Who would have thought that a boy born on 15 August 1944 in Legnano would one day become a fashion legend. Gianfranco Ferre grew up in a traditional family: a father who was a successful engineer working hard to support his family, a wife and two sons. Luigi Ferre did quite well for himself, so the family could afford a few little luxuries, giving Gianfranco a taste for all things beautiful and elegant.
Although the little boy shared his date of birth with Napoleon, his family had very humble plans for the boy’s future. His father saw him as a pharmacist, a job little Gianfranco really wanted to do, while one of his aunts pictured him as a priest.
Still, Gianfranco wasn’t making any plans yet. His childhood was spent playing with his brother Alberto and their school friends, visiting a tailor with his father or helping his aunt Adele in her atelier. It was truly a carefree time.
Things changed when Gianfranco’s father passed away and the quiet boy suddenly took up a new role of taking care and supporting his family – mother, aunts Rina and Virginia and his brother.
At 16 he won a painting competition hosted by Famiglia Legnanese. That oil picture from 1960 was the only one Ferre ever painted in his life. Perhaps it was then when he realised that pharmaceuticals weren’t for him.
Despite family’s expectations, he chose a different path – to study architecture at Milan Polytechnic Institute. Still a student, he became interested in jewellery design and began making leather, metal and plastic bijoux to experiment with new materials and shapes. He created a small collection for Rosy Biffi and Franco Limonta, collaborated with Walter Albini, the Yves Saint Laurent of Italian fashion, and by 1971 was designing jewellery for Elio Fiorucci and Karl Lagerfeld.
The world of architecture was replaced with the grandeur of fashion.
Ferre didn’t make any plans about his own brand or fashion house. Instead, while working for Giorgio Borelli and the line “Ketch”, he went off to India to find inspiration and learn more about colours and materials. He was fascinated by the country of “a thousand faces and a thousand souls” and found it both magical and complex. It was in India where Ferre found and understood his love for a whole range of colours created out of yellow, red and fuchsia, the shapes of sari with a meaning in every fold, the natural relationship between the body and the garment. It was a lesson in elegance, a strong reference that the designer used throughout his career.
He mixed the present and the past, histories of different countries and continents, the reality and his dream world. He understood the importance of fashion evolution that required all those elements in order to move forward and believed that without the East and its charms and ideas, “Western civilization would have been doomed to oblivion or dismissed as primitive curiosities”.
Upon return from his travels, Gianfranco Ferre designed his first collection in 1974 under label “Baila by Ferre”. It was the first time Ferre introduced the white shirt that has since become his signature item.
In 1978 Giorgio Borelli who has became Gianfranco’s good friend, drawn while travelling in Goa. Struggling to cope with a loss of his dear friend and business partner, Ferre ended his relationship with Borelli and established his own label, “Gianfranco Ferre”. His first ready-to-wear collection made of simple lines reflected both femininity and power and was appreciated by women. His attention to form, structure, materials, colours and innovative techniques including laser cutting, got him nicknamed the Frank Lloyd Wright of fashion.
In 1982 Ferre received his first Occhio d'oro award and more soon followed, in 1983, 1986, 1987, and 1989. During those years he was also awarded the "Modepreis" in 1985, the Cutty Sark Men's Fashion Award in 1985, and the "Milanese dell'anno" in 1989.
To be continued…