There’s always a moment during men’s fashion month – the merry-go-round of shows and presentations in London, Milan, Florence and Paris – when the accumulated buyers and members of the press collectively pause and feel thankful to be doing the jobs that they do. Some seasons, it might be the unveiling of an extraordinary shoe (remember when the furry Princetown slippers first flopped down the Gucci runway in January 2015? Ye gods!); others, it might be as simple as a fantastic brand-hosted meal (even the most uninspiring round of menswear shows can be lifted by a plate of pasta al telefono from Milanese bistro Bice); and sometimes, if we’re really lucky, it might be an amazing show, an entire collection so zeitgeist-defining and fresh in perspective that it takes the breath away.
For the AW20 season show, that moment came at 11am on Sunday 12 January within the monastic surrounds of Milan’s Rotonda Della Besana. Paul Andrew, the nascent British creative director of Salvatore Ferragamo, mounted his second men’s-focused outing for the brand. Buyers nodded in silent approval – eyebrows raised and mouths turned down – as the bobby pin-thin models walked past, while influencers Instagrammed feverishly about the looks they most loved. Even this magazine’s inscrutable Editor-In-Chief, Dylan Jones, was effusive in his praise. “That was great,” he whispered in my ear as the show’s thumping soundtrack died away. “We should write about him.”
© Photo: Alessandro Lucioni / Gorunway.com
An ultra-modern paean to all things leather, Andrew’s AW20 collection was a hard-edged collection with a soft, supple heart. Slick napa trousers in burnt caramel rubbed hems with tonal, heavy-gauge sweaters, while black leather T-shirts were teamed with trousers cut from the same fabric. Other highlights included a leather one-piece that had a sexed-up sewage worker vibe about it (below) and an oversized nana cardigan made from the finest cashmere. These were clothes imbued with a certain Italian elegance, yes, but also a new sense of modernity never before seen on the Ferragamo runway. What’s more, Andrew managed to dextrously walk the line between Ferragamo’s leather-working tradition and his own, considerably more contemporary vision. No small feat, given that Ferragamo has, over the past four decades or so, established itself as something of a high-luxury all-rounder.
Indeed, type “#Ferragamo” into the search function on Instagram and take a scroll through the 12.4 million posts that pop up. A high-colour mishmash of luxury pool sliders, OOTDs, Nigerian shoe resellers and Chinese influencers wearing the brand’s classic Gancini belts, it’s a convenient way to get an insight into the extraordinarily wide bandwidth with which the 93-year-old Florentine label operates.
Compare said algorithmic gathering with that of, say, #BottegaVeneta, which simmers to the surface countless moody-hued shots of the brand’s now iconic woven Cassette bag and girls in clompy shoes. Or, indeed, take a look at #Gucci, which instantly made my phone screen look like a pixelated G-G monogram rainbow. By contrast, Ferragamo’s product range is as wide as its customer base and that is as much a blessing for Andrew as it is a curse.
‘I’m totally changing everything: when we show, how we show, how much we show. It all has to change’
“Everyone from 18 to 80 is buying Ferragamo,” Andrew tells me when we meet over Zoom in the middle of the UK’s Covid-19-induced lockdown. Andrew is in his flat in Florence and his springy blond hair (which is clearly longer than he would like it to be) is brushed as flat as the vowels in his transatlantic burr. He also seems relaxed – or as relaxed as one can hope to be when being -interrogated over video call with an infernal international delay. “You’ve got super-conservative old ladies buying their Vara Bow shoes and then you’ve got young African-American hip-hop guys buying the Gancini belts,” he says. “And then you’ve got all that’s in between.”
Appointed as creative director of the entire Ferragamo brand – which comprises womenswear, menswear, accessories, shoes and, of course, belts – in early 2019, 41-year-old Andrew’s ascent into fashion’s upper echelons has been as smooth as it’s been speedy. Raised in the Home Counties by his upholsterer-to-royalty father and technology executive mother, Andrew’s childhood was an average, if creatively infused, one. “Growing up in Berkshire in the 1980s I was always begging my parents to take me into London to watch the amazing skyscrapers going up in Canary Wharf,” he tells me. “Afterwards, I’d go home and draw them in super graphic detail.
