The other chic

PUBLISHED : Friday, 22 July, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 22 July, 2011, 12:00am

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The legendary Duke-Semans Mansion on New York's Upper East Side was, from every indication, the ideal location for Salvatore Ferragamo's recent debut resort show. The massive former residence of the late heiress and socialite Doris Duke features a glorious spiral staircase leading to an interconnecting warren of high-ceilinged, salon-style rooms with lushly draped windows.

So much the better for showing off those clothes, says Massimiliano Giornetti the day after the show. The former head of menswear was installed as the label's creative director a year ago in a major expansion of his responsibilities.

'I could just imagine Doris Duke coming down that grand staircase wearing these clothes,' Giornetti says. 'The Upper East Side is so exclusive, chic and conservative.'

These are all adjectives that could be used to describe the Ferragamo name. The label has a storied 83-year history and originally became known for the shoes that Salvatore Ferragamo made for Hollywood celebrities. Today, it is a fashion empire. The debut official resort show in New York happened to coincide with the brand's decision to launch an initial public offering.

Giornetti is happy to bask in the glory of the show's success. It offered up soignee and elegant pieces for women who need something new to take them from summer to autumn, be that a lean tailored jacket with bejewelled buttons or an accordion-pleated evening gown in pallid sky blue. The long runway was awash in silvery grey and ivory, navy and cream, adorning A-list models that included Karolina Kurkova, Karlie Kloss and Vanessa Traina.

White-and-gold striped cashmere tops with roomy, wide-legged pants, and a capsule offering of sinewy halter-neck gowns are the sort of thing that will be snapped up by fashionistas who are traditional Ferragamo customers. A younger breed, who have started to look to the brand for of-the-moment offerings that will still look fresh next season, will also like them.

Some of the well-known names in the front row had dressed in Ferragamo for the occasion: Eva Mendes, Frieda Pinto, Minka Kelly, Emma Roberts and Ashley Greene. Their respective arrivals stopped Fifth Avenue traffic.

'The main idea for me in creating this line is beauty,' says Giornetti, a slender and dark-haired designer whose ambition and vision recall a younger Tom Ford. 'Today, everyone is rushing, there is no time for art or beauty. To me fashion is like art, music and drama. But it should not be created to live in a museum or a gallery. It is there to translate the moment in which we are living.'

There is something resolutely old-school in the resort offerings, which encompass a throwback to glamour from another era. This feel is rendered in everything from the sleek chignons sported by the models to their clean, sophisticated make-up. Going into the design process, Giornetti had a clear template in mind. He wanted to do the antithesis of the super-casual gear that has infiltrated urban living.

'Everywhere you see people living in flip-flops,' he says. 'That's fine if you're going to the beach. As for clothes that let the underwear be seen - well, I don't like that. Fashion needs to slow down. It needs to be enjoyed again.'

Giornetti had spent a decade at Ferragamo. He started out as an assistant to the knitwear designer in menswear, before eventually being promoted to the top job. He took over responsibilities formerly held by the likes of Cristina Ortiz, Graeme Black and Nathalie Gervais. His brief scarcely needed to be reiterated: update the Ferragamo signature, but don't lose sight of the brand's heritage. As a result, Giornetti says that he is constantly referencing the substantial company archives, while deriving his more contemporary points of inspiration from his travels. He loves New York's Soho district, was about to do an event in Mexico City, and shuttles between Milan and Florence.

Giornetti says his aesthetic is a combination of tailoring and fluidity and draping. 'I like mixing elements from the East and West. It's interesting to be conservative, to keep tradition alive. But I also like to be democratic,' he says. 'My work is about revamping the great tradition of Salvatore Ferragamo, the craftsmanship, elegance, the good taste. But I'm not going to dictate what people should wear. I won't say that red is the colour of the season. People should play and mix.'

This was the brand's first full foray into the field of resort wear. Last year, it only offered a small capsule collection with limited availability. Accessories are always important. So every ready-to-wear offering needs to stand alone while still providing a backdrop to the luxe bags and shoes that are a Ferragamo staple. At the show, some of the accessories stood out as much as the dresses that accompanied them. Mirrored, wedge-heeled shoes, slouchy, sparkly suede bags and large-framed sunglasses are the sort of thing to pack for a week in St Bart's.

'I wanted it to have that 1930s glamour,' says Giornetti. 'But I also wanted it to have everything. If a woman wakes up and wants to be in a cosy cashmere sweater, she should have it in this line. If she wants to be chic and elegant, that has to be there, too. There needed to be single pieces that are easy to mix with something she already has. To me, the perfect wardrobe is made up of classics.'

Still, Giornetti is savvy enough to know that women today - Ferragamo customers included - live considerably differently from the way they did even a decade ago. They need clothing to serve a variety of purposes, to take them from work to weekends with family, to holidays and business dinners.

'It is important for a designer to be connected to reality,' he says. 'Every designer is trying to invent a heritage instead of realising the importance of being modern. But in designing women's clothes, every season should be a new adventure, should tell a new story. You need to really imagine the person wearing these clothes - what music does she like, what perfume? Then I bring in some of the Italian lifestyle, like the sun, joy and some quality of life.'

Giornetti grew up in the Tuscan city of Carrara, in Italy. His father was a goldsmith and his mother loved fashion: 'I grew up in a home where art was everywhere. I was like a sponge, I soaked in everything.' He says his mother remains a point of reference for him. But he learned the importance of creating things by hand, from scratch, from his father.

He started to sketch at the age of seven, and says designing became a natural part of his life. He studied literature in Venice, but while on a visit to Florence, Giornetti realised how much fashion was the story of that city. It was the start of everything, he says: 'Something struck me in Florence.'

Little was Giornetti to know that some years later, he would be working at arguably the city's most established fashion house.