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Gianfranco Ferre, Italian designer known for clean, simple approach

MILAN -- Gianfranco Ferre, the Italian designer known for his structured, sculpted shapes and for his groundbreaking tenure at Christian Dior, died yesterday, a hospital said. He was 62.

Mr. Ferre was taken to the San Raffaele hospital in Milan on Friday after suffering a massive brain hemorrhage.

Giorgio Armani, perhaps the king of the "Made in Italy" world to which Mr. Ferre also belonged, said he had long admired Mr. Ferre's artistic and intellectual work.

"When I think of Gianfranco Ferre, the idea that comes immediately to mind is the dignity, the calm, the sense of responsibility that he brought to his work," Armani said, according to the ANSA news agency.

Mr. Ferre started his career as an accessories and jewelry designer before targeting clothes. Called "the Frank Lloyd Wright of Italian fashion" because of the strong influence that his architectural training played in his work, he created stylized clothes marked by simple geometric shapes, precise tailoring, and clearly defined lines.

He used pearly grays, creamy beiges, and rich browns such as cocoa, cognac, and tobacco to form the foundation of his collections. He combined them with burnt orange, cyclamen, and red.

"The design of a dress, furniture, a house, a room, a street, and a city are all the same process," he told Esquire magazine in 1988. "As an architect, I learned to think and express myself on flat forms, on paper, and to imagine the contour of the lines of a design."

His creations were an immediate hit when they emerged in the late 1970s, and over the years his customers included such beautiful and powerful women as Sophia Loren, Julia Roberts, Oprah Winfrey, and Barbra Streisand. Mr. Ferre said he tended to dress women who had "strong personalities." He said his collections were for a woman "who looked at tradition but was making her own choice."

He had started his own company in the mid-1970s, but his major leap came in 1989, when he was tapped by Bernard Arnault to be the top designer for Christian Dior. At the time, it was a controversial choice for a non-French designer to take the reins of the venerable Parisian house.

Mr. Ferre stayed on at Dior until the fall of 1996, when he returned to Milan to tend to his own men's and women's collections.

Mr. Ferre himself cut a unique figure, a big teddy bear of a man dressed impeccably in three-piece suits. Donatella Versace called Mr. Ferre a man "from another time" who helped change Italian fashion.

"He was a great couturier who knew how to create an absolute chic with details that I will never get tired of looking at and that will remain in the history of fashion," ANSA quoted Versace as saying.

Mr. Ferre represented "the highest level of style, of artisanship, of creativity," said Roberto Cavalli. "A true artist, pure, a beautiful person who will be missed by the whole fashion world."

In 2002, Mr. Ferre sold Gianfranco Ferre to It Holding, but he stayed on as creative director. His spring-summer 2008 menswear collection is scheduled to be presented Sunday in Milan.

Born Aug. 15, 1944 in Legnano, in northern Italy, Mr. Ferre worked and lived in India for several years. His passion for travel and world cultures was often reflected in his collections.

There was no immediate word on funeral arrangements.