A Ferre Farewell

Gianfranco Ferre SpA will continue to produce collections despite the designer's unexpected death, the company said Monday.

View Slideshow

MILAN — Gianfranco Ferré SpA will continue to produce collections despite the designer’s unexpected death, the company said Monday.

This story first appeared in the June 19, 2007 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Funeral services for Ferré will be held today at Basilica di San Magno in the small town of Legnano, the late designer’s birthplace, beginning at 2:30 p.m. Giorgio Armani and his sister, Rosanna Armani; Donatella Versace; Valentino; Krizia’s Mariuccia Mandelli, and Mario Boselli, head of Italy’s Chamber of Fashion, are among those expected to attend. All Gianfranco Ferré directly owned and franchised boutiques around the world will be closed today.

Ferré died Sunday at age 62 after a brain hemorrhage on Friday. A major figure on the Italian design scene since the Eighties, he was known for his sharply tailored yet powerful clothes, often given to heavy embellishment and exaggerated cuffs, collars, ruches and ruffles.

A message of continuity was issued on Monday by the company. “Despite the profound sadness of the moment, we are certain that this major international luxury brand has all the resources, potential and will necessary for going forward and developing further the supreme sense of style and elegance — commitment and passion, too — which the great designer exemplified throughout his life on both human and professional levels.”

In sync with this attitude, a spokesman said the brand’s men’s wear show will be held Sunday as planned.

Massimo Macchi, chief executive of Gianfranco Ferré, said he’s concentrating on lending his support to the design staff and other company employees. “We have a large structure with great people,” Macchi said, noting the team is made up of about 35 designers. “It’s business as usual for us, and [Ferré] would be the first person to insist on that.”

In terms of business, Ferré and parent IT Holding will still present their financial results on June 27, as planned. Macchi underscored Ferré’s 19.2 percent increase in first-quarter sales. Last year, Ferré’s sales rose less than 1 percent to 111 million euros, or about $140 million.

“In this short time we worked together, I realized what a creative genius he was and he taught me so much,” Macchi said.

Sources here indicate that Giovanni Vidotto, who is in charge of the men’s wear line and was one of the late designer’s longtime collaborators, may become head of all the house’s design operations. However, another well-placed source here said the company will look for a new creative director outside the existing design team, as “Vidotto worked too closely with Ferré and was too much under his influence. Tonino Perna [chairman of IT Holding, which controls the Ferré brand] respected Ferré’s creativity, but he might want to look outside for a new, fresh approach to the brand.”

Meanwhile, the fashion community continued to grieve the loss of the designer.

Valentino said, “Ferré was one of the greatest talents of Italian fashion. He was also one of the sweetest and one of the most reserved people I have ever met in the fashion industry.”

“I didn’t know him well, but I did two photo shoots that featured him. I just remember that he was so funny. We laughed so much,” Karl Lagerfeld said.

“I was very sorry to hear the sad news that Mr. Ferré had passed away,” said designer John Galliano. “Mr. Ferré was my predecessor at Dior. Indeed, [he] paved the way for me as one of the first ‘foreign’ design invasions at the house.”

The house of Christian Dior also put out a statement, expressing its sorrow and hailing Ferré’s “magnificent talent and the splendor of his designs….Couture has lost a great designer who left a mark on his times.”

Burt Tansky, president and ceo of Neiman Marcus Group, said Ferré was “a great designer and a great gentleman.”

Silvia Venturini Fendi, creative director of accessories and men’s wear, described the designer as “witty, very sharp.” Fendi said, “I’ve known him since I was a girl. I admired him for his talent and for his sense of humor. The first time I met him was at a dinner at Villa D’Este in Como and I was at his table. I laughed so much that night.”

Adrianna Fracci, a former seamstress who worked at Ferré during the height of his career in the Eighties and early Nineties, was emotional about the passing of her former employer as she recalled her experience with the designer.

“For me, Ferré was a true gentleman. In his work he was demanding, even coarse. You could never go to him with just one idea, he wanted 10 because he always wanted the best.”

Despite the hard work, there were also lighthearted moments, such as a dinner Fracci shared with Ferré at Mr. Chow in New York, when the scene included Bianca Jagger and Andy Warhol, during one of the designer’s first trips to the city.

Reached by phone in London, opera singer Jessye Norman said she first met Ferré during his Christian Dior days in Paris. The music-loving Ferré was “very supportive of her work” and designed some of her performance dresses, she said.

“He was so young and so talented — to think the beauty and femininity of the clothes he designed will no longer be available,” Norman said.

On a lighter note, she recalled wearing one of Ferré’s creations to a black-tie dinner in New York. “I wore a black top with one beautiful gold sleeve. When I put it on for the event, I wasn’t wearing the proper undergarments and…[it] kept coming out. I kept tugging at my top. At one point, Gianfranco looked at me and said, ‘Stop that.'”

In the early Nineties, when Ron Frasch, president and chief merchandising officer at Saks Fifth Avenue, was still at Neiman Marcus, he was on hand for an outdoor Napa Valley vineyard fashion show for the launch of Ferré’s diffusion line. “We put on one of the most extraordinary fashion shows. He was the ultimate perfectionist. Whether it was for his diffusion collection or his primary collection, he used the same degree of design integrity and execution,” Frasch said. “His only influence was himself. He didn’t look for outside influences as so many people in the design world do. He was one of the great ones.”

Marie Claire will celebrate Ferré’s work in a salute to Italian fashion designers in its September issue. Fashion director Tracy Taylor visited Ferré’s atelier Thursday for a photo shoot for the issue. Despite being in the middle of fittings and having to prepare for a speech, Ferré was the consummate professional when he was being photographed.

A shy and reserved man, Ferré was a hardworking designer, fully dedicated to his work. “He was the first to come in from Legnano in the morning and the last to leave at the end of the day,” recalled Enrico Mambelli, who joined the company as ceo in 2002 and worked with the designer for two years. “He had an incredible sixth sense for people, and he would always obtain the most from his collaborators. He was very firm and sometimes rough at the edges, but his staff was very loyal and dedicated, staying on with him for years and years,” said Mambelli.

Ferré, who shied away from socializing, was not known for his luxury yachts or high-flying vacations. “Work was the utmost expression of pleasure and joy for him,” said Mambelli.

But Ferré was deeply passionate about art, and an avid collector of paintings from the 20th century, including works by Pablo Picasso, Gustav Klimt, Amedeo Modigliani, Alberto Giacometti, Lucio Fontana, Enrico Baj and Alberto Burri. In January, the Galleria degli Uffizi in Florence unveiled a 17th-century painting by Johann Carl Loth, “Adam Grieves for Abel,” that was restored with the help of Ferré. The designer also helped fund the restoration of frescoes by 17th-century artist Guercino in the cathedral of the city of Piacenza in 1983, and donated 300 archival outfits to the Costume Gallery at Palazzo Pitti in 2000.

In March, Ferré was appointed president of Milan’s Brera Academy of Fine Arts. Ferré said at the time that, “despite the intrinsic differences [between fashion and art], [fashion] shares with art a propensity for unfailing research, quest for originality, love of experimentation, the pursuit of truly unique results.” The designer also had a unique collection of mannequins ranging from the Renaissance, the 18th century or ethnic. In addition, he collected military helms, Oriental, papier-mâché boxes and silver bottles. — With contributions from Amanda Kaiser, Courtney Colavita, Stephanie Epiro and Miles Socha

View Slideshow