Fashion History: Gianfranco Ferré

(15 August, 1944- 17 June 2007)


Famously compared with Frank Lloyd Wright, Gianfranco Ferré had a rotund physique and aesthetic sensibility. His grandfather designed bicycles and his father was the owner of two factories. Following the business footsteps of his family, Ferré originally trained as an architect at Milan Polytechnic, graduating in 1969. His favorite architectural triumphs include the Institut de Monde Arabe in Paris, and the Torre Velasca in Milan. For this, he was later known as the “architect of fashion”, and for the original attitude toward fashion design. Ferré’s first official show was presented in a restaurant Via San Murillo, Milan, in 1974. Four years later came his first collection, “Gianfranco Ferré Donna”, followed by a menswear line in 1982. Known for crisp lines, precise cutting and visible seams, Ferré’s design was largely influenced by his first trips to Asia— defined by and East-meets-West vibe that vehemently rejected high-fashion trends.

A doer rather than a talker, since 1983 Ferré has been a professor at the Domus Academy in Milan and financed the restoration of sixteenth-century frescoes. His intellectual approach and sensitivity to form and outline produced powerful designs— such as his voluminous organza shirts— as well as immaculate tailoring. In 1989, Ferré was appointed artistic director at Christian Dior, and his first collection— which he was told had nine weeks to complete— occured in the same year. With Grace Jones and Princess Michael of Kent in the front row, Ferré’s first show for Dior was dedicated to Cecil Beaton’s Ascot scene in My Fair Lady (1964), and featured Ferré’s specialty— huge bows. It was described by Vogue as “a matter of Dior discipline and Ferré flourish”. He was awarded Paris fashion’s highest accolade, the Golden Thimble, on the final day of the collection.

Ferré continued with his own collections, and his career after leaving Dior in 1996 has included diffusion lines Ferré Sport, Ferré Jeans, Ferré Studio and Studio 000.1, as well as an experimental line, GIEFFEFFE. After his death in 2007, Lars Nilsson was brought on as creative director for less than a year before being replaced by Tommaso Aquilano and Roberto Rimondi in April 2008. Their collections honored Ferré’s legacy of controlled femininity while modernizing the label with their personal touch, such as the stiff geometric dresses in curve-conscious shapes. However, Ferré’s voluminous flair, perhaps seen best in silk blouses with huge organza collars, remained in the early 1990’s— leaving Ferré as one of the key protagonists of fashion’s recent history.

The Gianfranco Ferré Foundation was established in February 2008, primarily with the aim of preserving, organizing and making available to the public – first and foremost in digital archive form – the patrimony of materials that document the designer’s professional activity. It also has the goal of promoting, pursuing and carrying out projects that relate to the Gianfranco Ferré philosophy and culture of design, to the maestro’s unique idea of fashion and exquisite aesthetic sensitivity.

Photo credit: Gianfranco Ferré Foundation