IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF FERRAGAMO. Paul Andrew is an English fashion designer. In February 2019, Andrew was appointed Creative Director of the globally successful Salvatore Ferragamo brand.
This interview is available as a podcast.
Paul Andrew, how did you become Creative Director of Ferragamo?
My path to becoming Creative Director started three years ago. I’d won the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund for my eponymous footwear brand back in 2014, and then the CFDA Swarovski Award in 2016, which apparently caught the attention of the Ferragamo family and executive team. They liked what I was doing and asked whether I’d be interested to work with them to design their women’s footwear, to be the first named shoe designer for Ferragamo since Salvatore died in 1960. Given the incredible history of the brand, and all the potential I saw, it was such a huge honour and opportunity that I couldn’t refuse. After a year in that role I was promoted to women’s creative director, and then, just before the fashion show in February, I was promoted again to Creative Director overseeing both men’s and women’s categories.
What happened after Salvatore Ferragamo died?
In the years after Salvatore died his late wife, Wanda Ferragamo, who sadly passed in October 2018, was left with their young family to parent and his business to manage, and she did such an incredible job. She essentially put all of her children in charge of different categories. Fiamma designed the shoes, Giovanna the ready to wear, Fulvia the silk accessories, while Ferruccio, Leonardo and Massimo helped manage the company. They created an incredible family business on a global scale, but as those members passed away or retired from the business, that siloed company structure did not really change. There were different designers overseeing different categories, so when you walked into a store you didn’t see or feel one complete and clear design aesthetic.
Did this change when you joined?
Frankly that continued even when I began, because I was working as the head of women’s shoes and there was someone else working as the head of women’s ready to wear and someone overseeing men’s ready to wear, and then unnamed designers working on other product categories. The design vision that I had for the house started to resonate and become successful both commercially and editorially, but it became obvious that my vision was different from that of the other designers. So at a certain point I was asked whether I would consider being creative director of all women’s categories, a role that had never existed before, with the idea that I would bring forward one clear and concise design aesthetic. I was of course ambivalent, as I hadn’t designed ready-to-wear since college, but I had such a clear idea of how the Ferragamo should look that I accepted the challenge, knowing I had a strong team working beside me. And then after about a year in that role, and seeing the success that we were having with my work on the women’s, they invited me to also oversee all men’s categories.
“My doctrine for Ferragamo is about combining high craft with high tech.”
Salvatore Ferragamo bootie with galvanized F wedge heel.
Are these two categories very different?
Men naturally tend to be less brave in their fashion choices than women, but my Ferragamo man and woman are aligned in their appreciation of craftsmanship, colour and a love of shoes. They share the philosophy of dressing from toe to head.
What does that mean?
When I design I always start from the shoes. It is my first level of expertise, but the shoe also has a powerful way of dictating the look and proportion of the clothes. I always start getting dressed in the morning by deciding which shoes I’m going to wear, and I think the Ferragamo man and woman do the same. As it relates to clothes, women are more inclined to change the silhouette of the garments from one season to the next, whereas men tend to find a uniform that works for them and stick with that for many years. Ferragamo was also a house born with colour, and of course women tend to be more brave wearing it. Salvatore’s creations were some of the most vibrant shoes the world had ever seen.
Women like that?
Yes. The Ferragamo woman loves colour and print.
Did his success start in Hollywood in the twenties?
Earlier actually. He was the first designer to dress Hollywood. He befriended all of the major actresses in the early 1900’s and when he returned to Italy to open his namesake fashion house in 1927, many of these celebrities followed him to Italy and became some of his best clients.
What is the essence of the Ferragamo man today?
He is curious, sensitive, confident, and audacious in his engagement with the world, yet he remains forever a gentleman. He knows and appreciates tradition well enough to playfully bend the rules of style. Be it a non-traditional colour or a sharp, new silhouette, he dresses to suit his character, not to just blend in or dull his natural edges.
What is more important for Ferragamo, or are they equally important, men’s wear and women’s wear?
Ferragamo is uniquely one of the only luxury businesses where men’s and women’s are of almost equal proportion.
Paul Andrew, what are you trying to do with this legacy?
To push the boundaries further and go back to the original design philosophy of Salvatore himself, which was always about using the best Italian craftsmanship in combination with state of the art technology. My doctrine for Ferragamo is about combining high craft with high tech. When you look at the shoes Salvatore was creating from the 1920s up until his death in 1960, he was absolutely so ahead of the times. He was a true genius in footwear and had hundreds of design patents.
Was he very inventive?
Yes. Nearly four hundred design patents for decorations and inventions in the shoe industry. He left behind a treasure trove of technical and scientific discoveries of inestimable value and scope. He defied gravity with his F-wedge design in 1946 and redefined the norms of footwear making of that day. These patents have provided me endless inspiration and ideas for new creations and construction processes and the mentality for how to move the brand forward today for this modern age.
What does this mean for you?
