When British-born designer Paul Andrew was appointed the first-ever women’s footwear design director at Salvatore Ferragamo in 2016, his career trajectory was steered in a decided path towards rising in the ranks as the shoemaker of his generation. With a three-year-old eponymous label, two CFDA awards — in 2014, he took home the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund prize (a rare win for a shoe and accessory designer) and two years later, the CFDA Swarovski Award for accessory design — and more than a decade of experience from apprenticeships at Alexander McQueen, Calvin Klein and Donna Karan to his name, Andrew cut a prominent figure in the industry.
Going into Salvatore Ferragamo, which traces its beginnings back to its eponymous founder’s revered heritage in shoemaking, Andrew had big shoes to fill. Established in 1927, the Italian maison set the template of footwear for women of the time. A case in point: the shoemaker’s rainbow wedge sandals created for actress Judy Garland introduced the style of footwear as a mainstay amongst women. Birthed from the lofty ambition of a shoemaker, Salvatore Ferragamo stayed in the business of footwear until the passing of its founder. Succeeding the shoemaker’s death, the Ferragamo family took to the drawing board to reconstruct the brand into a full-fledged fashion house — presenting its first ready-to-wear collection in 1965.
Since then, a revolving door of designers has taken up the creative directorial role at Salvatore Ferragamo. In 2011, Italian fashion designer Massimiliano Giornetti took over the reins as the maison’s overall creative director — the enlistment, a gradual climb from his initial involvement at Salvatore Ferragamo as the head of design and development of menswear. Having spent nearly a decade studying the house’s DNA on the menswear end, his vision for womenswear took its lead from the defining qualities of Salvatore Ferragamo: an elegant classicism that wore well with time. Eventually, Giornetti’s tenure drew to an end, five years later.
The leadership at the Italian maison, subsequently, returned to a spilt between three designers cherry-picked by the Florence-based company. Fulvio Rigoni was announced as women’s ready-to-wear design director, Guillaume Meilland as head of men’s ready-to-wear and Andrew as women’s footwear director. Yet, three seasons in, the existing structure was due for a change again. In 2017, the leadership framework was streamlined from the trio down to a pair, as Rigoni was subtracted from the equation. His responsibilities were to be shouldered by Andrew who was promoted to overall creative director of women’s collections. Earlier this year, he was further propelled to the top where he was due to assume the overall creative directorial position.
Moving Salvatore Ferragamo forward throughout the years has meant upending the structure of its creative directorial recruitments and recalibrating its legacy more times than one. Like solving a Rubik’s cube, landing the perfect designer combination at Salvatore Ferragamo has taken hitting the reset button on several instances. “And in truth, over the last several decades, Salvatore Ferragamo seems to have lost its way a little bit. It was speaking so many different aesthetic languages from one season to the next, so part of my goal has been to unite all of those categories and create one singular vision that repeats season after season,” says Andrew in an exclusive sit-down interview.
Salvatore Ferragamo top, skirt and boots.
Granted that Andrew’s dabble into ready-to-wear was but a distant memory from his fashion-school days at the Berkshire College of Art and Design, his rise in the ranks raised eyebrows amongst the fashion set. It was an audacious move on the part of the Italian heritage house to grant creative carte blanche to a designer who was a greenhorn in the ready-to-wear arena. But the triumphs of Alessandro Michele at Gucci and Johnny Coca at Mulberry — both designers recall a background in accessory design prior to taking over the helm at longstanding heritage houses — amongst others, warranted reason to pin hopes onto the future of Salvatore Ferragamo as told by Andrew.
“When I was offered to be creative director of the brand, I had some reservations because I hadn’t designed ready-to-wear since I was in school. But I feel like design is design. If someone were to ask me to design a bathroom, or a living room, or a chair, or a building, I would be excited to dig into that endeavour,” says Andrew.
In retrospect, the Italian maison comes a full circle with Andrew at the top of the order. His career trajectory in shoemaking echoed that of the man, Salvatore Ferragamo, himself. “Everything I do for Ferragamo begins with the shoes. I mean, I’m a shoe designer by training, and Ferragamo’s beginnings are in footwear also,” says Andrew. “Every season I go into our archives, which house an amazing 15,000 pairs of archival shoes and delving through those boxes, I find one that speaks to me specifically for that season and then work to reinvent it for today. The shoe the dictates the look of the ready-to-wear.”
“Salvatore Ferragamo has been famous for its accessories for 91 years and counting now but I think we see the importance of ready-to-wear as a business potential, and without the clothes, it’s very difficult to form a full aesthetic look for a brand.”
Andrew’s design philosophy is none too complicated to comprehend — he dresses his vision of the contemporary Salvatore Ferragamo woman from toe to head. Where footwear makes the fundamental building blocks of the maison, his literal bottom-up approach plays out to be a pragmatic proposition. Salvatore Ferragamo’s Fall/Winter ’18 runway presentation, the first ready-to-wear collection under Andrew’s purview, marked several firsts at Salvatore Ferragamo.
