How Italian fashion brand Ferragamo is shedding its old-school image and putting a new foot forward

New women’s footwear director Paul Andrew is ringing the changes at Ferragamo, with a makeover for the brand’s bestseller – plus some hi-tech touches such as sneakers with air-injected soles

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 03 May, 2017, 5:16pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 09 May, 2017, 6:00pm

For the past 35 years, Salvatore Ferragamo’s elegant Vara shoe has remained a bestseller with only a few colour changes along the way. But the round-toe style with a grosgrain bow is getting a hip makeover by new women’s footwear director Paul Andrew.

“I’ve gotten rid of the grosgrain and replaced it with a more technical nylon webbing,” says Andrew, whose debut pre-autumn 2017 collection is in stores this month. “We then made it more fun and youthful by fraying the edges, and the new heel has been galvanised in a car factory. There were definitely some raised eyebrows when I made the changes.”

Ferragamo is considered by many in the industry to represent old school luxury but that’s changing fast. Last year, the Italian house made three new appointments within its creative team and Andrew’s role is considered one of the most significant as shoes represent about 40 per cent of sales. He is also the house’s first design director of women’s shoes since founder Salvatore died in 1960.

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“Last summer they called me to see if I was interested in meeting with the family so I went to Florence.

So many things appealed to me about the brand – the colours, the construction, this innovation of materials. Of course, I am obsessed with the archive – for any shoe designer, it’s the best and most incredible in the world. It boiled down to timing and a similar set of values. Having worked for other brands for 15 years and starting my own brand, I thought I’d never go back in-house, but it just felt so right,” he says.

An Englishman based in New York, Andrew has won the Council of Fashion Designers of America/Vogue Fashion Fund prize for footwear (he is nominated again this year for accessories designer of the year) and worked for Alexander McQueen, Donna Karan and Calvin Klein before starting his own brand. A favourite with fashion editors and the next generation of “it” girls, including Jessica Chastain and Emma Watson, he is well qualified to create a new, contemporary look for Ferragamo footwear.

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“This is not about a reinvention, but about reintroducing the brand to a new generation of women, while not alienating or forgetting the existing client,” Andrew says. “The way I am going about it is based on Salvatore’s original mindset, which was all about creativity and innovation. All the ingredients were there, so I wanted to rework these elements in a totally new way. That innovation has been lost in the past 40 years,” he says.

Andrew lights up when he talks about Salvatore’s past creations. By the time the founder died he had more than 400 patents (many beyond footwear) and was considered a pioneer. During the war, for example, when he unable to get steel to make metal shanks for heels, he created the now infamous cork wedge. When leather was scarce he took to the streets of Florence and worked with makers of lace, raffia and baskets to create shoe uppers.

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Hoping to pay tribute to Salvatore’s pioneering legacy, Andrew’s first port of call for his debut collection was the brand’s archive of more than 15,000 pairs of shoes. It was here that he rediscovered many silhouettes or “lost beauties”, to which he would add his own modern twist – a combination of “hi-tech and high craft”, as he likes to call it.

Highlights include the curvaceous, gravity-defying “F” wedge, an archive style, which is now covered in handmade silk velvet from Naples (a process that takes two days to finish to ensure there are no visible seams). The brand’s iconic Gancio metal motif appears in the laser-cut upper of a sexy sandal finished with a gold block “flower” heel. A pair of boots comes in a technical fly knit fabric and is inspired by a sock shoe Salvatore created after seeing a geisha on a trip to Kyoto.

Hi-tech touches are everywhere – heels have a similar finishing to matte paint used on sports cars, while sneakers (a Ferragamo first) feature soles injected with air so they are very lightweight. Another statement style is made from a silk lurex yarn that’s been pulled apart to create what Andrew calls “couture tinsel”.

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While designing the collection was fun, Andrew says the manufacturing involved a new learning curve. He is a frequent visitor to Italian factories for his own line, but it was the skills of Ferragamo’s in-house team that made anything possible.

“The manufacturing prowess is like none other in the world. I can sketch something in the morning and see a prototype in the afternoon. The factory has artisans and technicians I have known about and wanted to work with my entire career. They’ve been doing things a certain way for so many years so it’s really about pushing them. They’ve been so open and willing to make a lot of changes,” he says.

While the collection pays respect to the house’s founder, Andrew has stamped his own DNA all over it.

A stickler for comfort, he’s reconfigured every style so that each last and heel is built from scratch. Every pair has memory foam padding that, he says, is like walking on air. There are also different heel heights, and fits including narrow, medium or wide.

Looking ahead, Andrew has just completed the spring/summer 2018 collection which he says will be an evolution of the debut collection with more innovation.

“It’s important to always pay respect to what was created because there’s so much value there. Every other designer today has their own version of Salvatore Ferragamo so why would I ignore that? I want to make this brand relevant again for modern young customers and leave a series of codes that can take the brand further forward to the next generation,” he says.