Going back to my high craft high tech concept, I continually think what Salvatore would be doing today if he were still designing and working. And so I develop my designs with that concept in mind. I have developed a series of shoes and sent the heels to an Italian car factory to be galvanized, because I had just bought a new car and the gentleman in the dealership was telling me about the technology involved to apply the paint onto the car and I found the process so fascinating that I thought how interesting it would be to use the same technology with the footwear I was creating.
Was it successful?
Very successful. It gives a very specific metallic finish. It’s also lightweight and durable.
Apart from the design, comfort is my main focus and concern. It’s really essential.
“Ferragamo is uniquely one of the only luxury businesses where men’s and women’s are of almost equal proportion.”
Paul Andrew, as Creative Director of Ferragamo what is your goal?
To unify the design vision for the House, to create one clear aesthetic message and to introduce this beautiful Italian Heritage brand to a new generation of consumers.
Ferragamo clients are old?
Haha! (he laughs) We have the reputation of being affiliated with an older, more conservative customer, and a major part of my job is to ignite the brand and make it feel relevant for today and to a younger more forward client. I’m doing that in multiple ways. Firstly with the collection itself by introducing a new wardrobe of silhouettes and styles, fabrications and unique colour combinations that appeal to a younger audience. I’ve also totally changed the advertising campaign concept, working with young emerging photographers like Harley Weir, Bibi Borthwick and Luca Khouri, and I work with a truly diverse and heterogeneous model casting. I’ve also started working on a brand new global retail store concept which will look and feel luxurious and elevated, but also light and airy, and will again harness elements that combine the best of Italian high craft and high tech.
With globalisation, is it difficult to face so many different markets, China, the United States, Europe?
Today the marketplace is so flooded with product that it’s really important to have a very clear brand vision and to give a reason for your customer and prospective customers to shop with you. The vision I have for Ferragamo is connected to the history of the brand and the creations that Salvatore left behind but taking them forward, modernizing them so they become something completely new, youthful and relevant. In terms of international appeal, the world has definitely changed, because since the birth of the internet and social media everyone globally is seeing the same things at the same time. The day of specific trends from Paris, London, Milan and New York, trends that were specific to different continents, has long gone, but what’s interesting is that we’re one of the only brands still developing different fit in our footwear and ready-to-wear for different regions. The design is exactly the same; it’s just the fit has to be slightly different to better fit the consumer. For example, in the United States women’s feet tend to be longer and more narrow, whereas in Asia they’re shorter and wider, and so at Ferragamo we develop our products with those measurements in mind and ship the relevant fit for the relevant market. The shoe, dress and jacket is essentially exactly the same, it fits the median consumer of that market.
When I think of Ferragamo I think of conventional shoes and a kind of conformity. Are you going to keep a traditional line?
Ferragamo isn’t trendy. You don’t buy one of my suede coats or an ostrich-skin bag and wear them for one season only. Ferragamo is an investment, and if you look after the product it will look after you and stay relevant for years to come. I like the idea of passing Ferragamo down to your daughter and son, much the way the Ferragamo business has been passed down in generations, but the biggest challenge I face is the balancing; keeping the current client but also making the brand relevant from a fashion perspective. It’s an established successful business with a very loyal clientele who is typically quite classic, but I also need to introduce the brand to a new generation of millennial consumers who want different things from a luxury brand today. Not so long ago men were wearing suits and ties and formal Oxford lace-up shoes to work every day, and women were in neat twin sets and pumps, but the wardrobe has become much more casualised. I am reacting to that, but in the right way for Ferragamo, as I feel that many luxury houses have gone too far, particularly with menswear, which I find to be in a pretty bad position right now. When you enter many luxury stores around the world the vast majority of what you find is t shirts, jeans, hoodies and sneakers emblazoned with logos. My philosophy for Ferragamo is completely the opposite. I’m introducing a wardrobe that’s still luxurious, an elevated cross pollination of the worlds of sartorial and sportswear with an intrinsic ease and comfort. I’m also incorporating a lot of leather, specifically because I feel that Ferragamo was born as a leather goods brand, and that we should be the destination for leather ready-to-wear.
Is Ferragamo a luxury brand?
Definitively! Yes absolutely. It’s one of the very few luxury fashion houses today that still produces 100 percent of its products in Italy using the best Italian craftsmanship and materials.
Nothing new or innovative ever came from designers who were playing safe?
Having read Salvatore’s autobiography, the brand would not be alive and strong today, 92 years after he started it, if it weren’t conceived with the mentality he had of pushing boundaries. It’s time for Ferragamo to return to that original philosophy and that’s what the family and the executive committee have assigned me to do. I am quite free to push the boundaries and think outside of the box in order move the brand forward, as long as I’m maintaining the core business. Having been the CEO and creative director of my own eponymous brand for six years, I have unique experience as a designer who is able to consider and balance both.
What has happened to your own business?
I recently put it on pause in order to focus all of my time on the Ferragamo project. I do plan to come back to it at some point, but right now I think it’s important to give all my energy and attention to Ferragamo to ensure its success. It was complicated because given that Ferragamo is based in Florence and my own company was in New York and traveling back and forth, and with the time difference, it became really challenging to manage both businesses and give them both the love and attention they deserve.
Do you now live in Florence?
