She always disapproved of gowns that revealed too much: "Rules exist," she observed recently. "No extravagance and no nudity. I’ve struggled my whole life to teach women that transparent clothes are useless – they tantalise but don’t seduce. What mystery is left for these poor men to unveil?" Fernanda Gattinoni was born at Cocquio Trevisago, in the Lombardy region of Italy, in 1906, but left Italy for London aged 17 to work at the Molineaux fashion house, a leading atelier of the day. After turning down an offer of a job with the French designer Coco Chanel in the late 1920s, she returned to Italy, where she was put in charge of Ventura’s creative department.
In 1934 Ventura opened an office in Rome, where Fernanda became director of the design department. She continued to work there throughout the war until 1945, when she founded her own atelier on the Via Marche. As well as its Empire line designs, Gattinoni became famous for its sumptuous wedding dresses with long trains, made of heavy taffetas and marocain, and later chiffon. At the height of its success in the 1950s and 1960s, Gattinoni had 25 embroiderers working on these gowns; the dress worn by the Shah of Persia’s sister at her wedding was one of Fernanda Gattinoni’s designs.
Fernanda’s son Raniero joined her in the mid-1980s when the house branched out to include ready-to-wear designs in its collections. After Raniero’s premature death in 1993, the designer Guillermo Mariotto took the helm, though Fernanda continued to take an active interest in Gattinoni’s affairs.In 1999, Fernanda Gattinoni was received in audience by the Pope, who showed a lively interest in her work: "What is in fashion at present?" he asked. After listening to her description of the contemporary vogue, the Pope observed: "Your work is useful because it can give employment to youth at this time of acute unemployment." But, he admonished, "be careful not to go beyond the limits".