The design duo reshaping the legacy of Italian fashion house Salvatore Ferragamo
Sunshine pours through the windows of the Palazzo Spini Feroni, the Florence headquarters of Salvatore Ferragamo since the 1930s. We’re on the second floor, in a salon complete with silk jacquard upholstery, crystal chandeliers, frescoes on the ceiling and neoclassical paintings on the walls. It’s not your average corporate meeting room, but then, Salvatore Ferragamo is not your average brand.
The original founder – the 11th of 14 children from a poor family living near Naples – would go on to create shoes for everyone from Indira Devi and Eva Perón to Judy Garland, Audrey Hepburn, Marlene Dietrich and Greta Garbo, and the fashion house is still independent and family-owned today. Which isn’t to say it hasn’t experienced its share of challenges. However, a string of creative director appointments and legacy updates now seem over thanks to the recent arrivals of Paul Andrew and Guillaume Meilland to helm womenswear and menswear respectively. Both are now sitting together at Palazzo Spini Feroni, dressed in head-to-toe black, espressos in hand, chatting animatedly.
They are clearly friends as well as co-workers. ‘We’ve known each other for two years,’ says Andrew, who joined the company in 2016 as head of footwear, roughly at the same time as Meilland took charge of menswear. British-born Andrew now splits his time between Milan, New York (where his eponymous shoe company, founded in 2012, is based) and Florence. Meilland, however, chose to move full time to the Tuscan countryside with his wife and children. ‘Florence is one of those rare cities where you can go to work in the centre, then live surrounded by nature with only a 10-minute car ride,’ he says. ‘I’m taking in more of the Italian aesthetics, which paradoxically makes me connect more with my Parisian roots.’
Salvatore Ferragamo’s menswear design director Guillaume Meilland and womenswear creative director Paul Andrew photographed at Palazzo Spini Feroni in May
It is perhaps the undeniable camaraderie between both designers that made for a critically acclaimed debut show last February in which the womenswear and menswear was combined, a first for Ferragamo. The collection – impeccably-cut trousers, cosy knitwear, silk foulard dresses, woollen ponchos and an array of luxurious leather and shearling outerwear, with workwear accents for the boys and nods to Netflix’s The Crown for the girls (‘I’m obsessed with that series,’ says Andrew) – laid the foundations for a refreshing new direction and a much needed sense of cohesion. And it all started with the menswear.
‘Guillaume had done such a good job of bringing a consistency to his collections and defining the Ferragamo guy, so it felt natural to go from there,’ says Andrew, who admits to buying almost every single menswear piece. ‘We started doing fittings together, having the female models wear some of the boys’ clothes and vice-versa,’ adds Meilland. ‘Soon it became about creating this all-encompassing wardrobe.’
But it was also about locating and reviving the spirit of the brand’s founder. As Andrew says, ‘The first thing I did when I started here was to read Salvatore’s biography and visit the Ferragamo shoe archive’. After rummaging through thousands of shoes, the conclusion was clear. ‘Ferragamo was such an innovator, and he didn’t let tough times limit his creativity. When he couldn’t find metal to craft his heels, he started working on cork platforms.’ And it’s that pioneering spirit that the duo want to emulate, both paying homage to the defining moments of Salvatore Ferragamo’s career and reimagining them for the 21st century. The rich palette for the A/W18 collection was inspired by the legendary Rainbow platform, created in 1938 for Judy Garland (‘or rather by what we imagined the colours of the shoe would have looked like back then. They were all natural pigments and are incredibly faded today,’ says Andrew).
Meanwhile, the season’s shoe was inspired by an archive discovery. ‘We came across this square-toe, block heel sandal called the Lucente. It was so modern I thought someone had put it in there by mistake. Turns out it was designed in 1930,’ says Andrew. Both designers went on to rework it for a client. ‘We ended up sending it to an Italian car factory for galvanising, and it came back with this beautiful golden metallic finish. Very futuristic.’ Immensely covetable, too.
So is the existing Ferragamo customer ready for the future? ‘I think he is,’ says Meilland. ‘He’s been changing organically in the last few seasons. Then again, men tend to be practical and appreciate timelessness, quality and comfort over everything else. It’s kind of a given.’ Is it more challenging to design for women? ‘Not necessarily,’ says Andrew. ‘The Ferragamo woman, whatever her generation, shares a lot with the man. She is just as practical and loves comfort, which is why I’m focusing so much more on low and middle heels than sky-high ones. She appreciates timelessness and craft. It’s about modernity rather than mere trends.’ We’re pretty sure Salvatore Ferragamo would agree.§
As originally featured in the September 2018 issue of Wallpaper* (W*234)