Yes, but I spend far more time behind my desk than is advisable, and don’t know the nuances of Florence as well as I should, but the loveliness and history of the city has already added new depth and dimension to my life. From Parco delle Cascine, where I run most mornings, to the iconic statuary within Piazza della Signoria, to the off-the-beaten-path trattorias and charming cobblestone side streets that hold centuries of stories, it truly is an amazing place. I also work inside one of the most impressive architectural marvels of Florence, Palazzo Spini Feroni. My debut menswear collection for Ferragamo took place by the Fountain of Neptune earlier this year, and experiencing that on such hallowed ground was a memory I will treasure always. But it’s also really good for me as a contemporary fashion designer to be able to leave and travel often to other parts of the world, and so I spend a lot of time traveling to Asia and the United States and across Europe. I’m traveling all the time.
Which is your main market today?
China is our first market and a major focus for confined growth. Ferragamo was also one of the first names in the United States, and the business there is still very strong, which is encouraging considering so many other brands are suffering in the US right now.
How many stores do you have?
Currently around 660 globally, including the ones in the airports. There’s a lot of work to do. A lot of those stores in the airport are managed by franchise partners, so it’s now working with them to align them with my design vision. Unfortunately these things don’t happen overnight with any business the size of Ferragamo, but it’s happening faster than I anticipated because the new product that I’ve introduced has become commercially very successful.
Salvatore Ferragamo with numerous lasts – wooden shoe moulds – for celebrity clients such as Greta Garbo, Sophia Loren and Audrey Hepburn
An image from the Salvatore Ferragamo 2019 advertising campaign
Menswear and womenswear are equally important to Salvatore Ferragamo
Salvatore Ferragamo Palazzo Pitti Men’s Show Spring Summer 2020
An image from the Salvatore Ferragamo pre Spring 2020 lookbook
Following an enduring tradition of hi tec and craft, here is Salvatore Ferragamo’s ‘Invisible Sandal’ from 1949.
“Ferragamo is one of the very few luxury fashion houses today that still produces 100 percent of its products in Italy using the best Italian craftsmanship and materials.”
How would you describe your personal style? Paul Andrew, do you have a fil rouge?
Since I became a creative director overseeing all product categories my personal style has evolved. I used to love to wear colour and experiment with different silhouettes of clothes on myself, but when working with fabrics and designing a collection I don’t want to be distracted by what I’m wearing myself, and so I seem to have adopted a wardrobe of all black or navy.
Do you have some designers who are your reference point?
Before I started my own business and before I worked with Ferragamo I had a pretty long career working with other iconic designers. I started working with Lee Alexander McQueen in 1999, which was an incredible moment. Lee’s name and the Alexander McQueen brand were on everyone’s lips and he taught me the importance of pushing design boundaries. His mentality was about fashion for fashion’s sake. The things that I saw and witnessed and experienced working beside Lee totally formed the way I think and work. I then moved to the United States and started working with American designers, firstly with Narciso Rodriguez and then with Calvin Klein, both of whom had a very different design approach to McQueen. It was more about sleek, minimalistic wearable fashion and a scaled business. When Calvin Klein retired, he introduced me to Donna Karan, with whom I went on to work for over a decade before starting my brand. It was with Donna that I first learned the importance of fit, comfort and wearability. When I look back at my work experience it’s interesting how all those different designers have influenced the way that I think and work today.
Has the job of a designer changed since you started in the business of fashion?
It’s much more challenging for a young emerging designer to have massive success independently. The financial commitment required to compete with the large scale houses has become almost impossible without outside funding. But it’s also an exciting moment, because many of the large established houses are hiring young talents to bring fresh blood and energy to their brand. There are so many more designers today than there ever used to be, so it is challenging to stand out from the crowd, but to be successful you need a massive financial investment to create a collection four times a year, to stage fashion shows, to advertise in magazines, create samples for the red carpet and editorial, as well as maintain a state of the art website and engaging Instagram feed.
When is your next collection?
On September 21st in Milan. It will be a continuation of what I’ve already established for the house. It’s colourful, textural and there’s a lot of leather, but this time it’s a bit more free and open and there’s more skin. The heterogeneous casting concept of including models of different ages and ethnicities will continue. The casting of Ferragamo has become one of the most diverse on the Milan fashion calendar, and that’s really important for me because I want our casting to reflect the global consumer base that we have.
Now I understand that your role with Ferragamo includes the past, present and future all together.
With a company with revenue of one and a half billion euro you can’t simply ignore the current customer base and throw the baby out with the bath water! In order to grow the business and keep it alive it is really important for me to engage with all of the elements and facets that made that house so successful in the past, that made that house important, but to rework them and rethink them in a new way. It has to be Italian. There has to be the element of high craftsmanship, thinking about the history of Salvatore himself, his innovation and forward thinking. I do feel like I’m personally only a small part of the equation, but my work for Ferragamo feels so right for me, at this time in my life, at this point in my career. I am humbled each day by the opportunity to steward a brand with such global influence, take it to new realms, invite new customers into its luxurious realm, and honour one of my personal heroes, Salvatore Ferragamo.