking technicolor tableau -- served also as an inspiration to Karl Lagerfeld, who published an entire sketchbook on her creations and wrote in it, "Anna invents fashion." Manolo Blahnik called her "the last great authority on frocks." And sShe was one of the people that the international fashion tribe most anticipated seeing in the front shows of shows in Milan and Paris: The look was always going to be strong, daring and wildly creative.

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Jones, her great friend, on Tuesday called her a "guiding light and an inspiration" and paid tribute to what he called her "effervescence and inventiveness. Piaggi was a talisman for those around the world who believe that fashion is a way of life and that freedom of expression should manifest itself in what we wear."

The front rows in Europe will not be the same without her.

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