Gilberto Benetton, Co-founder of Iconic Fashion Brand Dies

October 23, 2018 Updated: October 23, 2018

Gilberto Benetton, co-founder of the iconic Benetton fashion brand, has died at the age of 77 following a brief illness, the Italian group announced.

“Gilberto Benetton died at home today in Treviso [northeast Italy] following a brief illness,” the Benetton group said in a brief statement on Monday, Oct. 22, according to The Guardian. “His wife, Lalla, daughters Barbara and Sabrina, and son-in-law Ermanno were with him in his final moments.”

He, along with brothers Luciano and Carlo and sister Giuliana, founded United Colors of Benetton in Italy in the 1960s. Their signature colorful sweater range quickly became a hit.

United Colors of Benetton rose to near superbrand status in the last two decades of the last century, fueled by bold ad campaigns by Italian photographer Oliviero Toscani. Notable Benetton ads include a 1989 poster featuring a black woman breastfeeding a white baby, or pairs of rival political figures exchanging a kiss. Another campaign, labeled We, On Death Row, used photographs of prisoners sentenced to death in the United States.

benetton logo seen on store window
The United Colors of Benetton logo is seen in a storefront as people walk past decorated shops at a pedestrian zone in downtown Munich, Germany, on Dec. 9, 2011. (Johannes Simon/Getty Images)

The family is reported to be one of the most powerful in Italy, with a range of interests that include infrastructures, restaurants, and financial companies. Gilberto Benetton is widely credited as being the driving force behind the clan’s business diversification beyond just fashion.

perfume by united colors of benetton
A file photo showing a bottle of perfume with the label Colors of Benetton in a shop in Milan, Italy, on Nov. 30, 2017. (Marco Bertorello/AFP/Getty Images)

His death opens a succession dilemma at the billionaire family, according to Bloomberg.

Benetton was instrumental in setting up Edizione, a holding company with a net asset value of 12 billion euros ($14 billion), and served as its vice chairman. The company has substantial investments in Italian highway operator Atlantia SpA.

plaque of Atlantia
A file photo showing the plaque of the headquarters of the Italian infrastructure company Atlantia in Rome, on Aug. 16, 2018. (Filippo Monteforte/AFP/Getty Images)

After an Atlantia-run bridge collapse in Genoa killing more than 40 people, the family’s stake in the company lost more than 2 billion euros in value.

Edizione Chairman Fabio Cerchiai, a non-family member hired some time ago to manage hands-on operations at the company, said Gilberto played a crucial role at the firm.

“He was a man of extraordinary value and rare entrepreneurial vision,” Cerchiai said in a statement. “His capacity to foresee economic and social developments guided Edizione into its most important strategic choices.”

It is unclear what role family members will now take in the multibillion-dollar holding company, as Benetton was said to have favored a supervisory role for kin, with outside managerial specialists to run operations.

The Benettons also control Autogrill SpA, a company that runs roadside restaurants, and have interests in Rome’s airports.

Gilberto Benetton’s death comes just three months after that of younger brother Carlo in July, at age 74.

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