Pages scanned from W‘s 1987 The Designing Life
His round spectacles, not unlike those worn by the great Le Corbusier, speak to the designer’s own architectural sensibility: he was in fact a trained architect and made good use of that training when he decided to design clothes instead of buildings. Gianfranco Ferre emerged with his own label in the late ‘70s and offered a new perspective, not just for a burgeoning Italian ready-to-wear culture, but an international fashion movement. Speaking to the tradition of one of Italy’s greatest builders, sculpture genius Roberto Capucci, he pushed the same ideals of structure and form but in a significantly more modern and softer way. His engineered clothes, not unlike those designed by contemporary Anne Marie Beretta, and not totally foreign from those proposed by Claude Montana or Jean Charles de Castelbajac in the same era, were immense and defined the times (but never were defined by it) and by the mid ‘80s he was firmly established as both an Italian and international fashion powerhouse.
Ferre remained on top through the next decade when he and his house were hugely influential and financially successful. A recognized master in the pantheon of the great designers, since his passing in 2007 he has been all but forgotten. But the house had not exactly been on the cutting edge at the time of its founder’s death and has been on shaky ground; hiring and quickly firing Lars Nilsson as its creative director and eventually settling with designer duo Tommaso Aquilano and Roberto Rimondi. Though clearly capable and talented the pair never managed to create a compelling interpretation of Ferre’s legacy, at least not for more than a season or two, often abandoning one direction for another, seemingly unsure of what exactly the tenets of the house should be amidst economic downturn and a fashion discourse focused on a newly rebranded “minimalism.”
Real trouble began in 2009 when Ferre’s owners IT Holdings S.P.A. filed for bankruptcy and the future of the house was put in dire jeopardy. On the chop block Samsung took an interest but their bid failed and eventually Paris Group, a Dubai based company specializing in retail franchises and restaurants, snapped it up. The new owners pledged to commit all necessary resources in order to restore the name to its former glory. Last year Aquilano and Rimondi quietly departed and were replaced by Stefano Citron and Federico Piaggi, both of whom, after learning their trade from Mila Schon, spent time designing with the master himself. Their first collection for Spring 2012 received positive reviews and shined a glimmer of hope. However, one must wonder in the face of so many failed revivals if more than a refresh in design perspective is needed to give the house what it truly requires if it is ever to regain the depth and breadth it commanded for so long. Once a name that the mere affected utterance of its two syllables — PHER – EY — summoned an overwhelming sophistication, intellectual rigor, a unique glamour, an aspiration, a name in the leagues of the Diors, Chanels, Cardins, Armanis, Ralph Laurens, etc, it now sits chained in limbo. It’s fate not yet pronounced. And yet, Ferre is a house with enough heritage, enough virtuosity, enough innovation that a properly executed vision; if given the right support in merchandising and marketing, could be brought back to what one can only imagine would be a thunderous awakening, back to dominating the industry as it did so many years before, offering up its codes of enriched minimalism and high-brow glamour — so strikingly right for the moment — ripe for steering fashion in a new direction.