© Photo: Alessandro Lucioni / Gorunway.com
“Everyone thought I was going to be an architect, but I remember an architect friend of my mum’s came over and she told me that it can be decades before you see anything you’ve designed come to fruition – and sometimes never at all. That depressed me so much that I fell into fashion,” he says, laughing. “I started buying fashion magazines and plastering the images all over my wall, much to the chagrin of my parents, and footwear just seemed like an interesting combination of those two interests. The way you think about and construct footwear is much the same as you’d think about designing a building.”
Naturally, Andrew went on to study fashion and footwear design at the Berkshire College Of Art And Design (now Reading College), where his graduate collection caught the attention of buyer and consultant Yasmin Sewell, who introduced him to the design team at Alexander McQueen. An apprenticeship at the British label ensued (“Though this was in the 1990s, when there was no cash, so at some point my dad said I had to get a job that actually paid money!”), but it was really a subsequent trip to the States that sealed Andrew’s fate. “American Vogue ran a story and invited me to come to meet some designers who’d asked Anna [Wintour] about me,” he says.
‘Men’s collections are about archetypes: soldiers, surfers, bikers…’
What followed were stints working in the shoe and accessories departments of arch-American super-brands Narciso Rodriguez, Calvin Klein and Donna Karan. It was in 2012, however, the year that Andrew founded his eponymous footwear label, in New York, that his star really entered the ascendant. “I did women’s shoes first and then I launched men’s a couple of years later,” he says quickly, brushing over his achievements – from what I can gauge of Andrew through the low-res medium of Zoom, he seems unassuming, shy almost. “And then I won the 2014 CFDA [Council Of Fashion Designers Of America] award for my work.”
And what work, minimal yet sculptural. At his own brand, Andrew specialised in grown-up stiletto boots, low-key kitten heel mules and architecturally infused pumps for women, while for the guys the look was as chunky as it was serviceable. I bought a pair of Andrew’s glossy oxblood leather loafers with two-inch platform soles around five years ago (they give just the right amount of edge to a classic black suit) and I still wear them to this day.
It was two years after his CFDA win, in 2016, that Ferragamo came knocking. “I went to Florence and met the family and the executive committee,” he tells me. “And I decided to join as creative director of women’s shoes.” A pause. “It wasn’t until a year ago that I took the hard but necessary decision to pause my own brand, because the stress of managing two companies was really too much.” Galling though Andrew’s sacrifice undoubtedly must have been, it’s easy to see why the Ferragamo family chose the designer to helm the most important pillar of its brand (a brand that currently boasts 654 stores in more than 90 countries). The similarities between Andrew and its late patriarch, founder Salvatore Ferragamo, are difficult to ignore.
Born in 1898 in the southern Italian village of Bonito, Ferragamo – the eleventh of 14 children – cut his teeth as a teenage footwear apprentice in Naples before moving to America to hone his craft. In 1927 Ferragamo returned to Italy and founded his eponymous footwear company in Florence. It was during this period that the young designer started producing the soaringly innovative architectural shoes with which the brand made its name in the middle of the 20th century. Ferragamo’s focus was on comfort as much as design (“Elegance and comfort are not incompatible and whoever maintains the contrary simply doesn’t know what he’s talking about,” he famously once said) and his shoes became icons of on-foot innovation at the time.