Beyond heralding in a new era spearheaded by Andrew on the womenswear end and Meilland on the menswear end, it was also the house’s maiden co-ed outfitting. The simultaneous showing was charged with an unfaltering synergy that bound the codes of women’s and men’s wear under a unifying thread synonymous to Salvatore Ferragamo. “I actually do everything simultaneously, in choosing the colour palette and the materials for both men’s and women’s at the same time. When I am doing the fittings, I often have a male and female model in the room at the same time and very often, the jacket he’s wearing will end up on her, or the pants she’s wearing will end up on him. While it’s not about a unisex wardrobe but there are definitely a lot of similarities in the codes of dressing. You know when you walk through the store, you feel this unity in the brand, there is one complete singular vision now,” says Andrew, detailing his creative process.
Salvatore Ferragamo band.
Salvatore Ferragamo coat, boots and bag.
The Fall/Winter ’18 collection, in its entirety, spoke of a singular narrative. To Andrew, rewriting the maison’s modus operandi means steering forward with the past in his rearview. In the collections that have followed, the designer has zeroed in on building depth to his ready-to-wear separates. While a shoe rehashed from the archives may full well be his place of inspiration, Andrew has stayed clear of coming across as overtly referential. While a multi-coloured patchwork suede wedge from 1942 was the starting point for Fall/Winter ’19, the collection was a refined line-up for men and women living in the now. Elsewhere, the house’s unparalleled prowess in leather craftsmanship was rendered across collections as leather ready-to-wear separates step into the limelight.
“My approach [at Ferragamo] has been somewhat of a reaction to what has been happening in fashion today. I feel like so many luxury brands have gone way off-piste. When you walk into departmental stores or the stores of individual brands, all you can find are hoodies, T-shirts, jeans, and sneakers covered in the brand’s logo. My approach has been the complete opposite,” says Andrew. “That, in my opinion, definitely has a time limit and it doesn’t feel luxurious. My philosophy has been to look at mostly traditional American workwear from the ’40s, ’50s and ’60s — then, reinterpreting and rethinking those proportions and materials to be more luxurious,” he continues.
Andrew’s tenure at Salvatore Ferragamo demands more than mere reinvention of timeworn codes. The task at hand also means he has to engineer the future of the maison to continue to accommodate its loyal clientele just as it does to broaden its existing consumer base — admittedly, a complicated endeavour for the designer. “[Salvatore] Ferragamo is a substantially sized fashion house with over 650 stores globally, it would be impossible for me to say goodbye to our existing clientele. But at the same time, I am very keen to engage with a new consumer. When I am designing a collection, I am always thinking, ‘would it work for a 17-year-old, a 30-year-old, a 50-year-old and a 70-year-old,’ and would they wear it? Would they be able to incorporate it into their wardrobe?” says Andrew.
Salvatore Ferragamo sweater, trousers and shoes.
Salvatore Ferragamo scarf.
The questions bear weight in Andrew’s design process and the answers subsequently find its legs on the runway. The diverse casting at his presentations attests to his ambition of rendering Salvatore Ferragamo as a household name amongst a consumer base that stretches from one end of a spectrum to another. “At my debut for menswear, there was a guy who was 17 and another was 70 all in one show and everyone in between. You see how that wardrobe can work for everyone,” says Andrew.
Andrew’s term at Ferragamo is a hot ticket to watch in observing a heritage footwear maison map out its future in the precarious contemporary state of fashion. While shoes remain a linchpin at Salvatore Ferragamo in accounting for a significant slice of the company’s profits, its ready-to-wear end has long been grounds left unmined. “Salvatore Ferragamo has been famous for its accessories for 91 years and counting now but I think we see the importance of ready-to-wear as a business potential, and without the clothes, it’s very difficult to form a full aesthetic look for a brand,” says Andrew.
In the long-run, with the years on him at Salvatore Ferragamo, Andrew is due to depart from its singular identity as a heritage shoemaking maison into a full-fledged luxury brand. But not without due caution. “Initially, I was quite keen to go in like a bulldozer and try to reinvent the brand completely. But, as we’ve touched upon before, it’s not really possible with a brand like [Salvatore] Ferragamo. It’s not going to ever be a complete reinvention. It has to be a slow process that happens over time. One has to be patient,” he says.
Interview and creative direction by Jumius Wong
Photograph by Yusuke Miyazaki
Fashion photographs by Bao Yanzhou
Styled by Tok Wei Lun
Models: Chen Yuan (Huayi Brothers Fashion Group) and Yu Hang (Paras Models)
Makeup and hair by Liu Yu
Makeup assistant: Kang Xiaowen
Fashion photography assistants Jiang Xinshi and He Longjin
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