The ‘La camicia bianca secondo me’ exhibition is opening in Milan tomorrow, so here is an updated version of our tribute to the unique style of Gianfranco Ferré, published on Class of its Own issue 05.


Last year, it was announced that the Fondazione Gianfranco Ferré had finally come to an agreement with the Paris group, belonging to the Sankari family from Dubai and now owner of the brand, to acquire 2000 dresses from the late designer’s archive. The foundation, chaired by Alberto Ferré, brother of Gianfranco, and directed by Rita Airaghi, former press officer of the fashion house, apparently paid little more than 400 thousand euros to acquire these treasures. There had been internal rumours about such dealings some months before, while the Paris group was about to reveal its controversial decision to close the brand activities in Italy, not to let go of the brand, but to use it for licensing speculations, mostly in the Far East. It is not the first time that a cult fashion house has fallen into oblivion due to bad management, but this is a particularly serious case. In a world where it is legal to buy a prestigious fashion house just to exploit its commercial brand potentials, without investing in its development and image, these are the predictable consequences. There is no place for reflections regarding the reasons why the brand is so popular worldwide; there is no respect for the late designer’s incredible talent, for his studies and hard work, and for the thousands of people with unparalleled expertise and knowledge who helped him become a legend over the years.

Strangely enough, the bad news arrived in the same few days when the foundation was launching the first of its big initiatives, the exhibition 'La camicia bianca secondo me' (The White shirt according To me), at the museo del Tessuto (Fabric museum) in Prato, Tuscany. The show, which has finally arrived in Milan, where it is opening tomorrow at Palazzo Reale, concentrates on the true paradigm of Ferré’s style. In his own words, “Talking about my white blouse is all too easy. It’s all too easy to declare a love that covers the span of my creative path. A hallmark – perhaps the ultimate signature – of my style, which enfolds a constant pursuit of innovation and a no less unfailing love of tradition”. These notes from the designer are printed in the exhibition catalogue, edited by Rita Airaghi, under the artistic direction of Luca Stoppini, and published by Skira. The book offers a collection of different methods of analysis of the designer’s perpetual deconstruction and reconstruction of the white shirt, a real 'fil rouge' throughout his career, and features the contribution of big names from Italian style, fashion and architecture, in addition to Luca Stoppini’s pictures and Leonardo Salvini’s X-Ray simulations, which are also part of the exhibition.

Ferré’s way of working on the white blouse is the perfect synthesis of his original approach to fashion. As Daniela Degl’Innocenti, curator of the exhibition, explains in the book, “The shirt’s apparent openness to interpretation is actually the result of a meticulous artistic and design research process where, distilled and purified from any facile links to tradition, it is elevated to the highest and most abstract plane in the sphere of shape.” One must not forget that the main difference between Gianfranco Ferré and the other fashion designers lies in his architectural studies, which gave him a totally original perspective. This is evident, for example, in his sketches. as well as showing a mood or a vision, they contain all the definitive elements of the item already, before the subsequent translation into the paper pattern and then into the final product. his flawless line could render every volume and detail, even the light- ness or thickness of the fabric.

As he explained in his notes, “A combination of tradition and innovation is what originally triggered the Ferré white shirt. Tradition in the form of the men’s shirt, ever-present and an encoded element of the wardrobe. Which tickled my fancy for invention, incited my propensity for rethinking the tenets of elegance and style in an interplay of pure fantasy and contemporary design. Read with a sense of glamour and poetry, freedom and energy, the formal and quasi-immutable white shirt took on an infinity of identities, a multiplicity of inflections. To the point of becoming, I believe, a must of modern-day femininity.” He gave birth to his visions using all kinds of glamorous fabrics, taffeta, crêpe de Chine, organza, satin, tulle, gazar, piqué, premium silks and cottons, experimenting with decorations, from mechanical embroidery to lace, from silk topstitching to hand-sewn tucks, focusing on the details of the macro and micro components, making his blouses a manifesto of his immortal style.

So it’s no wonder that London’s Victoria & Albert Museum chose the picture from a Ferré advertising campaign from 1991, featuring a white shirt, as the promotional image for the exhibition 'The glamour of italian Fashion', a comprehensive look at italian fashion from 1945 to 2014, which was on show last Summer Evidently an appropriate tribute for a designer who changed the approach to style forever, thanks to his architectural approach, raising his clothes to a higher artistic level. This was merely the last of the awards gained by this protagonist of fashion in little more than thirty years. It is worth remembering, for example, that fifteen years after his triumphant debut on the catwalk of his signature line, he was appointed creative director of Christian Dior in 1989, strongly revamping the maison’s image, in a position he kept until 1996. The final recognition of his career, however, came from the art world. In march 2007, a few months before his death, the designer was appointed president of the Accademia di Belle Arti di Brera (Milan’s prestigious Academy of Fine Arts), to highlight that the value of his work transcended seasonal trends. Fortunately the foundation’s archive will now be much richer and they will keep on working to make Ferré’s work accessible, especially to the young generations of aspiring creative designers, just as the 'Architetto' would have wanted. (Giuliano Deidda)