MILAN — Gianfranco Ferré, the man dubbed the "architect of fashion" for his sculptured silhouettes, died Sunday night at the San Raffaele hospital here after being hospitalized for a brain hemorrhage. He was 62.
Official statements from the Ferré fashion house and its owner, IT Holding, are expected today and details of the funeral are still being formalized. According to an IT Holding spokeswoman, the company is still grieving. A decision about what to do about the house's men's wear show, slated for this coming Sunday, will be made shortly, she said.
Ferré was among those designers who generated the boom in Italian fashion in the Eighties and into the Nineties, making Milan in those years the center of the fashion world. WWD dubbed him the "Frank Lloyd Wright of Italian fashion," while his staff referred to him as "l'architetto Ferré."
His clients included Sharon Stone, Elizabeth Taylor, Oprah Winfrey, the Queen of Jordan, Paloma Picasso, Bernadette Chirac, Claude Pompidou, Sophia Loren, Princess Diana, Princess Michael of Kent, Marie-Helene de Rothschild and soprano Jessye Norman.
Strong willed, nitpicky and at times short-tempered, Ferré had a personality as large as he was as a man. With an interest in everything from architecture to fine food, art to cultural history, Ferré always seemed to be restraining himself from either making a joke or having a temper tantrum. In conversation, there would always be a slight twinkle to his eye.
"A civil man. The image that comes to my mind when thinking of Gianfranco Ferré: A man of dignity and calm with a sense of responsibility which always accompanied him," said Giorgio Armani on Sunday. "We knew each other for many years, although not very well, as we both started our careers in what was a special moment for Italian fashion. However, I always observed his work and particularly admired him for his coherence and the intellectualism and artistry upon which he based his fashion philosophy until the end. The greatest sign of his character was in that constant expression of absolute independence."
Added Donatella Versace: "I am extremely sad. Ten years after the death of my brother I have lost a dear friend. He was a gentleman of another time. He was an innovator in terms of form. He created fashion that was both spectacular but impeccable at the same time. He was a great courtier that knew how to create absolute chic with details that I'll never tire of looking at and that will remain a part of the history of fashion."Ferré believed that fashion needed to be stimulated by other experiences obtained in different fields, periods, cultures and, above all, from art. "I think I have done my utmost to ensure that my style is constantly and consistently enhanced by a broad variety of suggestions, inextricably linked to my passions, my taste and my experiences," he once said. "It is not difficult, for example, to identify, in the various collections over the years, my love of the figurative arts, the great classical painters and, even more, the strong and simple sensitivity of modern and primitive art. The references to worlds and cultures I have experienced personally, particularly in the Far East (India, China, Japan), are easy to see, as are those to the important experiences of Western culture, from Baroque to Neo-classicism, Romanticism to Decadentism."
According to Roberto Cavalli, "Ferré embodied the highest level of style, craftsmanship and creative bravura. He was a true artist, pure, a beautiful person that [Italian fashion] will truly miss."
Ferruccio Ferragamo, chairman of the family-owned company said that Ferré "strengthened the ‘Made in Italy' style and his ready-to-wear had an unmistakable, consistent elegance. He will be remembered for his remarkable persona."
Ferré was inspired by elegance from the past and by such names as Dior, Balenciaga and Worth, to all of whom, he noted, today's fashion designers owe something, as well as the shared heritage of sartorial skills and elegance of the European style.
"I really admired him, he was a very generous person, a friend and esteemed colleague, who always greeted me with visible pleasure with a big bear hug," said Anna Molinari.
Mario Boselli, head of the Italian Chamber of Fashion, remembers Ferré was one of the main protagonists of Italian fashion. "A unique one, who excelled in ready-to-wear and couture at the same time. He also had a unique education, he was a creative genius with an architectural and cultural basis, who still had a lot to say," he said.
Born in Legnano, a small town close to Milan, Ferré secured an architecture degree at Milan's Politecnico University in 1969 and made his fashion foray in the Seventies thanks to fashion veteran Walter Albini, with whom he stated designing costume jewelry and accessories.In 1978, he founded his namesake fashion house with Franco Mattioli, his longtime friend, adviser and business partner, until the two had a falling out in 1999.
In 2000, after a bitter tug-of-war that lasted more than two years, Gianfranco Ferré and Mattioli sold 90 percent of the company to Gruppo Tonino Perna, the parent of Italian fashion group IT Holding. Industry sources say GTP paid between $150 million and $175 million for its stake in Gianfranco Ferré SpA.
