The family’s habitat is opulent but unfussy—less a still life than a music video. Incense filled the air; oranges, draped with strands of pearls, sat on a chunky silver cake stand. The room where I’d been invited to spend the night was a surprisingly cozy, wood-beamed in-law suite. There was the requisite leopard-print bedspread. But there was also a winningly uncurated selection of books and knickknacks and a medicine cabinet full of random ancient toiletries. Wandering by the pool I noticed an empty bottle of limoncello wedged into the hull of a tiki torch. In the parlor a table, upholstered in green velvet and surrounded by Philippe Starck chairs, was set up for poker. All the vices were covered. If the Rockefeller family motto is “None are more faithful,” the Cavallis’ might be “None are more fun.” The overall effect was something like the House of Usher crossed with Club Med.
Cavalli, who turned 70 in November, is an old-fashioned capofamiglia—not just the head of a $250 million fashion company, with 65 stores in 23 countries, but also the sire and cynosure of a tight-knit clan, the vital provider whose every wish must be met. “His personality is very strong,” said Cavalli’s son Tommaso, an unassuming father of three who runs the family’s stables and vineyard in nearby Panzano. (He was absent from the aforementioned dinner because he was entertaining clients. Likewise Cavalli’s youngest son, Robin, 16, who was away at school.)
Tommaso displayed on his desk a framed photograph of himself as a boy with his father, on which Cavalli had written, “My eyes follow you, little big man.”
With the exception of Tommaso, all of Cavalli’s adult children have gone into the family business, which celebrates its 40th anniversary this year. Cristiana manages the company’s budding hospitality arm, Rachele leads the accessories division, and Daniele works on the men’s wear team. It was always obvious to Cavalli that he would have a family—it is only surprising, given his love of women, that his fruitfulness has remained more or less linear. “I tried immediately to have a baby because I was so afraid not to have a baby in my life,” Cavalli said, settling, kinglike, into a baroque leopard-print chair. “My first child was born nine months, 10 days after the wedding. For me, I would expect to have 10! I never understand why God give the possibility to have children just to woman,” he continued, clutching theatrically at his belly. “Oh, my God, my dream would be to have a baby!”
Eva, by contrast, is understated and reserved, emanating a quiet self-possession. She met Cavalli in the Dominican Republic in 1977. He was a judge at the Miss Universe contest; she, an 18-year-old Miss Austria, was first runner-up. Shortly thereafter she drove from her home in Austria to Florence in a sky blue Citroën convertible, her prize from the pageant, and never left. The pair married in 1980, and she has been Cavalli’s business partner, collaborator, and all-around helpmate ever since. Speculation about the state of the couple’s marriage has swirled around the fashion industry in recent years (the construction of Cavalli’s bachelor pad hasn’t helped), but the pair, like Renaissance monarchs, present a united front. Whether or not the romance has cooled seems less important than the fact that they remain committed co-rulers of both the family and the empire.