Ferragamo Helps Fete Boston Art Institute

With its sleek building and growing clout in the international arts scene, the Institute of Contemporary Art Boston has become a hot spot for the city's PYTs.

With its sleek building and growing clout in the international arts scene, the Institute of Contemporary Art Boston has become a hot spot for the city’s PYTs.

This story first appeared in the December 12, 2007 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

They turned out Dec. 3 to toast the museum’s first anniversary in its building that cantilevers dramatically over the harbor in South Boston.

And where there are attractive — and wealthy — young people, there are bound to be fashion brands.

As the gala sponsor, Ferragamo seized the occasion to set up a runway in the museum’s theater, a soaring glass-sided box used for performance art pieces. Ferragamo converted it into a lounge with curtains, purple chandeliers and white seating groups. Men’s wear designer Massimiliano Giornetti styled the presentation of fall-winter looks.

“This, I love,” Giornetti said, pausing at Marlene Dumas’ “The Messengers” (1992), a four-canvas series depicting three skeletons and a nude.

For Ferragamo, the gala sponsorship is part of its Boston debut and part of an effort to freshen its image and attract a younger customer.

Vincent Ottomanelli, president of Ferragamo U.S., said same-store sales in the U.S. increased 14 percent this year. Sales of women’s apparel are up 7 to 8 percent compared with last year. Wholesale growth, through Barneys New York, Saks Fifth Avenue and others, has jumped 10 percent.

Newly appointed women’s wear designer Christine Ortiz, a veteran of Prada and Brioni, will show her first collection for fall-winter 2008, an effort Giornetti described as an evolution and one closely coordinated with men’s wear. Influences for both collections include the German film “The Lives of Others,” set in East Berlin just before the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the grays and blush colors of Brice Marden abstracts, he said.

Ferragamo management has been preparing for an initial public offering in 2008. To keep U.S. growth robust, the company, which reported revenues of 630 million euros, or $927 million at current exchange rates, has chosen Boston as one of its important new markets. The Copley Place mall store opened in June. Results from that door were encouraging enough that Ferragamo will launch a second location next year in the Natick Collection mall, about 20 miles west of Boston.

“We had Boston on our radar screen for several years and we’re pleased,” Ottomanelli said.

The ICA’s growth has become symbolic of Boston’s transformation from a preppy, Brahmin town to one being reinvented by affluent students, entrepreneurs and global transplants. It is the first major new building on a stretch of neglected South Boston waterfront that developers are seeking to reinvent as a major new neighborhood.

The museum also is in talks with several fashion houses for a more permanent relationship, though there were no specifics.

The ICA, which had been housed in a cramped, Victorian former police station, is in expansion mode. The new building gives it space to acquire a permanent collection for the first time in its 71-year history. Works by painter Laylah Ali, sculptor Tara Donovan and photographer Nan Goldin are among the 22 pieces the museum now owns. The collection is to be built forward, with the goal of acquiring nothing older than work from the Nineties.

The museum has also been able to stage larger, more significant shows, such as a retrospective of photographer Philip–Lorca DiCorcia, who grew up in Hartford, Conn., and attended art school in Boston. DiCorcia’s work ranges from commercial fashion editorials to “Hustlers,” a gripping portrait series of male prostitutes from the Nineties.

In 2008, Jessica Morgan, curator of contemporary art at the Tate Modern, will rejoin the ICA as adjunct curator to present “The World As Stage,” an interactive exhibit featuring 16 international artists.

“Just as with this building, we are pioneering high design on the waterfront,” said ICA director Jill Medvedow.