"I am very happy to have concluded this deal with GTP," Ferré told WWD during an interview at the time. Ferré said he worked on the sale every night after dinner — and on Sundays — together with his management team. "I have always respected GTP for their consistent appreciation and support of my work. I chose them because they can offer me so much — distribution, management, new projects."
He added that, "This agreement respects my creative independence and my control — and power of veto — over the creative team."
Tonino Perna, chairman of IT Holding, said Sunday: "I was very honored to work 10 years with this great man of genius and creativity who represented Italian style and fashion the world over. His creative genius is so strong that it will leave an indelible impression in fashion history. He really became the DNA of our group."
Perna went on to praise Ferré's dedication to his design staff of 40 and to young people whose talent he fostered. He said it was typical of the designer that Ferré's last public appearance, on Thursday, was at Milan's Politecnico University, where he was speaking to a group of students.
As for the future, Perna said the company will continue to work hard to honor Ferré's vision "to realize his dream and continue his legacy. We feel very responsible for this inheritance of his work and creativity."
Ferré held his first fashion show at the Hotel Principe di Savoia in 1978 and gradually built his reputation on graphic shapes, artsy constructions and precision-cut tailoring that exalted a woman's femininity, at times with a gender bender streak.
Not one to rein in when it came to embellishments and ornate details, Ferré's designs were never for wallflowers. His clothes were classic yet powerful, he loved a good suit and offered endless variations on the white shirt theme, courtesy of exaggerated cuffs and collars, embroideries, ruches and ruffles.For Ferré, fittings were among the most exciting stages in the birth of a collection, the moment when his sketches bounced to life. He would walk among the models, their bodies like strings of spaghetti next to his imposing girth, and quietly give orders. Ferré in fact had always battled with his weight and had already suffered several strokes in recent years.
"Gianfranco Ferré has the sweetest blue eyes, but when he's mad, those eyes become like knives," said Katell le Bourhis, fashion adviser to the president of Christian Dior in 1999. "But the anger doesn't come from a big ego. It comes from wanting to do the job right."
In 1984, the designer launched his first fragrance and in 1986, tried his hand with couture, an undertaking he shuttered when he joined Dior in 1989. Today Ferré is a global, lifestyle package that includes secondary lines, eyewear, accessories, home collections, fragrances and directly operated stores.
Bernard Arnault's decision to tap Ferré to succeed Marc Bohan as creative director at Dior after 30 years came against all odds. The fact an Italian was to steer the creative reins at a French house was scandalous to say the least.
"I really had no idea of the scandal I had triggered, also because everything happened so fast," said Ferré during an interview at his Milan headquarters in May. "Back then, the fact that I was Italian created lots of problems. Luckily, though, my French wasn't that bad."
But over the years, the French developed a liking for Signor Ferré, who made a point of keeping Dior separate from his own brand.
"Ferré was about tradition in a mannish way, with contrasting elements and ample volumes, while Dior was more conservative, more about grandeur," the designer said.
For a good six months, Ferré gravitated closer to the Dior universe by dipping into the archives. Season after season, his collections shifted design focus as they celebrated dandy, Renaissance, dash for cash, tailoring in all forms and Snow Queens.
Fashion critics, though, didn't always treat Ferré's efforts kindly, which he still recalled vividly.In March 1993, International Herald Tribune fashion critic Suzy Menkes wrote, "…The conclusion is that Ferré will never be a great couture designer," calling his couture an "artistic flop."
"She was so harsh, but I did try to extrapolate constructive criticism in what she said," the designer said earlier this year.
"I really feel sad personally and on behalf of the company," Christian Dior president Sidney Toledano said Sunday night, shortly after learning the news of Ferré's death on French television. "I extend my sympathies to the family."
Toledano said many workers in the atelier worked under Ferré, who was Dior's couturier from 1989 to 1996. "They respected him," he said. "I will see the atelier (Monday) morning first thing."
Ferré recently remembered his Parisian days chez Dior as "unique and grandiose. An experience that I will never regret. I think that I turned Dior into something real and alive without betraying the luxe factor and its clients," he said.
In 1998, when asked by W whom he would like to succeed him he responded: "After all, many Italian designers are putting into place structures that will allow their companies to continue long after they retire. I haven't given it much thought." Ferré says after a moment. "But one thing's for sure. Whoever he is, he'd better be strong."
Ferré is survived by a brother and sister-in-law, as well as his cousin, Rita Airaghi, who until recently was also his communications director. — With contributions from Luisa Zargani, Amanda Kaiser and Miles Socha
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