By  on February 19, 2008

FLORENCE — As it continues to mark its 80th anniversary, Ferragamo has a big year planned.

Today, the company's new creative director, Cristina Ortiz, will unveil her first collection. Meanwhile, the house is pushing ahead with an initial public offering, a new store concept is on the cards for next year and the Ferragamos will cross the globe to fete the company's 80th anniversary in Shanghai on March 28.

The celebrations in Shanghai are more than just an exotic jaunt, as they are meant to honor Salvatore Ferragamo's pioneering attitude toward Asia, where he first landed in 1958, in Tokyo.

The family is preparing a retrospective called "Salvatore Ferragamo — Evolving Legend 1928-2008," that showcases 300 special creations by the shoe designer with original sketches and patents.

"My family and I chose China, and specifically Shanghai, to celebrate our company's 80th anniversary at the prestigious Museum of Contemporary Art, given the country's and the city's rich history and tradition," said Wanda Ferragamo, Salvatore's wife and the firm's honorary president. "This event is especially important to us because it is the first time that we present a retrospective not on Salvatore the man, but on the business he founded, its identity, innovations and values."

A show of the fall collection will take place on March 28 at a venue on the Bund along the Huang Pu River. The site will be decorated to resemble Ferragamo's landmark Palazzo Spini Feroni, the medieval building in the heart of Florence where the company has its headquarters.

The drive toward an IPO is being overseen by Michele Norsa, Ferragamo's chief executive officer, who joined the company in October 2006.

Having the approval of all the Ferragamo family members — Ferruccio, chairman; Leonardo, managing director; Massimo, chairman of Ferragamo USA; Fulvia, group vice president, and Giovanna, vice president of Ferragamo Holding — Norsa has set in motion the brand's short- to medium-term growth plans.

"I've worked with family-owned companies in the past, so I think I know how to capture the more positive aspects of people's relationships. I consider it a pleasure more than a challenge," said Norsa, in an exclusive interview in Ferragamo's Milan headquarters.To accelerate the process, Norsa assembled a team of seasoned managers, mostly from public companies. "You can't change things on your own," he conceded. "But regardless of the company's evolution, we must never bypass the brand's roots and style and aesthetic codes."

To that end, Norsa deems the Iberian Ortiz the right person to set a new tone for the brand's ready-to-wear. "Choosing a new designer is always difficult, but Cristina is nice, open, listens and isn't arrogant, " said Norsa. "She gets along with James [Ferragamo, accessories director] and compared to the past, I've noticed a smoother exchange of ideas with the team."

Ortiz, formerly women's wear designer at Brioni, replaced Graeme Black, who left last fall to concentrate on his namesake collection. In describing her attitude toward the brand's rtw, she said, "I feel the apparel needs a bit more pizzazz and I want to elevate the quality, which isn't at the level of the accessories."

In the pre-fall and main collections, Ortiz tapped into the brand's leather heritage and worked a sporty clip with blouson jackets, trenchcoats and even raincoats, alternated with wool gabardine coats and topped with sensible knits, pants and skirts. But having covered the basics in the showroom, Ortiz has raised the glamour bar for the runway with more drama for evening. She juxtaposed softness with structure, long with short and inserted chain mail decorations throughout

"Salvatore Ferragamo shod so many Hollywood stars that were at once mysterious, sexy and alluring that I wanted to go a little more evening for the runway," said the designer, her carrot-red tresses a bright contrast against her fitted black blazer over stovepipe pants.

So Ortiz worked a latter-day Greta Garbo. "Actresses today are young, pretty and accessible, you see them photographed with their kids. They easily switch from jeans to grand gala clothes," said Ortiz. "I didn't want anything too conceptual or complicated, just beautiful and sophisticated clothes with a strong temperament."

She also celebrates Salvatore Ferragamo's footwear vision by injecting some of his design signatures into the clothes. Cases in point are the nylon fishing rod straps on a 1947 sandal that Ortiz reproduced as straps on a white column dress; thick belts that rehash the multicolored ribbed wedge of a 1938 sandal, and a twisted halter neckline inspired by a twisted sandal strap.Ortiz also found a new formula to resurrect a Ferragamo classic — animal prints. To avoid comparisons with Roberto Cavalli or Dolce & Gabbana, though, she dipped into the archives and emerged with a tiger print made with flowers, which she plans to make an ongoing signature. For fall, she enlarged it and applied it to a white, black and plum minidress.

The show will open with an all-white group, including a knitted minidress with gold chain mail forming a V-neck line and a softly draped belted coat over pants.

"My Ferragamo woman isn't a fashion victim or show-off but someone with a more modern and dynamic style," said Ortiz. "For good or for bad, I hope this collection doesn't leave people indifferent."

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