“The White Shirt According to Me. Gianfranco Ferré” is making its one and only U.S. stop at the Phoenix Art Museum. On view through March 6, the exhibition pays tribute to the designer’s affinity for deconstructing and reconstructing the white shirt during his 30-year career. In keeping with his reputation as “the architect of fashion,” the museum has foregone mannequins, preferring to suspend some pieces in order to relay a more artistic and sculptural installation. Spanning his work from 1982 to 2006, there are 27 shirts displayed chronologically in order to underscore how Ferré continually reimagined the collars, cuffs and body of shirts.

To illustrate the level of thought Ferré used, the museum’s curator of fashion design Denita Sewell singled out one design that incorporates the imaginary line that a “Three Musketeers”-era sword fighter would make. While numerous variations of the white shirt reappeared on fashion runways this fall, Ferré always saw the classic style as one to be reinterpreted. “In the lexicon of contemporary elegance, I like to think that the white shirt is a universal term that each woman may ‘pronounce’ as she prefers…” the designer once said.

Ferré, who died in 2007 at the age of 62, trained as an architect at Milan Polytechnic and continued to emphasize strong silhouettes with clean, modern lines in his fashion career. Edging into fashion through accessories and then rainwear in the early Seventies, Ferré launched his own ready-to-wear label in 1978, followed by men’s wear and several accessory categories. Serving as artistic director of Christian Dior from 1989 until 1997, Ferré would commute between Italy and France.

Sewell said, “What I really learned from this was how important Gianfranco Ferré was in bringing Italian fashion to the United States and establishing Milan as a fashion capital. We know Armani and we know Versace, but I think Ferré’s importance was as significant as well.”

Ferré’s longtime assistant and the foundation’s director Rita Airaghi took part in a symposium at the museum Friday with one of the designer’s former models Tatiana Sorokko along with Ralph Rucci, Denise Hale and curator Alessandra Arezzi Boza. A companion exhibition, “Gianfranco Ferré Designs,” is also on view at the museum and features 100 of the designer’s sketches paired with eight ensembles and runway photos. That layout is meant to give visitors a better sense for Ferré creative process, Sewell said.

Interestingly, the museum is not selling anything that will benefit the Ferré foundation. “This is really being done as a generous act on the part of the foundation, which is owned by the Ferré family. It is meant to give to the world of design and to share inspiration. Ferré himself lectured frequently and he was really dedicated to sharing information about design, processes and way of thinking,” Sewell said.

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