Anna Piaggi, a fashion journalist who provided inspiration for designer Karl Lagerfeld and was celebrated for her own eccentric style, died Aug. 7 in Milan. She was 81.

The publication Italian Vogue confirmed the death but did not provide a cause.

For years, Ms. Piaggi’s vibrant dress sense — including funky hats and theatrical makeup — made her stand out on the front rows of Milan and Paris runway shows.

She started her career as a translator for the Mondadori publishing company and went on to write for, among others, Italian Vogue. She provided inspiration for Lagerfeld, who published a sketchbook of her creations and once wrote “Anna invents fashion.”

The Victoria and Albert Museum in London held an exhibition in 2006 of her extensive wardrobe collection, including thousands of dresses and hundreds of pairs of shoes.

Italian designer Anna Piaggi is seen ahead of Vivienne Westwood's catwalk show at London Fashion Week in February 2009. (Joel Ryan/AP)

Anna Piaggi was born in 1931 in Milan. She told the London Observer that her father, who died when she was 7, was a manager and buyer for La Rinascente department store. She was educated at boarding schools, which she told the Observer was “a little bit restricting. I wanted to have experiences of my own. It was rather academic . . . severe.”

She was working as a translator at a press agency when she met her future husband, the photographer Alfa Castaldi, who provided the crucial introduction to fashion journals. They married in 1962 and became professional collaborators until his death in 1995.

In the 1960s, she was fashion editor of the monthly magazine Arianna, and began making regular trips to London. She became enamored of vintage clothing after striking a friendship with Vern Lambert, a fashion historian who operated an antique-clothing store in the Chelsea Antiques Market. She regarded Lambert as one of her most important influences outside of Lagerfeld.

Master milliner Stephen Jones paid tribute to Ms. Piaggi, saying she had served as his “guiding light and an inspiration” and praising her for her “effervescence and inventiveness.”

Jones said Ms. Piaggi was not only his muse but was also “a talisman for all those around the world who believe that fashion is a way of life and that freedom of expression should manifest itself in what we wear.”

— From staff and wire reports