By  on September 25, 2006

While many fashion houses during the Eighties chose to expand their product range and to diversify through licensing agreements, the Ferragamo family was never lured by that strategy. Total control was always a priority for Ferragamo, which today still has only one license, inked with Luxottica in 1998 for its eyewear collection.

“We are very protective of the brand,” said Leonardo Ferragamo, who heads the family’s non-fashion businesses under the Palazzo Feroni Finanziaria and Lungarno Alberghi umbrellas. Even the brand’s fragrances — generally licensed by fashion companies — are controlled by the firm, which owns Ferragamo Parfums SpA, set up in 2001. Timepieces, launched in 2003, are assembled by Ferragamo in Switzerland and not licensed.

In the late Nineties, the firm began to diversify, but kept those operations separate from its core fashion business. “Back then, we had consolidated our product, grown our image in Asia and Europe, and felt it was time to branch out and express many more things — creativity, style and service,” said Ferragamo, chief executive officer of Palazzo Feroni and chairman of Lungarno. “We wanted to give something back to Florence, a city we felt sorely lacked in infrastructures and started looking for a series of hotels here.”

Initiating a trend later picked up by other fashion houses, in 1997, Ferragamo acquired the Lungarno, followed by the Augustus, which became the Gallery Art Hotel in 1999 and one of the first design hotels in Italy. In 2002, the group added the Lungarno Suites and the Continentale in 2003. Last July, the company opened the Portrait Suites in Rome. A new luxury country club and golf resort will open in 2008 in Tuscany’s Castiglion del Bosco, a medieval village in the hills of the renowned Montalcino wine area.

The company also owns the structure of the city’s Hotel Savoy, which is managed by Rocco Forte. However, it’s hard to find a trace of the Ferragamo name in any of these hotels. “We wanted to be discreet and avoid exploiting our brand,” said Ferragamo.

Also, Ferragamo believed it would be an unnecessary risk for the brand, given the fact that the family had no experience in the hotel business. While other fashion houses such as Giorgio Armani and Missoni are opening hotels and furnishing them with their own home lines, Ferragamo said a home collection was not in the cards.The group also owns a restaurant, Borgo San Jacopo, which opened two years ago close to the Lungarno Hotel.

In another fashion venture unrelated to the core brand, the company took control of the Emanuel Ungaro business in 1996, an enterprise that did not bring the results Ferragamo expected. Last year, after a series of unsuccessful attempts at turning the company around, Ferragamo sold the brand to San Francisco-based, high-tech entrepreneur Asim Abdullah.

There are no other acquisitions on the company’s radar, but four years ago, Ferragamo formed a joint venture with Ermenegildo Zegna to grow that firm’s footwear and accessories business. The entity is called ZeFer, controlled equally by Zegna and Ferragamo Finanziaria SpA. In 2005, the holding company signed an agreement for the production and distribution of accessories for Porsche Design Group.

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