‘A truly great Australian’: Tributes flow for fashion designer Carla Zampatti after death at 78

Tributes are flowing for Australian fashion designer and former SBS chair Carla Zampatti, who has died in hospital, aged 78.

Ms Zampatti died at Sydney’s St Vincent’s Hospital on Saturday, a week after she fell at an opera premiere.

She was knocked unconscious after falling on the bottom two steps of a staircase at Mrs Macquarie’s Point on the opening night of La Traviata.

Born in Italy in 1942, Ms Zampatti migrated to Australia in 1950 at the age of nine, setting up her fashion famous label at only 24.

Her designs have been worn by some of Australia’s most influential women, including Princess Mary of Denmark, Australia’s first female prime minister Julia Gillard, Oscar-winning actress Nicole Kidman and NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian.

In a statement, her family said she was Australia’s most successful and enduring fashion designer.

“Carla has long been celebrated for making Australian women feel confident and elegant through her exceptional design, tailoring and understanding of the modern woman,” the statement read.

“A champion of Australian women and a multicultural success story, she continued to thrive as a businesswoman through enormous radical and social change, designing clothes for women fighting for liberation through the women’s rights movement in the 1960s to empowering women today in leadership, the workplace, in their home and at major life events.”

Ms Zampatti is survived by her three children Alexander Schuman, Bianca Spender and Allegra Spender, and was the “proud Nonna” of nine grandchildren.

“She leaves an undeniable legacy behind, and will remain a constant in the hearts of her loving family, friends and women all over Australia and the world who’ve enjoyed her designs throughout the years,” Bianca Spender, who followed in her mother’s footsteps as a designer, said in a statement.

Ms Zampatti also served as the chair of SBS for 10 years from 1999 to 2009.

“The government asked me if I would consider being a chairman and I hesitated because I thought it was such a big role. I was concerned about my lack of experience,” she said in 2015.

“But I thought I understand and know how to run a business … (and) also I had a special sympathy for newcomers to this country.

“I know how difficult it is and how important it is to have a broadcast in your language to learn about the country, the laws, the requirements and understand the country better – that’s what SBS does.”

In a statement, an SBS spokesperson said the broadcaster was “deeply saddened” to hear of Ms Zampatti’s passing.

“She was a passionate advocate for SBS and its unique role in the media landscape, including through its in-language services, so vital in helping new migrants navigate and participate in Australian life,” they said.

“Having migrated herself as a young child, settling in Australia with her family, Ms Zampatti truly believed in SBS and its purpose and was committed to promoting greater understanding of and between Australia’s diverse communities.”

“Carla will be remembered as an extraordinary leader, and a legend in Australian business.”

Carla Zampatti speaks with SBS in 2016

Prime Minister Scott Morrison also paid tribute to Ms Zampatti, saying “her contribution to our nation will be timeless, just like her designs”.

“Jen and I are terribly saddened by the passing of Carla Zampatti. We have lost a truly great and inspirational Australian,” he said in a statement on Saturday.

“Carla was an icon to the fashion industry, a pioneer as an entrepreneur and a champion of multicultural Australia.  It was our great honour to have known her.”

With AAP.

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