My secret? I love my life.
Gianfranco Ferré welcomes me into his office in Via Spiga in Milan. He’s relaxed and smiling as if he’s just returned from a long holiday. He’s wearing a shirt with bizarre black and white stripes, and a tie that with its strange mixed glen-check pattern seems to pick up on the black and white of the shirt. He has a gold tiepin with a ring hanging from it. His vest, jacket and socks are anthracite grey. Actually, Ferré has just arrived from Paris and will return there tonight.
What is your secret for always being so impeccable and smiling?
I love my life. I might return to Milan from Paris and be in my office in Via Spiga by 2 pm. I work until 7 pm and then I walk home. There I enjoy organising my boxes, my papers and my pens. Then I eat dinner with a friend or my cousin. At 10 pm I’m in bed reading newspapers. I recently read a book of Native American stories. Then I turn out the light, and it’s sweet dreams until 7 am.
Without sleeping pills?
Are you kidding? You can’t sleep with sleeping pills! Sleeping with sleeping pills is nothing like really sleeping.
So you are a relaxed man?
Yes. I am rational and content. I feel neither frustrated nor forced. What I do is an integral part of my being.
Is having the success you’ve had fate? Have you made many sacrifices?
I am a person who is capable of sacrifice. It is important to be determined and work hard.
Have you done many things you regret?
No. I have always tried to see the positive in what I’ve done. I have no regrets.
Why do you live between Milan and Paris? What difference is there between the two cities?
They are cities with opposite histories. In Paris, there were always kings and a court. It is a city that grew with the grandiose plans of its royals. Milan has roots tied to craftsmanship. Courtyards and closed palazzos. With some exceptions, it is the city of one-hundred rulers and never had just one. Everything happened on the inside. This is Milan’s strength.
How do you see Italy?
It is a country with potential, that is very capable, yet it’s going through a period of “purging,” of rolling up its shirtsleeves and of coming out in a new, different way.
What do you think about the upcoming elections?
I am happy that certain people perhaps won’t put themselves up for election, and that there will be a choice of new people.
Haven’t you ever thought of entering politics?
There are already others that want to do it. As a citizen of Milan, I’ve already said that I’d make the most of the city without wanting to try to transform it into Paris. I’ve given advice to the various council members and mayors, but there needs to be a machine that really gets things moving.
Getting back to fashion, what are the most interesting markets in the world today?
First Europe, then America, and then Japan. There are also new interesting markets in South America, the Middle East and Southeast Asia.
Is it true that there’s a real crisis going on in fashion?
There’s crisis where there aren’t specific values. There’s crisis where there’s ostentation of the product. There’s no crisis where there’s quality. The reality is that today shopping is about pleasure and not necessity. Fashion is so libertarian today that one no longer has to have the latest clothes to be in fashion.
Where is fashion going?
Fashion is headed toward the specialisation of those that make fashion, and they need to become serious advisors – people that truly know the business inside and out and that don’t try to live by improvisation.
How do you work?
I work in a very orderly manner, thinking a lot, verifying a lot, making drawings and imagining a lot.
Where do you imagine? While you are travelling? In bed?
When I travel, I read or sleep. I work only when I reach my place of work. I start to work when I enter the office.
Why are your colours black, white, and red?
Because white can be interpreted in one-hundred different ways. It goes with one-hundred transparencies, with one-hundred pure nuances, and can take on whatever reflections one wants. Black has an international nature. When someone wears black they feel serious, as neutral as a shadow. It’s like a non-colour, almost a silhouette. Red because it’s the colour of passion, reality, and the idea of something that is throbbing, beating.
Who are your favourite women?
Dead or alive?
I would have really loved Coco Chanel, Anaïs Nin, and Anna Magnani.
Quite! Among those women still living, I like the uncontrollable fragility of Isabelle Adjani and I like a woman like Valentina Cortese.
If you like dark-haired women so much, why do you choose to have a light-haired brunette like Carla Bruni on your fashion runways?
Having fashion shows means choosing from among a bouquet of offerings and Carla has a concentration of womanly qualities that interest me: a long neck, regular features that aren’t too small, a thin build and an inner intelligence. I met her in Paris in the salons of Dior. When I put her in a serious black suit, suddenly she was this classy Italian woman, and that worked for the modern woman I was seeking. Carla is a woman with contradictory facets.
Would you like to dress Margaret Thatcher or Hillary Clinton?
[He smiles. He likes the idea]. Why not? Thatcher would be better. She’s more identifiable in her continuity. Hillary has already changed her image six times.
Would you like the new elections to usher in a very elegant Italian First Lady?
I would be really very happy. We have one that, however, is seen more abroad than in Italy – Marella Agnelli.
You also do men’s fashions. Are men as frivolous as women?
They have more of a narcissistic side than women do, and this is increasing more and more in the younger generations.
When you design a men’s collection what kind of man are you thinking of?
A man with class that is self-aware. I design a vast collection because it has to meet the needs of different generations. The two reasons a man buys a designer product are, on one hand, that he’s seeking the comfort of quality and then there’s the animalistic nature of men. What I mean by this is the natural gesture of putting a hand in one’s pocket, of protecting oneself…. Men have always worn uniforms. On the other hand, there’s the need and desire of those that are creative to suggest new adaptations and changes…
You have found fame, power, and money. What more are you seeking?
Nothing. [He laughs again].
How would you define Gianfranco Ferré?
A person who is always going forward, moving. Today is a transition to tomorrow. I want to meet new people. I used to always want to travel.
Are you curious?
Are you a shy man?
I am not a shy man. I am a reserved person. But clearly when you decide to make your name public for your business, you need to pay the price of being recognised. But you need to act natural. If I meet a woman on the street who says, “Good morning, Mr. Ferré,” I return the greeting. If someone tells me he thinks I am good at what I do, it is a pleasure, and I thank that person.
If I understand correctly, you don’t like posturing and you haven’t created a character for yourself.
Exactly. I am who I am.
Do you like yourself?
I would say so.
What kind of tastes do you have?
Quite eccentric, but then I get annoyed with how bothersome eccentricity is. Perhaps I put on a colour that I like, and then suddenly I am irritated by it. There’s a green jacket that I absolutely adored, and then, when I put it on one time, I couldn’t even look at it!
What faces represent fashion today?
Faces that have character. For my latest advertising campaign, I chose people that didn’t seem like models.
Who makes fashion?
The designer, but then there are gangs of kids as well. The street has the same importance as the fashion brand. However, the street often picks up on something that a fashion designer has already done and then modifies it.
What would you like fashion to be?
Everything and nothing. Today nothing is in fashion. In my opinion, the future task of those in our profession is to focus more on the meaning and on the construction of the product. Then each person is free to adapt it to himself so that this product lives and is used in many different ways.
Will U.S. Presidents and the Queen of England eventually be seen at official ceremonies in casual jumpers?
No. There’s a proper uniform. There’s a uniform for everyone. I think it’s wrong to dress the Alitalia flight attendants in khaki because they get mistaken for passengers.
How should they be dressed?
In blue, which is a recognisable colour for uniforms.
If you had to choose a uniform?
I would be an admiral dressed in a blue jacket, gold buttons and with a hat under my arm…
Amica, 21 March 1994