Caleido interviews Rita Airaghi, lecturer, director of the Gianfranco Ferré Foundation and the designer’s right-hand woman. Welcome to Caleido, an inspirational diary that narrates many stories: about creative people, trends, travels, objects. / Read the Editor’s letter here
Diary of: @fondazionegianfrancoferre
1. The Foundation is involved with the preservation, promotion and dissemination of the cultural, artistic and aestheric values of Gianfranco Ferré. What is the key (for a Foundation) to succeding in building an relevant role in the process of connecting past (preservation) and future (creation)?
Conservation is inherently an objective and scientific work, something that must be done in order not to disperse a specific material. Just preserving is the easiest thing to do. However, in the context of an archive like ours, preservation means something different: it is about verifying, evaluating, cataloguing, prioritizing, having subject matter. And that is a completely different story. As far as the “cultural” role of the Foundation is concerned, it is to be considered from an aspect of values and ethics: it is about seeing what is being conserved as heritage that must not only last over time but must also convey a thought to someone who will be able to continue it. In my opinion, the key to implementing this projection into the future can be found in working for and with the youth, which translates into giving meaning to the materials preserved in a way that will offer young people the chance to read, understand and interpret them. In order to accomplish this, I believe one essential aspect is to be considered: every “object” is historically situated in time, and therefore must be observed and interpreted by applying the filter of history, so that it can be understood by those who live in a different time and consequently passed on and processed.
My analysis of Ferré’s work today has a precise purpose: attempting to identify which elements could be worth considering for reflection, for reasoning, for moving forward, in the light of different technologies, working methods and consumption. It is the past that we need to build the future. After all, this is the reality…
Gianfranco Ferré – 1982 – Ph. Arnaldo Castoldi
2. The Foundation’s archive is immense, and it houses all the heterogenous material that bears withness to Ferré’s work (through sketches, drawings, texts, videos, garments). Which pieces of the archive are you particularly fond of?
It’s a difficult question… I love to be surprised, so whatever I see as relevant each time is what strikes me. There is material I know perfectly well, that I know exists, that gives me the pleasure of verification but does not surprise me. Then, every now and then, something turns up that I had forgotten existed: a drawing, a dedication, a photo… That’s the beauty of archive work. Just the other day, with two Chinese students, I was looking for material relating to the relationship between Ferré and Chinese culture and I found some photos of his first trip to China, which I had completely forgotten about. Then there is a clothing archive, made up of accessories, clothes or pieces of clothing. Here too the choice is tough, because there are things that have a special value for me, that evoke memories of particularly tense and difficult moments; or that still strike me today, decades later, for their cleverness. Among them, there is a piece from the “White Whirts” series (cf. the iconic Ferré shirt): it is an oversized collar which, when wrapped around the model’s breasts, acts as a top… I think it is a brilliant idea, because a piece of clothing becomes the clothing itself (the part for the whole, a synecdoche, if we were to use an appropriate expression).
3. In the previous issue of Caleido, we have talked about “fluid design”. Gianfranco Ferré is undoubtedly an example of eclective creative production, ranging from fashion, to jewellery, architecture and interior and product design. What is the legacy that such a “maestro” leaves to the world of creativity? Is it possible for a designer to be just as eclectic in today’s highly compartmentalized world?
Speaking of Ferré, I would definitely say that he was an eclectic designer because he produced objects in many different fields, however, his heart was in fashion. And by fashion, I mean both clothing and accessories, the latter being conceived as an integral part of the former. After that, for a series of occasions and necessities, he designed something else as well, although mainly for personal pleasure: he loved furnishing his own homes and those of his closest friends, and he did a couple of experiments in the field of furniture which, with hindsight, were perhaps a little too avant-garde for those times. I am referring specifically to a collection of sofas and a collection of rugs in the early 1980s. Whatever he designed was the result of a process stemmed from him being an architect, his primal nature, which led him to constantly apply a precise method developed during his studies at the Politecnico. Speaking of today, I really believe the world of design has changed. What we were saying about Ferré was once true: a fashion designer could experiment on other fronts, without having to report to anyone but himself. Today, however, I have the impression that this fluidity of design comes from marketing and communication requirements: many fashion companies have started to proliferate in different areas, such as accessories, furniture, catering, then the hospitality sector… Rather than a transformation of design, in my opinion, it is a transformation of business.
4. Creativiy and planning are often two antithetical concepts, but in Gianfranco Ferré’s world they seamlessly coexisted. What was his method?
His method was based on an unshakable pillar: first and foremost, the application of a criterion of rationality, in which fantasy, poetry and dreams were introduced. But the basis was the project. He always thought that everything, even the simplest of things, was born from a thought transformed first into a drawing and then into a prototype.
5. In the process of dressmaking, Gianfranco Ferré always gave absolute priority to the “sense of body”, to its physicality and movements. Today, instead, many creatives start from a purely asthetic question. What do you think about this? What are the main differences you notice in today’s fashion?
