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Egon von Furstenberg, 57, regarded as prince of fashion

ROME -- Egon von Furstenberg, a Swiss-born aristocrat who started his fashion career as a buyer for a New York department store and went on to be known as the ''prince of high fashion," died yesterday. He was 57.

His fashion house said he died in a hospital in Rome but declined to give the cause of death.

Mr. von Furstenberg was born in Lausanne, Switzerland, the descendant of a noble German family on his father's side. His mother was an Agnelli, the Italian family that controls Fiat.

He married the Belgian-born fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg in 1969, but they divorced soon after son Alexandre and daughter Tatiana were born. She married American media mogul Barry Diller in 2001.

Mr. von Furstenberg was considered both eccentric and elegant. During Rome's High Fashion week, a glittering event that draws stars like Sophia Loren, his designs were worn by models whose runway the Spanish Steps.

His creations included dresses in bright hues, often with plunging necklines, slits, or daring rear views. His signature symbol spoke of his noble blood and love for high society: a curvy crown with a star.

Mr. von Furstenberg seemed destined to a career in banking, but he decided to follow his love of fashion, with some of his friends from high society eventually becoming his clients. He was very close to a Russian princess. Irene Galitzine, who was a founder of Rome couture.

His start in the clothing business was as a buyer for Macy's. Early in his career he designed clothes for women wearing large sizes and in 1975 came out with a line of pullovers and men's shirts.

''He cut an extremely elegant figure and brought an Old World feeling to the made-in-Italy label," said designer Laura Biagiotti.

''He must have loved fashion, because he certainly didn't need to work."

He also put out a ready-to-wear line, but was known for his high fashion collections, especially his concentration on color and a romantic look.

''Egon was a refined, bright, and cheerful man with a great aesthetic sense, which he expressed in the world of fashion," said Carla Fendi, one of the five sisters of the Fendi fashion house in Rome.

''His death leaves me greatly saddened, and I will always remember him with affection."

A funeral was planned for today in the Basilica di Santa Maria in Montesanto, also known as the Church of the Artists, in Piazza del Popolo, a sprawling Rome square. Burial was planned for Monday in a family tomb in Austria.

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