‘You’ll never see me do massive sneakers with “Ferragamo” on the side. It seems lazy’
Scallop-shaped boots made of antelope leather were finished with horned uppers and platform wedges came complete with towering rainbow soles. These were shoes that wouldn’t have looked out of place on the McQueen catwalks of the mid-2000s – or, for that matter, lining the shelves of a Paul Andrew store in 2014. “What Ferragamo did in the first half of the century was really beyond avant-garde,” Andrew tells me. “In the years after he died, the company became more of a powerhouse, more of a conservative heritage brand, and part of what I’m trying to do is find the balance” – he pauses, looking down – “introducing the ‘fashion’ side of things while maintaining classicism.”
In 2017, Andrew was promoted to director of the entire womenswear division at Ferragamo, where his capacious duster coats crafted from syrupy leathers and simple architectural shirts quickly caught the hawkish eyes and sizeable bank accounts of the coiffed European elite. But our story really begins at the moment early last year when Andrew was appointed to his current role and menswear entered his repertoire.
“Paul is the natural creative leader of the Salvatore Ferragamo house as we enter a new phase of evolution and growth,” said Ferragamo’s chief executive officer, Micaela Le Divelec Lemmi, at the time. It was a brave choice on the part of Lemmi given that Andrew had never before designed ready-to-wear, let alone men’s clothing. “For me, design is design,” says Andrew, when I probe. “The reason they made me the creative director of Ferragamo women in the first place was because I had such a clear vision of what that woman should look like and it wasn’t related to the shoes I was designing and that we were actually selling,” he continues. “In the conversations I was having with my menswear design director, Guillaume [Meilland], I realised we had a vision for the new Ferragamo man and how to bring the brand forward. We are a shoes and accessories brand, but I have grand ambitions to change that. Why should we not have more success in ready-to-wear? It’s already starting to happen: we’ve had great responses from our retail partners and it’s already expanding in volume into the stores.”
Andrew mounted his first menswear collection (SS20) for the brand in Florence – during the Pitti Uomo menswear fair – on a sticky June day last year. Shown as part of the womenswear collection it was a crisp-edged capsule of utilitarian cargo pants and flak vests in sotto voce hues. Clean and approachable, with a similar kind of soft luxury to Hermès and Bottega Veneta, the collection, which also featured lambskin trousers (as one would expect from a leather goods brand) aplenty, set a cautiously optimistic tone.
It was his aforementioned AW20 offering, however, that really caught the world’s attention. And it’s about this collection, which has hit stores now, that Andrew is his most effusive: “I think the ambition of the company is to build on the strength of our shoes and accessories and to keep that going, but they could also see that we were already doing very expensive fashion shows so why not turn that into a commercial endeavour rather than just a showcase for the shoes and bags?” Andrew questions. “My idea is to bring in a guy who isn’t just a Wall Street business dude buying a briefcase and a conservative pair of shoes. I also want to bring in a younger fashion client who’s going to be the future of Ferragamo.”
‘The family is engaged and very open about what is happening today in fashion’
There’s an art to visualising the man for whom one is designing clothes, to getting under the skin of who he is and what he wants, and it’s an art that, if mastered, can make a fashion company an awful lot of money very quickly indeed. Alessandro Michele took Gucci from low-billions bit player to global superbrand in a few short years by peddling endless colourful confections for his own magpie-esque man, while Kim Jones at Dior has got the showy-yet-chic profile of his male customer down pat. Who, I wonder, will Andrew’s uomo ideale turn out to be? “When you think about a women’s collection, it tends to be more about a period of time – like it’s going to be more 1960s silhouettes or more 1970s shapes. But with men’s it’s never really about that,” he tells me. “It’s all about archetypes for guys. So for this season I set out my masculine archetypes: the soldier, the surfer, the racing car driver, the sailor, the biker and the businessman. And when you look at the sartorial codes of those characters, that’s kind of what you get with the Fall/Winter 2020 collection. It’s like he’s wearing a surfer’s pant with a businessman’s coat or a biker’s overall with a soldier’s jacket. When you know those are the references, you see them come out in the collection.”
