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The Rise of Vintage Cavalli Fashion

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Style Points is a weekly column about how fashion intersects with the wider world.

Picture it: Sicily. Your beaded wrap skirt jangles gently in the breeze, your Aperol Spritz held aloft on a heavily bangled arm. Your look encompasses both animal prints and florals. Congratulations: you’re having a hot Cavalli summer.

Recently on Instagram, Parade CEO and creative director Cami Téllez declared it “Cavalli summer,” and influencers like Tinx quickly joined the movement. Bella Hadid, Kali Uchis, Emma Chamberlain, Iris Law, and Emily Ratajkowski have been breaking out the brand’s vintage 2000s boho-chic wares. Zendaya performed at Coachella wearing a Cavalli slip dress from 2004, which she layered over a plain white tank top.

zendaya performing at coachella

Zendaya performs at Coachella in vintage Roberto Cavalli.

Michael Loccisano//Getty Images

The archetype is part Europecore, part bad bitch. “The Cavalli girl will take a barefoot bite of a fig in a village garden, but she prefers a hundred long-stem roses,” Téllez rhapsodizes. “She’s getting married in a church with a 20-foot veil while she’s Saving Venice in sequins. She’s Italianate, not Italian, a.k.a. [she] sports an ‘international’ accent and she isn’t afraid of a little gold.”

bella hadid vintage cavalli

Bella Hadid in vintage Roberto Cavalli.


Amid fashion’s current mood of quiet luxury, the house’s bold, bright, animal print-heavy aesthetic has a counterintuitive appeal. “In the world of Khaite minimalism and a group of people I can only (affectionately) describe as Moms Wearing The Row, the Cavalli girl isn’t afraid to zig while others zag,” Téllez tells me. “Roberto Cavalli’s prints don’t deal in floral ditzy or dots—there is something colossal, almost megalomanic about the scope of the visuals. There is original sin with slithering snakes and glowing yellow apples, Hercule’s tiger pelts from his victories in the savannah, and swirling Rococo frames.”

emily ratajowski wearing vintage roberto cavalli

Emily Ratajkowski wears vintage Cavalli.

Jamie McCarthy//Getty Images

In the last year, Téllez says, she has accumulated nearly 25 pieces from the Italian house’s ’90s and early 2000s era, but is tight-lipped on her sources other than to say, “I buy direct from young and sexy Italian grandmothers who don’t even know what they have—I’m thrilled to take it off their hands and relive their scintillating, sexy days.”

Artist and model Ivy Getty recently transformed her grandmother’s vintage Cavalli maxi skirt into a tube dress for the Prince’s Trust Gala. “Cavalli is something I gravitate towards because it’s this mixture of chicness and everlasting style that my grandma had a lot of,” she says, “but also this bohemian and San Francisco aspect that my mom is a huge inspiration for.” Getty’s mother had her at age 20, “so she was totally going through the Y2K thing,” which included plenty of Cavalli dresses. Getty’s own trove has grown to encompass pieces from her favorite early-aughts collections; some favorites include a yellow minidress from spring 2003 and a floral wrap from spring 2002. Wearing these looks almost feels like a shortcut to extroversion for her. “I feel very cool when I show up in a Cavalli dress, and it’s giving me a personality visually that I wish I had naturally,” she says.

ivy getty wearing vintage roberto cavalli

Ivy Getty at the Prince’s Trust Gala, wearing a vintage Cavalli skirt as a dress.

Getty Images

At downtown vintage emporium James Veloria, Cavalli pieces from the era are flying off the shelves. Founder Brandon Veloria Giordano believes it’s because “people are really looking to have fun right now in fashion, and Cavalli is the perfect designer for that.” When customers are looking for wedding guest dresses, “My first thought is Cavalli. It’s the perfect occasionwear that can be appropriate and sexy, and doesn’t need too much styling because it’s so flattering. A Cavalli dress can be the whole party.”

iris law in vintage roberto cavalli green gown

Iris Law wears vintage Cavalli.

David M. Benett//Getty Images

Vintage curator Serena Morris, known for her Instagram account @shes_underrated, says, “When a woman walks into a room wearing Cavalli, heads turn and a special part of her comes alive. I’m talking power, spice, fire, confidence, and courage. It’s moving and inspiring to witness. From the silky hip-hugging silhouettes to the bold jewel-toned prints, it’s like each piece of his clothing has an energy and its own personality—like that one fun friend who you always have the best time with.” Her collection includes a pair of embellished jeans, below. “My Cavalli pieces are some of my most cherished,” she says, “because it’s not a brand I wear every day, but when I do—it’s intentional and I already know what type vibe it’s gonna be.”

serena morris wears vintage roberto cavalli jeans

Serena Morris in her favorite pair of vintage Cavalli jeans.

Courtesy of the subject

It helps that there are so many iconic moments associated with Cavalli. Veloria cites Aaliyah’s tiger-print dress, which the singer wore to the 2000 MTV Music Awards. “She looked over-the-top yet at the same time effortless, wearing the dress, strappy heels, and no accessories. Sometimes a little animal print can go a long way!” Morris is a fan of supermodel Alek Wek’s runway moments for the brand. (“No one wears color better,” she says.) “Roselyn Sanchez in that backless black sun-embellished dress at the 2004 Latin Grammys makes me want to cry. Queen Latifah fresh off the runway in spring 2003 at the VH1 Divas Duets will forever be major. Devon Aoki being fierce at the 2 Fast 2 Furious premiere; Tracee Ellis Ross glowing at a Clive Davis Grammys party in ’04 during prime Girlfriends days. And of course, a special shout-out to Ava Kashani from THAT episode of My Super Sweet 16, wearing an iconic grown-woman Cavalli gown to her epic, drama-filled party. I could go on forever!”

jlo in roberto cavalli

Jennifer Lopez wearing Roberto Cavalli at the 2001 VMAs

KMazur//Getty Images

For millennials and Gen Z, the no-holds-barred maximalism of these looks is a throwback to a more carefree time, where MTV stars went all-out on the red carpet rather than opting for all things safe and stylist-approved. And for those who know the brand’s history, wearing one of its pieces has become a kind of IYKYK calling card. Getty has found more and more people coming up to her when she wears her vintage pieces. She thinks the TikTok vintage craze and the interest from celebrities like Hadid has helped the pieces become more recognizable.

ashanti carrying a roberto cavalli shopping bag in 2003

Ashanti shops at Roberto Cavalli in 2003.

Arnaldo Magnani//Getty Images

But even though they might fit in perfectly on a Y2K mood board, the timelessness is what really appeals to her. People are coming to find that midi-length, low-rise skirts or printed bias-cut dresses “are not just a trend,” she says. “They’re actually pieces that they want.”

Headshot of Véronique Hyland

ELLE Fashion Features Director

Véronique Hyland is ELLE’s Fashion Features Director and the author of the book Dress Code, which was selected as one of The New Yorker’s Best Books of the Year. Her writing has previously appeared in The New York Times Magazine, The New Yorker, W, New York magazine, Harper’s Bazaar, and Condé Nast Traveler. 

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