Emanuel Ungaro was born on February 13, 1933 in Aix-en-Provence, France. His father was a tailor and taught Emanuel from a very young age. From 1951 to 1954, Emanuel Ungaro worked in his father’s tailoring business in Aixen-Provence. From 1955 to 1957 he moved on to work as a stylist for Maison Camps, in Paris, France. In 1958 he landed a job at Balenciaga’s; for whom he worked until 1963, as an assistant. In 1963 he worked for Courreges and left on 1965, when he opened his own couture house with partner Sonia Knapp.
His designs featured youthful dresses, and coats in bold, interlaced geometrics. With the advantage of his partner and textile designer Sonia Knapp's artistic fabric designs, Ungaro developed a softness of line that fully flourished a decade later. Toward the end of the 1970s, Ungaro began to experiment with mixing textures and prints, of which he became a master. Knapp's fabrics have evolved into more painterly, impressionistic florals, abstract smears, and luminous colors. In daytime clothing Ungaro would pair a paisley blouse with a plaid suit, or a striped top worn under a tweed jacket with glen plaid trousers. In 1980 this daring approach found full expression in a collection of casual but complex ensembles, featuring fantasy printed, gold-edged jackets over sheer lace blouses, luxuriant paisley shawls wrapped over quilted, fur-lined cardigans, solid chiffon blouses paired with half-patterned, half-striped skirts. Knapp's special fabrics made the mixtures work. Her colors were rich, with underlying coordinate properties and hard to duplicate.
For evening, his embellished velvet burnooses or wrapped paisley dresses, trimmed in black lace, completed this unusual eclectic look, and were offered through Ungaro's expensive ready-to-wear line, Paralléle, in 1968. In 1973, Ungaro introduced his first menswear collection, Ungaro Uomo. Getting inspiration from the East, in 1981, Ungaro layered fluid chinoiserie patterned tunics over contrasting colorways skirts, draped with tasseled shawls of tiny floral and undulating lines in a riot of colors. Cummerbund-bound floral skirts topped with lacy blouses under boleros showed a folkloric influence.
Ungaro's designs have been intended to convey sex appeal without being vulgar. By the mid-1980s an Ungaro dress could be immediately identified by its diagonally draped and shirred skirt, wide shoulders gathered into gigot sleeves buttoned at the wrist, wrapped V-neckline, or jewel-toned silk jacquard fabric. Ungaro’s wedding dresses were of pale pastel crêpe, sculpted, diagonally draped and caught with self-fabric flowers. During that time he introduced the short black-skirted suit with colorful jackets, both printed and plain; this look continues to be universally chic.
Since 1985 he has repeated, with variations, the sleek curvaceous silhouettes; the fluid construction, ingenious cut, original color sense, and prints and pattern mixtures without ever becoming boring. Ungaro became even more successful with his short, tightly wrapped dress. Late 1980s spring dresses featured short flounced skirts, big puffed sleeves, and bold solids or florals. Ungaro called his style a "new Baroque."In 1988, Ungaro married Laura Bernabei.
In 1991 a lower priced Emanuel line was launched, with the famous tight and short Ungaro silhouette typified by a thigh-high shirred hound’s-tooth dress with high neck and long sleeves. Certainly the body-hugging Ungaro designs require a trim figure, but all the shoulder and hip emphasis can also be flattering to many figures by simulating an hourglass shape. Diagonal lines have a slimming effect.
Over the years, Ungaro has expanded to include boutiques and numerous licensing deals. At the end of the 20th century Ungaro was a name and brand increasingly recognized worldwide. In 1997, Ungaro sold the company to Salvatore Ferragamo Italia SpA; Ferragamo and Bulgari formed Emanuel Ungaro Parfums. The new perfumes launched were Fleur de Diva in 1997, Desnuda in 2001, and Apparition in 2004. In 2002, Ungaro launched a less expensive line, Ungaro Fushia, while he continued to market his sportswear line, Fever, and his ready-to-wear Ungaro collection.
Though Ungaro stepped back to design only his couture line, his ready-to-wear line “Fever,” and accessories collections would be under the design direction of Italian designer Giambattista Valli.
Emanuel Ungaro’s talent has been recognized with the Neiman Marcus Award, Dallas, 1969; Dallas Fashion Award, 1995, 1996; and has been the first fashion designer asked to address Oxford Union in 2001.