- The Origin
- The Start of His Career
- Gianfranco Ferré S.p.a
- Creative Director of Dior
- Gianfranco Ferré Acquired by It Holding
- Brand Development
- Brand Challenges
- Gianfranco Ferré Closes
Gianfranco Ferré is an Italian designer who was born in 1944. He is called an “Architect of Fashion” because he graduated from the Polytechnic of Milan in 1969, but also because he worked, as did Krizia, Missoni, and Armani, a style so close to industrial design, which is a characteristic of Italian prêt-à-porter.
“I’m very proud of my education as an architect, of the analytic and logical method which teaches one how to be creative, but I also try not to fall into the trap of the overly-structured or of abstract simplification”, Gianfranco says.
He has always been proud of his provincial and middle-class origins. Born in Legnano, a small town in hard-working Lombardy, to a family of small industrialists, he has never cut himself off from his roots. When he’s not traveling around the world, he returns every night to his father’s house, a small villa from the early 1900s. The villa is a mirror of his life and personality, and the place where he stores his memories and collections, including paintings of contemporary art and singular objects found during his travels, often in local antique markets, such as tie pins, which have become his trademark.
He has also been called the “Gran Lombardo,” or “the Big Man from Lombardy,” due to his powerful physique, and he is flattered by this because it expresses his perseverance, his capacity for work, and also his pleasure in daily routines and his taste for the things that he turns into fashion. These materials are the source of his best intuitions, such as the white shirt, a basic element of a man’s wardrobe, that was transformed into an instrument of seduction, female power, and pleasure. It is also seen in his choice of fabrics, in the different cuts (floating like a sail in the wind, shaped to the body, or even in a stretch and wafer-thin fabric), and in his invitation to a richer and more sophisticated expressiveness in the design of cuffs and collars.
His attention to refined, cultivated and often opulent details began long ago, with his first work experiences and his stays in India, which were fundamental to his education. He started his career designing belts and jewellery and worked with Albini in the early 1970s. At that time, he began life as a commuter, and this was the rhythm of his university years, with a continued back-and-forth between Legnano and Milan. He would leave at dawn for Genoa by train, in order to design, starting in 1972, for the raincoat company Sangiorgio. This taught him the rules of industrial manufacturing. On the train, he would meet the two people most important to him in his career: Rita Airaghi, from Legnano, a distant cousin with a degree in Italian literature and medieval Latin, who would become his alter ego; and Franco Mattioli, a clothing entrepreneur from Bologna who would be his business partner for 25 years, from 1974 to 1999.
In 1978, together with Mattioli, he established Gianfranco Ferré S.p.a.. That year he also presented his first women’s prêt-à-porter collection under his own name, at the Grand Hotel Principe di Savoia in Milan, and later made his début with a men’s collection in 1982. It was an international success and the start of a brilliant career. “Ferré has kept astonishing us for 20 years”, the American journalist Dawn Mello wrote in Vogue Italy in October 1998.
“His début collection showed the first minimalist style: clean, simple lines for a refined sportswear. As Dior’s couturier, he developed a rich and voluptuous style that was admired for its elegance and spectacular nature. Today he enters the new millennium with a strong and specific vision that is deeply connected to his architectural education.”
Much discussed, especially in chauvinistic terms, was his selection in 1989 by Bernard Arnault, the leader of the LVMH group, to take the place of Marc Bohan as artistic director of Dior.
By 1986, Ferré had made his début on the Italian high fashion runways in Rome, showing his tailoring ability through the cut and in the line of his clothes, in a dream-like vision of dressing and the wise use of materials, even unusual ones, borrowed from design, like straw from Vienna.
“The Paris experience was really unique and was intended to restore haute couture and the house of Dior to their proper roles”, the designer said in a 1997 interview with Panorama, speaking about his consensual divorce from the French Maison. “After eight years it was time to devote myself to my own company, also because I felt a growing sense of expectation on the part of the public that likes my style. Through this adventure, I have realized that certain things belong just to me. Because, after all, I did create some milestones in fashion, for example the use of the nude in 1988, nylon, and see-throughs”.
Once back at his company full time, in his studio on via della Spiga in Milan, Ferré followed from up close the work on his new headquarters in the former Gondrand building on via Pontaccio, near the Brera. It was 78,000 square feet and opened in October 1998, showing the new face of the Ferré brand, with eight lines of clothing and accessories.
The turnover in 1997 was 1,400 billion liras, of which 75% was exported. Of that, 40% went to the U.S. and Japan. The firm has more than 400 stores for fashions and accessories, including proprietary shops and franchises. There is a license for perfumes with Diana de Silva. In 1997, the designer strengthened his relationship with his manufacturing partners, including Itierre from Isernia, a producer and distributor of jeans and sportswear, and the Marzotto group. He had been working with Marzotto since 1987, designing the G.F. Studio and GFF men’s and women’s collections.
Since 1987, he has designed fur collections produced and distributed by Mondialpelli. Furs and leather are among the materials that interest him the most. In 1995, Ferré was the subject of a biography written by the journalist Edgarda Ferri and published by Longanesi.
The bustier with small bone inlays sewn with raffia became a cult fashion, as did silk that wrapped the figure and became a sort of asymmetric tunic, a light cloth with soft draping; and cloth cut in small superimposed rectangles for unique models which seemed to take off.
In October 2001 he arrives in Miami and choose to open his boutique in the prestigious neighborhood of Bal Harbour Shops, on the other side of Miami Beach. Opened in 1965, this architectural complex has the most famous haute couture boutiques.
