Byline: Etta Froio, March 1982

He dresses women and I undress them,” quipped Helmut Newton. It was just a few hours before Newton’s nudes were to be unveiled at the Marlborough Gallery, and the man who dresses women — Gianfranco Ferre — was to have his first major fashion show in the U.S. presented by Bergdorf Goodman. The Milanese designer and the photographer met by chance when Ferre dropped into the gallery Wednesday afternoon for a quick look at the life-size nudes. As Ferre surveyed the photographs, a friend whispered, “What would mama say if she could see you now?” Ferre just grinned like a naughty little boy and blushed.
Behind that boyish look, however, is a determined and serious designer who insists fashion must be contemporary and must have quality. “A designer,” says Ferre, “has to approach his work seriously, must make a clear statement about what he believes, what he stands for. He must make something that can go on and be appreciated for its quality. Good quality and good design are the important things.” The theory has paid off for Ferre, who started his own business just 3 1/2 years ago. The volume has grown from $1.5 million the first year to its present $25 million.
“My basic idea,” continues Ferre, “is to create for the woman of the Eighties. Going back is too easy, it’s doing what already has been done. I must go on, to be modern — clean and simple.”
The architect-turned-designer came to New York especially for the Bergdorf Goodman show — an abbreviated version of his Milan spring collection of super-sophisticated sailors.
BG built a duplicate ramp in an adjoining room and invited 650 guests to experience Ferre’s naval maneuvers. The finale did get the patriotic juices flowing. Ferre’s evening seafarers paraded along the ramps lined with white-uniformed sailors — members of the New York City Gay Men’s Chorus — singing “Anchors Aweigh.”
“I loved the evening,” said Ferre the next morning. “There was something like electricity in the audience. I think it brought something new for the American people. I spoke to many of the ladies after the show, and they said they found really new and fresh ideas there.”
“I love New York,” says Ferre. “It’s a city with energy, and that’s the side of New York I like. I love the blue sky you see here. I love the exhibitions — here and in Paris you can find the best exhibitions in the world.+I also love to watch people, the way they look, the way they are dressed. They look so free, as though they have not yet been influenced by others. They’re open-minded and people always look so young here.”