Born: Legnano, Italy, 15 August 1944. Education: Graduated in architecture from Politecnico, Milan, 1969. Career: Freelance jewelry and accessory designer, Milan, 1969-73; designer, Baila, Milan, 1974; launched own label for womenwear with partner Franco Mattioli, Milan, 1978; introduced secondary Oaks by Ferré line, 1978; debut of menwear collection, 1982; fragrances introduced, 1984; watches, 1985, eyewear and bath line (men), 1986; launched haute couture collection, 1986-88; introduced furs, 1987; signed agreement with Marzotto for the Studio 000.1 by Ferré lines for men and women, 1987; named artistic director, House of Dior, 1989; feminine fragrance, Ferré by Ferré, 1991; introduced household linens collection, 1992; took 000.1 diffusion line to the U.S., 1995; Gieffeffe bridge line and men's jeans collection debuted, 1996; Gieffeffe unisex fragrance launched, 1996; women's jeans line introduced, 1997; opened two London stores and new HQ in Milan, 1998; firm sold to Gruppo Tonino Perna, 2000; began custom tailoring, 2000; opened first U.S. Ferré Jeans store, Miami, 2001; new atelier
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Fashion is a reality connected with the changes of our society, of which it is an attentive interpreter. Artistic trends, new expressive
My role as a fashion designer comes from a complex process, where creativity and imagination play an important role, but are supported by a firm rational analysis.
Gianfranco Ferré has been dubbed by Women's Wear Daily as the "Frank Lloyd Wright of Italian Fashion." Trained initially as an architect, his work bears many references to this early discipline. He draws up a plan for each collection based on a philosophy that his customer wants functional, classic yet powerful clothes, constructed in the highest quality materials. The clothes are then created with a distinct eye for dramatic proportion and purity of line.
There is nothing understated about Ferré womenswear. His minimalist approach has often made opulent, theatrical statements on the catwalk, recalling the film star glamor projected by Anita Ekberg in the film La Dolce Vita. The clothes reflect a glamorous, fantasy dressing, combined with architectural symmetry. Ferré often exaggerates proportions in tailoring and dressmaking; classic shirt shapes often have extreme cuffs or collars, coats and jackets are defined by silhouette. An extravagant use of luxury fabrics like fur on dresses or long evening coats, leather, and taffeta often in the distinctive, stark colors of red, black, white or gold reinforce this definition of modern elegance.
Ferré menswear collections are less extravagant, based on tradition but designed with his characteristic modernist approach. He sees his customer as a man who appreciates traditional cloth and a classic line. Ferré has developed new tailoring techniques to create a more relaxed, expansive shape for men, a reaction to the hard-edged lines so prevalent in 1980s power dressing. Ferré often looks to London for inspiration, believing the British capital is a key point in the world of fashion. As he explained to journalist Liz Smith, "There is an in-bred eccentricity in London which allows clothes to be worn in original and completely modern proportions."
Ferré has a reputation for being a realist, with a practical approach to projects—working with everything in his head from market requirements, manufacturing schedules, financial limitations, and development of themes, to advertising. Brought up in a secure family environment, his mother instilled him with an obsessive sense of duty and responsibility; she was strict when it came to homework and passing exams. This level-headed approach even caused him to react with economic sense to Diana Vreeland's famous fashion quote, "Pink is the navy blue of India," made during the course of a conversation with Ferré. He replied judiciously, "Naturally pink is the navy blue of India because it's the cheapest of all dyes."
In 1989 Ferré was appointed designer for Dior, to supply the house with an image for the 1990s. His first collection introduced a refined, sober, and strict collection inspired by Cecil Beaton's black-and-white Ascot scene from the film My Fair Lady, a theme revisited in 1996 with the launch of a men's jeans collection. The new Ferré Jeans line, all in black and white, came in casual separates of three styles— basic, athletic, and beach wear. Ferré commented to Sara Gay Forden of the Daily News Record (17 July 1996), "This is not your standard, classic jeans line… This is a forward-looking collection for the future generation."
Ferré further forged ahead in 1996 with the debut of the Gieffeffe unisex fragrance, along with the Gieffeffe bridge collection priced to battle DKNY and Calvin Klein's CK for the hearts and dollars of hipster youth. The first Gieffeffe store opened as well, in Florence, Italy, with a second shop planned for Milan in 1997 and several more elsewhere in Europe. The Ferré Jeans line for women was also introduced in 1997, along with the formation of the Gianfranco Ferré USA to oversee the firm's increasing interests in America. Additionally, Ferré signed an agreement with Japanese conglomerate Mitzuno to open over a dozen shops in Japan, and to segue into producing golf apparel and equipment.
In 1998 the Ferré empire celebrated its 20th anniversary, considered going public, and tweaked its image. Stores in New York and Rome were renovated, two London shops opened, a new Milan headquarters was unveiled, and offices and showroom for its recently-created U.S. subsidiary opened on Fifth Avenue in New York. Yet the year proved far from jubilant when Ferré's longtime partner Franco Mattioli decided to retire and sell his 49-percent stake in the company. The news caused a contentious rift between the partners, and in 1999 Mattioli sold 21-percent of his holdings to Gruppo Tonino Perna (GTP), corporate parent of the IT Holding fashion group.
Gianfranco Ferré, after much negotiation, finally decided to sell all but 10-percent of the company bearing his name. Under the December 2000 agreement, GTP received 90-percent of the firm, and Ferré not only maintained creative control, but gained an atelier in Milan and a new couture line set to debut in 2002. The couture collection was a natural extension for Ferré, who had begun creating custom-made suits for a limited number of clients earlier in the year. Like Ferré a few years before them, the executives of GTP announced plans for an initial public offering scheduled for sometime in 2003.
Gianfranco Ferré is easily identifiable as an Italian designer; his clothes are well-shaped, confident, and powerfully feminine or masculine. Through his own label collections, he has developed such hallmarks as the crisp white shirt with stand-up collar or in his signature color, red. The Ferré product, whether it be prêt-á-porter or leather goods, glasses, furs, or shoes, has become synonymous with precision and elegance, an identity which he believes has greatly increased the cachet of "made in Italy."
updated by OwenJames