Also, Ferré’s design met Allison’s technology. The new model of eyeglasses were named Pure Magnesium because they were made from 92% pure magnesium. Very light, non-allergic, and resistant to atmospheric agents, it is produced in four versions.
By the end of 2002 Ferré and It Holding agree to bring all licenses within the group. This decision should raise the turnover by 50%. Ferré produced only the first line in house, the others were manufactured on license. At the expiration of the contracts, the lines produced by Marzotto (men’s and women’s clothing) go to ITC (Bologna), the eyewear to Allison (Padua), the perfumes to ITF (Lodi), the shoes, bags, and leather accessories to PAF (a new company near Florence which for the men’s line at first relies on Mantelassi), and Jeans Couture to Itierre (Isernia). For men’s clothing, in cooperation with Saint Andrew’s (Cantarelli Group) the “custom made” program is relaunched.
The Winter 2002-2003 collection was unforgettable and incredible. Full of the weaving motif shown in: ermine, chinchilla, cashmere, even organza and taffetas, all knitted using ancient methods of sock manufacture. Gianfranco was inspired by the world of emotions, sensations for a look that is enlivened by the exchange of different and far off cultures. He is an explorer of a very wide cultural and costume heritage, and then his willingness, a sophisticated divertissement, to pick an era to dress.
This is how, for Winter 2003-2004, he proposed the Bonaparte “citizen”. The collection featured dresses which looked like columns, with very uplifted breasts that emphasized the neckline à la Pauline Borghese, alternating with very luxurious superstar punk stud jackets, in a waterfall of small chains and delicate cameos. The looks were a mixture of ancient and at the same time modern preciousness, which matched precise forms and eccentric designs. Even in accessories, the bags, in pony skin and snake skin, had a scepter-shaped handle made of real silver.
For men, Ferré prefers the more classic typologies of urban dressing, with the ease of a casual spirit. His griffe is at the center of global plans to offer a new, complete identity, worked out in the Milan headquarters with great attention to the different production and distribution needs of It Holding. In June 2002 Gianfranco Ferré donated more than 32 models chosen from among the most representative of this career to the Costume Gallery of Palazzo Pitti. Also, the new GF line for children, produced by Valtib, was released.
In January 2003, with the new year, an intense 2-year program of new shops and the renovation of already-existing shops is put into effect. The first is in Paris, at Avenue Montaigne 51, and celebrated by the presentation of a collection at the Galerie Nationale du Jeu de Paume. Later, in February, the most important shop, the one in Milan on via Sant’Andrea, is reopened, completely renovated. The architect Ferré personally follows the work. Enlarged to 5,000 square feet on two levels, it has men’s and women’s collections in two symmetrical areas near the entrance to the building, which was once the site of Biki’s atelier. On the left is the men’s space, on the right the women’s, linked by a common hall. The real novelty is the creation, together with E’Spa, of another attraction: the refined Spa at Gianfranco Ferré, an oasis of relaxation dedicated to fitness and well-being.
In April 2003 the design of eyeglasses continues after magnesium, which as of now is made of 18 carat gold, combined and fused with titanium. A high-tech essential, with daylight lenses, and very precious. A year later, the company presents the new young fragrances GF Ferré Lei and GF Ferré Lui in Paris.
In September 2004 receives a career award, the “Chi è Chi del Giornalismo e della Moda” (‘Who’s Who of Journalism and Fashion’), and an acknowledgment from the Region of Lombardy as the “fashion creator who has developed a style similar to design and industrial planning, turning personal talent into an entrepreneurial reality”. A year later in February 2005, during a gala at La Scala in Milan, he received the “Longobard Seal,” conferred on people from Lombardy who “in their respective fields have contributed to enrich the cultural, civil, and artistic heritage of the region”.
In March 2005 Gianfranco Ferré designed new uniforms for Korean Air and are presented in Seoul. The uniforms are blue for pilots and black for ground personnel, made lighter with beige and sea-blue green and light blue celadon. Also at this time, at the request of Fashion in Motion, he presented 60 pieces during a show at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.
The great designer died on June 17, 2007 and the whole world of fashion was in mourning. On January 16, 2008, Lars Nilsson became creative director of the Ferré fashion house. He left his position after a few months. Then, on September 23, 2008, two young talented designers, Tommaso Aquilano and Roberto Rimondi, known as the creators of 6267 label and winners of the Who’s on next competition in 2005, inherited the artistic direction of the Maison Ferré.
In 2009 the company Gianfranco Ferré enters into a crisis, at the same time as Itierre, the company to which Ferré delegated the manufacturing. A year later, the commissioners undertook a request for the cancellation of the lease for the headquarter in via Pontaccio, Milan.
In 2010, on the occasion of the presentation of the spring-summer collection, the latest innovation is the launch of a complete line of jewelry called Jewellery Collection.
On 11 March 2011, Gianfranco Ferré was sold by IT Holding Group to the Paris Group of Dubai. The new company immediately began to globally restructure the brand, and replaced many of the designers. In early 2014, Ferré announced the permanent closure of any activities in Italy. The brand is not sold, but kept and not used by the properties.
To Gianfranco, the white shirt was more than just a classic. During his career, he deconstructed and reconstructed its basic elements, infusing them with unique details. The Gianfranco Ferré Foundation wanted to highlight this part of Gianfranco’s career because it represented his brand identity. So, on November 4, 2015 the exhibition “The White Shirt According to Me. Gianfranco Ferré” was debuted at The Phoenix Art Museum. It was produced and designed by the Gianfranco Ferré Foundation in Milan and by the Prato Textile Museum. The exhibition showcased Ferré’s most significant white shirts, technical designs, photographs and videos from the archives of the Gianfranco Ferré Foundation.