By  on January 14, 2008

MILAN — Lars Nilsson, Gianfranco Ferré’s new creative director, has a highly precise vision for his first men’s collection—but isn’t able to express it in concrete terms.

“I think it’s quite a pure aesthetic,” says the well-spoken Swede, sitting in an office off of Ferré’s second-floor show space here in Via Pontaccio. “He’s a very sophisticated man. I think what is very important to me is to keep the collection very luxury, very refined.”

It’s a little more than a week before his debut at the Italian fashion house and Nilsson, in khakis and a gray cashmere sweater with a slight, almost imperceptible V in the neck, is making his way through Ferré’s historic headquarters. It has been only three months since his arrival, but he moves with ease and authority.

Nilsson, who began his 20-year career with stints at Chanel and Christian Lacroix before moving on to top spots at Bill Blass and Nina Ricci, took over Ferré’s creative helm in October. He’s the first designer other than the house’s namesake to carry the title of creative director. Gianfranco Ferré died at the age of 62 in June.

When pressed to distill his first men’s collection, which also marks his debut for the house, down to three key words, he balks. “Let me think about that,” he asks. And true to his purposeful Scandinavian upbringing, Nilsson does. Two days later he comes back with a response. “My three words,” he says with a slightly mischievous smile, “are Prince of Wales.”

His choice is telling, not only in its description of the fall collection—which is anchored in variations of the classical men’s wear pattern—but also in that it reflects the way Nilsson reasons and creates.

Like so many designers, Nilsson works in colors, textures and concepts, not necessarily words. “The collection is very tailored,” he goes on. “It is for a very elegant man.” And unlike most fashion houses, Ferré isn’t desperately pining for a young consumer. The collection “is maybe a little more mature,” he says. “A young man can wear it, but maybe it’s a little more grown up.”

Nilsson then gives DNR a sneak peak at the sharp collection, in which he put a striking touch on contemporary tailoring. His calls his silhouette “graphic,” and in a nod to the architectural roots of the house’s founder, the pieces are structured and precise. “I tried to emphasize a lot on the cut and also on the quality of the clothes,” he says.

Rolled shoulders fall ever so subtly off the shoulder. Jackets nip the waist like a corset, while wide pants provide balance. Rich fabrics—from the aforementioned Prince of Wales to a muted, tweedlike check—exude masculine luxury. A high-neck mackintosh coat with leather details and an irregular pinstripe interior demonstrates Nilsson’s pure approach to men’s wear.

Nilsson’s background is firmly rooted in couture, but it also helps that he’s a guy and an unabashed lover of clothes. For years he’s been going to a personal tailor in Paris, making bespoke pieces for himself and his friends.

“Tailoring is something I feel very inspired working around,” he says. “It’s a big challenge to do an [entire] men’s wear collection, but now it’s time to find how I want to do it. I see it as building something up.” So does Ferré’s new chief executive officer, Michela Piva, who says the company’s objective is to reach 200 million euros in sales by 2010. Revenue for 2007 is expected to close at 124 million euros.

More than a transitional season, fall marks a new era for Ferré. Ferré’s parent company, IT Holding, has also brought in a series of high-profile fashion players, including Fabien Baron and Karl Templer, to help recast the brand, which reached its heyday in the late ’80s and early ’90s. The new team is giving a makeover not only to the main line but to the diffusion line—recently renamed Ferré Milano—and the younger GF Ferré label.

“It’s really a rebranding of the whole company,” Piva says. “The brand needs to communicate a lifestyle, and that lifestyle will clearly respect the past but also give value to the future by making the collections more contemporary.”

Piva wants to grow current markets but is equally hungry to attack new ones, like the U.S. She says the company is now prepared to offer the right kind of merchandise in a delivery format and schedule suited to the American market.

For his part, Nilsson, who has studied the Ferré archives, especially from the Italian designer’s early years, is intent to use Ferré’s roots—and his own. Nilsson is privileged to have worked for fashion houses in the major capitals of the world: Paris, New York and now Milan.

“I think there’s a mix I bring to the collections,” Nilsson says. “There are a lot of details [from the archives] that are very inspiring, but I want to put my view on the house for sure.”

Although he may have needed time to think about those three key words, there’s no hesitation when it comes to communicating what he hopes will be the reaction to his first show for Ferré. “That [guests] want to wear Gianfranco Ferré,” he says immediately. “What I love is really when people wear the clothes—that’s the best sign.”

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