Lucien Pellat-Finet, Fashion’s ‘King of Cashmere,’ Dies at 78

Lucien Pellat-Finet, Fashion’s ‘King of Cashmere,’ Dies at 78

Lucien Pellat-Finet, the French fashion designer whose brash, irreverent and unapologetically expensive sweaters earned him the nickname King of Cashmere, died on Feb. 26 in Trancoso, Brazil, where he had owned a home for more two decades. He was 78.

A niece, Camille Dauchez, said that Mr. Pellat-Finet (pronounced pell-ah fee-NAY), who had Parkinson’s disease, died in a swimming accident.

The sweaters in Mr. Pellat-Finet’s collection, which was introduced in 1994, combined two seemingly disparate elements: extremely high-quality cashmere and provocative symbols like marijuana leaves, peace signs and, most frequently, skulls, all of which were occasionally embellished with crystals. Sometimes, skulls were additionally tweaked with details like a stuck-out tongue, aviator sunglasses or a tilted sailor’s hat.

They came in neutral colors like black and navy as well as vivid shades of orange, pink, green and camouflage prints. Instead of a traditional sweater’s somewhat boxy cut and ribbed cuffs at the arms and waistband, a Lucien Pellat-Finet pullover was essentially a luxe T-shirt, as the makeup artist Tom Pecheux put it, in “the shape of Fruit of the Loom.”

“He informalized cashmere,” said Natasha Fraser-Cavassoni, the author of “Super F**king Lucky,” a 2019 book about the designer. “He really made people look at cashmere in a totally different way.”

While the aesthetic of the sweaters was casual, their price tags were extreme. In 1998, a four-ply cashmere cardigan cost around $1,500, the equivalent of just under $3,000 today.

The brand’s high prices became part of its appeal — owning a Lucien Pellat-Finet sweater was a badge of honor for an affluent set of stylish women and men.

“It became a symbol of success, a symbol of coolness, a symbol of wealth,” said Julie Gilhart, a fashion consultant and former fashion director of Barneys New York, the department store that was an early adopter of the brand.

While precious, the informal style of a Lucien Pellat-Finet sweater lent itself to daily wear.

“The whole point was to buy it, spend a lot of money and wear the hell out of it,” said Jeffrey Kalinsky, the founder of the tastemaker boutique Jeffrey, which also carried the brand.

Fans who could afford the sweaters frequently purchased them in multiples, “like eggs,” Mr. Pellat-Finet told Women’s Wear Daily in 1996.

“Someone wears the sweaters, and she’s addicted,” he said.

Mr. Pellat-Finet’s fondness for marijuana leaf designs was more about provocation than intoxication: He preferred a glass of good Bordeaux or Champagne, often enjoyed over dinner with friends. He believed that a marijuana leaf was a luckier symbol than a four-leaf clover — hence the title of his biography.

For the skulls, he was quoted as saying in Ms. Fraser-Cavassoni’s book, “Life is a bit of circus and my skulls, with their touch of black humor, demonstrate that.”

Lucien Paul Pierre Pellat-Finet was born on Feb. 11, 1946, in Nice, France. His father, Roger Pellat-Finet, worked in the family’s paper bag manufacturing business; his mother, Manette (Ménier) Pellat-Finet, was a well-heeled homemaker with a sense of style. For example, well before they were popular in France, she wore Levi’s jeans, acquired thanks to a sister who lived in the United States. Lucien and his younger sisters were raised in an affluent household — there were ski vacations and holidays abroad — but their mother ran it with a sense of low-key frugality.

He is survived by his sisters, Isabelle Dauchez and Christine Guerin.

Lucien showed an interest in fashion early on, even if it was pricey. When he was 8, he told Ms. Fraser-Cavassoni, his mother protested when his paternal grandfather wanted to buy him an expensive pair of shoes. “My grandfather said, ‘If he wants them, get them — because it shows that he has great taste and he’s discovering that quality costs,’” he recalled.

Mr. Pellat-Finet earned a degree from a local business school in 1967 and moved to Paris soon after. He was openly gay and began modeling after he was meeting the man he was dating, who was also a model, at a casting call where the designer Pierre Cardin recruited him.

After a couple of years, he switched to styling fashion shows and photo shoots. On an assignment, he met Philippe Guibourgé, a designer who worked at Chanel at the time, and they began dating. They became a couple and stayed together until Mr. Guibourgé died in 1986.

Mr. Pellat-Finet also designed costume jewelry, for La Porte Bleue, a well-respected line. For a few years, he and Mr. Guibourgé had a Paris boutique that offered a variety of stylish goods. When the store closed, he took some time off.

“I enjoyed the bohemian life for four years, but then I was broke,” he told The New York Times in 2004. Eventually, he said, “I found myself drawn back to fashion.”

His own sartorial sense inspired his sweater line.

“He really designed things for himself, and he dressed women with what he would be wearing,” said Marie-Hélène de Taillac, a jewelry designer and friend for more than four decades.

His brand did well, and there were Lucien Pellat-Finet boutiques in New York City, Paris and Tokyo, with Japan being an especially strong market. He began offering various items, including jackets, scarves and throw pillows, that had a similar sensibility to the sweaters. The distinctive skull image appeared on sneakers, baseball caps, belt buckles and tote bags as well.

There were also sweaters with images by artists like Takashi Murakami, many years before his images were splashed on Perrier bottles, Vans sneakers and Louis Vuitton handbags.

In 2019, Mr. Pellat-Finet sold his brand to Thierry Gillier, the founder of the fashion brand Zadig & Voltaire. The brand is now known as Pellat-Finet, without its founder’s first name.

“The fashion industry had changed and he’d had enough,” Ms. de Taillac said.

Mr. Pellat-Finet then moved to Brazil, a country he had adored since he first visited in 1968.

He settled in Trancoso, an upscale resort community in Bahia, about 1,000 miles northwest of São Paulo, and built a large home there in 2011.

“When he started to build Trancoso,” Ms. Dauchez, his niece, said, “he always knew in the back of his head that this is where he wanted to rest and do something different.”

Not long after his 78th birthday in February, Mr. Pellat-Finet gathered some friends and relatives for a family reunion at his Brazilian home. On the afternoon of Feb. 26, while an outdoor lunch was being prepared, he took a walk on the beach, as was his habit, and decided to take a swim in an area that was popular with surfers. He never returned.

Nearly a decade earlier, he had told the media outlet FashionTV that he hoped his designs would have longevity.

“I always say that I work for the vintage,” he said, “and I wish the collection will be able to be in the street in, like, 20 years.”

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