“One of the fundamental factors that led me towards fashion was passion, an almost physical need for a direct relationship with the materials I use to create.”
Gianfranco Ferré, who died in 2007, had studied architecture and was known as the “architect of fashion.” Over his 25-year career, the style that he developed and that still today hallmarks the brand can be described as a combination of discipline and opulence, severity and ornamentation. In the 1980s, his preference for metropolitan colours, misty light greys and smoky dark greys, and tones of blue, along with the carefully-modelled forms and structure of his garments and his innovative production techniques, earned him another nickname, the “Frank Lloyd Wright of fashion.”
Architectural geometries could also be seen in landmark pieces such as the red dress in the 1992 Chinese collection, and the 1993 brocade jacket. Another trademark consisted of his airy white blouses, borrowed from menswear and adapted to create an indispensable garment for women. The minimal dress created for the spring-summer 2001 collection, little more than an outsize coral necklace, has remained in the collective fashion memory. Ferré’s approach to luxury garments was well-defined even right at the start of his career.
Born in 1944 in Legnano, near Milan, he graduated from Milan Technical University in 1969, but instead of becoming an architect, he entered the world of fashion almost by chance. He began by designing bijoux and accessories, working with Walter Albini (Italian pioneer of prêt-à-porter), and the Genoese raincoat company Sangiorgio. In 1974 he created his own label, Bailà, and this attracted the attention of Gianni Trione from Trifurs, a furs house based in Bari, Italy, who were looking for a fashion designer to give a new look to their products. Ferré himself would later recall, “Trifurs had a long heritage of tradition, and a powerful desire for innovation and experimentation … in order to make furs more contemporary, and more versatile.” He achieved Trione’s objectives by creating unusual juxtapositions, combining fur with knitwear, velvet and leather, designing double face farments, and simplifying structure.
This original and innovative approach can be seen right through the Ferré story, right through to the latest collection in which fur is used as finish and ornamentation. Adriana Trione has said, “At a time at which fur was a luxury garment but utterly predictable, Ferré created garments that were incredibly modern. He invented fur tricot, that we made by creating ribbon from valuable fur, woven on looms in Alberobello, and then the ribbons were intertwined to create jackets, coats and shawls. And then there were the evening jackets in Breitschwanz, very short and decorated with ostrich feathers. They would be fashionable still today.”
After having created his first collection of women’s prêt-à-porter, "Ketch", he founded his own maison in 1978, Gianfranco Ferré Spa. In 1986 Ferré made his debut in haute couture, presenting the first Gianfranco Ferré Couture collection in Rome.
In 1989, Bernard Arnault, chairman of the LVMH (Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessey) Group, invited Ferré to become the new artistic director of French Maison Christian Dior, for the women’s lines of Haute Couture, prêt-à porter and Fourrure. Ferré took the place of Marc Bohan, who had managed the Maison for thirty years, and he brilliantly restyled the Dior look, relaunching their 1950s classics. His first collection for Dior won the Dé d’Or.
Ferré remained at Dior for eight years. In that time he appeared briefly in Robert Altman’s film Pret-à porter (1994), in which some of the garments created for Dior were also featured. In 1996 he returned to Milan and his own company. Gianfranco Ferré Spa was growing continuously, with dozens of collections presented every year, and over 400 stores worldwide. In 2002, Tonino Perna’s IT Holding purchased 90% of Ferré’s company, while Gianfranco retained the position of artistic director.
Some of the most famous models in the world presented his garments on the catwalks: Eva Riccobono, Alek Wek, Naomi Campbell, Lily Cole, Erin O'Connor and many others. Of these, Eva Riccobono was undoubtedly his favourite super-model.
Ferré himself was a person with a remarkably balanced character, little inclined to excess and the high society life that often hallmarks the fashion sector. He invariably dressed in immaculate three-piece suits for public occasions. He never had a driving licence, but in the years that he was working in both Paris and Milan, he travelled back and forth in his private jet. He died in Milan from a brain haemorrhage on 17 June 2007. Creative direction of the Maison was taken over by Tommaso Aquilano and Roberto Rimondi.
The men’s autumn-winter 2010-2011 collection, featured in some of the photos illustrating this article, takes inspiration from military uniforms, in combination with a sporty, high-tech approach to men’s style. The result is a personalized elegance, with hallmark details such as appliqués and elements of fur. The colour palette is based on black, white, grey and khaki, while fabrics are full-bodied, such as tweed and Prince of Wales, sometimes with linings in technical fabric. Therefore, a collection wholly in line with the characteristics that have hallmarked Gianfranco Ferré from the start. Aquilano and Rimondi’s garments are absolutely contemporary, with long overcoats down to the heels, large fur waistcoats, and layered jackets and padded undercoats. Belts provide a dividing line in the silhouette, while footwear is aristocratically sporty (recalling golf shoes) for daytime use, and more formal for the evening, in patent leather with embroidered logo.
The work and heritage of Gianfranco Ferré will be perpetuated by the Fondazione Gianfranco Ferré, recently founded in Milan. Its principal task will be to preserve, classify and present the garments, drawings, photographs, texts, videos etc documenting Ferré’s work. It will also perpetuate the Gianfranco Ferré approach, in terms of his fashion concept. The Foundation is located in Via Conservatorio, Milan, though, given the size of the project, there are plans to move to an ex-industrial building in the suburbs.
A last, conclusive quotation from the master: “Fashion is logic, method, a system. It’s work. Actually, fashion consists of multiple professions: designer, tailor, craftsman, technician… Enthusiasm and dedication are essential. And curiosity, in terms of a constant quest for ideas. And culture, which can be considered as the awareness of other forms of experience, expressions of knowledge, alternative horizons and various styles of life. Some advice? Knowledge, experimentation, work, knowing exactly what you want. And, above all, never forgetting that fashion also means dreams.”
Further information is available at www.fondazionegianfrancoferre.com, which has a series of files illustrating Gianfranco Ferré’s collections season by season, some videos, lectures, and much more.
Preview the Gianfranco Ferré Collection for Fall/Winter 2010-2011, or visit the website www.gianfrancoferre.com for the complete collection.
For a list of boutiques select from the following: Gianfranco Ferré, GF Ferré or Ferré Milano.