It’s a clever move. Where women are often more likely to buy wholesale into new trends and concepts early on – sophisticated in their ability to pick out what they like and ignore what they don’t – men, traditionally speaking at least, tend to be less willing to deviate from what they know. There’s a reason, after all, that the military aesthetic comes back around in menswear pretty much every season and it’s the same reason you’ll never attend an Autumn/Winter fashion week in Milan and not see at least five versions of a peacoat. Men love things that function and it’s an added bonus if they look good too.
What’s more, it’s a trick that will make the great coats, overalls and double-breasted suits that punctuated Andrew’s second solo menswear show seem all the more desirable to the real men buying those briefcases and conservative shoes in Ferragamo’s stores.
Ferragamo is, by any definition, a fashion megalith. On 31 December 2019 the company registered an annual turnover of £1.23 billion. With much of this income being the result of Ferragamo’s extraordinarily wide customer base, how does Andrew plan to strike the balance, I wonder. “It’s not easy,” he says with a smile, dragging his fingers through his hair. “The collection has to be constructed with all these different consumer groups in mind and you can’t lean too far one way or the other in case you alienate certain people, but I think we’ve done a good job of balancing the classic with the contemporary. There’s space for products that are going to relate to a fashion consumer more like us,” he adds, gesticulating in my direction down the barrel of the lens.
Does that mean Andrew, like every other fashion designer in the world right now, will be producing a chunky dad sneaker for Ferragamo? “I’m definitely not into the idea of sportswear at Ferragamo. I don’t think it’s a reference that works for the house. You’re never going to see me do hoodies and sweatpants and massive sneakers with ‘Ferragamo’ on the side,” he says, suddenly serious (or at least I think he’s being serious; it might just be my screen glitching). “It just seems lazy and inappropriate for a brand with this sort of heritage and history. So, for me, it’s more about twisting the classics. And I’ve been more inspired by workwear – that’s come more into the collection.”
‘My concept now is to do less but better, to produce pieces that stand the test of time’
It’s no secret that being the creative director of a major fashion company is a stressful business. Whispers of mental fragility and feuds circulate the upper echelons of fashion’s creative elite like smoke around the papal chimney. The problems are often only heightened when the brand for which said creative director works is still owned and controlled by the family who founded it. British designer Jonathan Saunders struggled as chief creative officer of Diane Von Furstenberg, where the namesake designer was still very much involved, leaving in 2017 after just a few seasons; Tom Ford and Yves Saint Laurent famously feuded when the former was appointed creative director of the latter’s eponymous brand. How, I ask Andrew, is he finding working for a company where key members of the namesake family are still so present.
His answer, when it comes, is as measured as the positioning of knick-knacks on the midcentury shelf framed behind his head. “The family is very involved,” he says with a wry smile. “There are several members of the family that are still involved that were part of creating the Ferragamo business at the very beginning. Mr Ferruccio Ferragamo, who is the president of the company, Salvatore’s son, he’s the one responsible for building it into a billion-dollar business, with his mother,” says Andrew, slowly. “They’re very engaged and it’s great to have their feedback and insight because they built this company.” He pauses. “But they did bring me on as the creative director and one has to inform them about what is happening today in fashion. They’re very open about that and there’s a really great back-and-forth.”
Zoom has just informed me that Andrew and I are almost at the end of our time together, but given that we’re in the process of entering the worst global recession in anyone’s lifetime and that fashion has taken a particularly hard hit during the pandemic – with production stalled and show systems irreparably disrupted – I’m eager to hear how Andrew thinks his industry and, more specifically, Ferragamo’s role within it will shift once things return to normal, whatever that normal may be.
“I’m not at liberty to speak about it much yet, but I’m totally changing everything: when we show, how we show, how much we show. It all has to change,” Andrew tumbles. “The way we worked before was crippling. It was broken. We worked every hour God sent, but for what?” He shrugs. “My concept now, which is totally backed up by the executive team, is to do less but better. Our place in the landscape is to continue producing pieces of a really high quality and level of craftsmanship and things that will stand the test of time.”