That’s true, he always gave absolute priority to the “sense of the body”. To him, designing a building or a suit was similar… Of course, there are differences, and the most significant one is the fact that a suit is something light and changeable, soft, that moves around a body in motion, while a building is solid, static, hard. In both cases, however, his starting point was always the project, or rather the idea that at the basis of any type of work there should be rational research, to which a creative declination is applied. In this regard, the last lecture Ferré gave at the Faculty of Architecture in Milan was particularly moving; he talked about the concept of “reason-feeling”, a dichotomy that represented his basic guide. On the one hand, there must be reason, made up of precise rules, on the other hand there must be feeling, with its inspirations, research, changes and dreams… Just as “fashion, which is also a dream” teaches us.
6. The undisputed stars of Gianfranco Ferré’s work were the white shirts, greatly appreciated by the public yet initially stigmatized by the press as “too revolutionary”. How important is it for a designer to have an icon? and when can that icon become a “cage”?
Thinking back to Ferré’s shirts, they have become iconic, almost a label, especially after his death… An association that has grown over time, definitively consecrated by the 2015 exhibition at Palazzo Reale (Milan). He was previously referred to as the “architect of fashion”, and the white shirt was one of the various leitmotifs of his collections. That exhibition was very important, because it elevated Ferré’s fashion to a dreamlike dimension: poetry capable of giving shape to ideas.
Going back to his first fashion show – 1974 – in which seemingly “simple” white shirts were worn on the catwalk over black leather cuissardes, I perfectly remember the reaction of the press, who recognized the incredible novelty, while still calling it too precocious and avant-garde. To him, shirts were an eternal and inexhaustible test: he never considered them an iconic statement of his style, but rather an ever-evolving way of creating something new on the same subject… This conviction accompanied him even when he became creative director of Dior in 1989, a chapter in which experimentation with shirts continued unceasingly season after season.
7. Speaking of the Dior chapter, in 1989 LVMH appointed an italian as the artistic director of the maison. At the time, putting such a job “in the hands of a foreigner” was a very avant-garde move. what do you remember of that event?
I remember experiencing a lot of emotions… The first thing Ferré thought was “why not?”. His attitude has always been to try, to embrace new challenges. After that, a rather complex time of adjustments began, in which he had to overcome resistance on various fronts, including that of the more conservative collaborators and the French press. At the end of the first Haute Couture show for Christian Dior, the atmosphere was already more relaxed, also thanks to the prestigious “Dé d’or”, the critics’ award for the best couturier of the season. Everything was evolving and an initial hesitation from the French press, surprised and reluctant to change, was inevitable. Over time, however, they came to appreciate and even love him.
8. Besides being a visionary, Gianfranco Ferré also knew how to adapt to the times, always aligning his creations to the evolution of the society (just think of jeans, included in his collections). How can one be revolutionary and contemporary at the same time?
Ferré always believed that a designer could not live in an ivory tower, but instead had to immerse himself into reality. Although he was not very social, he paid great attention to the facts and events of his time with, which inevitably led him to reflect on society and thus to incorporate them into his creations. “Clothing is also one of society’s forms of expression. If you don’t know how it moves, how it evolves and how it changes, you can’t create fashion”. Speaking of jeans, in Ferré’s golden years they were clearly an emblem of contemporary society. And Ferré, being the great experimenter he was, couldn’t help but introducing it in his collections: denim suits and dresses, jeans with stitching, seams, buttons… A desire to show that something different than what everyone expected could be done.
Gianfranco Ferré – 1996
9. Caleido is about eclectic people. among Gianfranco Ferré’s passions, travel and art have always had a special place. Can you tell us about them? What forms of art or travel were he most passionate about? How did they interact with his creations?
The funny thing, perhaps little known, is that not all the travels that Ferré recounted through his collections were actually real. Of some places he was a direct connoisseur, as in the case of the Orient, but in other instances they were imaginary trips to places he had never been to. Many were, therefore, the result of in-depth research in all fields (literature, music, film, art) which led him to have his very personal interpretative vision… The collection inspired by Argentina, for example, was born from one of these studies, which led him to a slightly poetic, “crazy” and sentimental reinterpretation… As far as art collecting is concerned, here too we need to make some specifications … Ferré was not a collector in the strict sense of the word, but, as I like to define him, a serial collector of what he liked. Therefore, both an object of value and a “knick knack” that perhaps attracted him because of a particular colour or shape would fall into the same basket. I am thinking, for example, of a papier-mâché crown made by his assistants, which for him was of inestimable value. He had a form of strong attachment to certain objects or places (such as the house he was born in): things that made him feel good.
10. What is an object in your home that you would never give up? What is the memory attached to it? Would you send us a photo taken by you?
My home is also the result of his vision, even of discussions, but above all of is filled with objects that have been designed and conceived by him, and for this reason I am twice as fond of them. Among them is an extremely intricate table created by Gianfranco, which drove the craftsman who created it “crazy” … Or the extremely heavy (more than 10kg) head sculpture of a pre-Roman soldier that he had transported here for me in a suitcase all the way from San Francisco…