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Porter
Art of Style

The designer interview: Paul Andrew of Salvatore Ferragamo

Paul Andrew pictured with model Georgina Grenville. Grenville wears Salvatore Ferragamo throughout

He may have made his name as a footwear designer, but PAUL ANDREW has found a whole new audience as creative director at heritage Italian leather brand Salvatore Ferragamo. He talks to GILLIAN BRETT about appealing to women of all ages and how growing up around royalty inspired his career in fashion

Fashion
Coat, shirt, boots and bag, all Salvatore Ferragamo

“There are other ways of making things identifiable without having the logo written on it,” says Paul Andrew, the recently appointed creative director of Salvatore Ferragamo and the man behind the Italian leather house’s recent reboot. With FW19 marking his first season as the brand’s overall creative director after just a year of heading up the women’s division, Andrew has established his discreetly distinguishable house codes: luxe utilitarian separates in joyful-colored leather and languid tailoring in minimalist ’90s silhouettes. It was what the front row would zealously call ‘bourgeois’ – a word that decadently sums up the FW19 season. It isn’t just Andrew who’s steering away from heavily logoed hoodies and chic sportif streetwear: there was a near-unanimous nostalgia for ’70s sophistication across the runways in the refined tweeds and chic twinsets with insouciant twists.

We are addressing a kaleidoscope of individuals. It’s not just about a 25-year-old girl on the runway

The British-born footwear designer had been heading up his eponymous three-year-old shoe brand when Ferragamo tapped him in 2016 for the newly created role of design director of shoes. He rose rapidly through the ranks, becoming womenswear creative director in 2017 and, in the days leading up to his fall show in February, was promoted to creative director and tasked with uniting the brand vision. While it seemed a gamble to instate a designer with no professional experience designing clothes, Salvatore Ferragamo himself was a shoemaker who built his brand on footwear, so Andrew’s “toe-to-head” approach seems befitting.

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Plundering the house’s substantial archives for inspiration (the brand was founded in 1927, and there are pieces and pictures dating back to Ferragamo’s Golden Era clients, including Joan Crawford and Loretta Young), Andrew’s understatedly elegant collection has all the hallmarks of the season’s retro renaissance – luxe robe coats, conservative capes and A-line midi skirts – but there is something coolly modern, and inherently Italian, about his bold color palette. Beige has come to epitomize ‘grown-up’ fashion, but the Ferragamo woman steps out confidently in unexpected pops of “paprika, merlot and sandcastle”. Sitting down with Andrew in the opulent surroundings of the brand’s Florentine HQ, it is immediately clear that neither streetwear nor somber fashion hold a place in the designer’s future plans: “My reaction to this whole sportswear thing is to look more at workwear – dungarees, jumpsuits and shorts – and rendering them in luxurious materials like soft nappa, suede and really great-quality cotton-twill fabrications,” says the designer in an accent that’s heavily inflected from years of living in New York. “I’m very much feeling this sense of ease in dressing right now.”

Coat, Salvatore Ferragamo
Jumpsuit, Salvatore Ferragamo
Even during fittings, I always have both a male and female model in the room at the same time so I can see how they’re interacting and that the clothes are working together

Comfort is next-level at Ferragamo: there’s the ivory teddy-bear coat in what looks like shearling but is actually an innovative pulled cashmere, and an amber-colored leather jumpsuit that is slouchy enough to lounge around in at the weekend but elevated enough for the office. “That vicuña leather jumpsuit that we photographed on Georgina is one of my favorite looks,” says Andrew, referring to the PORTER photoshoot with South African model Georgina Grenville in Florence back in May. “Georgina really shows the versatility of that garment. She’s in her mid-forties and it’s just so perfect on her. The fit is great, and it doesn’t look like it’s overpowering her. She still owns it.”

Coat and boots, Salvatore Ferragamo

Appealing to a mixed demographic is important to Andrew. Like most brands nowadays, he’s keen to entice a new millennial client base, but is adamant that the label should be wearable by women at every stage of their lives. “We are addressing a kaleidoscope of individuals. It’s not just about a 25-year-old girl that so many brands depict on their runways – we have women in their seventies and eighties, women who are in their teens, and everyone in between shopping at Ferragamo, so I feel like it makes sense within our fashion shows and within our ad campaigns to show that diversity in generations, and also diversity in culture and of skin color.” In a show with 59 looks that included menswear (which is overseen by his “partner in crime” Guillaume Meilland, Ferragamo’s men’s ready-to-wear design director), Andrew’s multigenerational casting included 23 non-white models, showing a refreshing breadth of representation. Gender boundaries are something else he seeks to dismantle, and it was his idea to bring the men’s and womenswear together on the runway. “Even during fittings, I always have both a male and female model in the room at the same time so I can see how they’re interacting and that the clothes are working together. Often, he’ll take off a pair of pants and she’ll try them on, or she’ll take off a jacket and he’ll try it on. Not that we’re doing a unisex collection, but I do like the idea that his wardrobe inspires hers and vice versa.”

Cape, Salvatore Ferragamo
Coat, top, pants and boots, Salvatore Ferragamo

Andrew turned 40 this year. Blond and boyishly handsome, he was brought up in Berkshire, a stone’s throw away from Windsor Castle, where his father worked as an upholsterer for the Queen. “I grew up literally on the grounds of Windsor Castle, in amongst all that pomp and circumstance, all those incredible materials and fabrications, and an appreciation for craftsmanship and artisanship – never scrimping or cutting corners on making something.” This, coupled with his mother’s style (she favored ultra-chic ’80s office attire), instilled in him a love of design and an eye for high quality. His first love, however, was music. “As a young kid I used to live in the music rooms at the piano. In fact, there’s a funny story about when I was 11 or 12, and my friend’s mother put up a note in the music room saying they wanted to get rid of their piano. I told them I wanted it without telling my parents, so they came home one afternoon to a piano just sitting in the middle of the living room. They were so mad.”

I grew up literally on the grounds of Windsor Castle, in amongst all that pomp and circumstance, all those incredible materials and fabrications, and an appreciation for craftsmanship and artisanship
Salvatore Ferragamo FW19

For Andrew, music adds “life and emotion”, so needless to say the soundtracks to his shows – on which he works with legendary sound director Michel Gaubert – are his “babies”. Arriving on the PORTER set in a plain black T-shirt and jeans to shoot with Georgina, he carries a portable Bose speaker, pumping out upbeat songs that immediately lift the energy on set. “It’s a bit of a joke that I move around the offices and the design studio with a speaker and iPhone attached. I guess I’m going back to my youth, but I listen to a lot of ’80s and ’90s music [recently, Bryan Ferry and Roxy Music], which has really become an identifiable soundtrack to my fashion shows, but has also inspired a lot of the look of the clothes… there’s definitely an early ’80s and ’90s vibe coming through in certain silhouettes. I think it’s important in the Ferragamo design studio that people feel upbeat. It’s never a depressing, down soundtrack – people are always amused and tapping their feet in the corner to the music; it really helps bring a certain joyfulness into the collection, I feel.”

Jacket and pants, Salvatore Ferragamo
In this business you have to keep your mind open. The things that make you feel slightly uncomfortable are often the most inspiring

Andrew’s minimalist-meets-maximalist aesthetic can be traced back to his formative years working at Alexander McQueen, under Lee McQueen himself, then at Calvin Klein. “When I worked at McQueen, no idea was big enough, there were no boundaries whatsoever. He would be pushing you to think totally outside the box all the time. Then, moving to the United States and working for a brand like Calvin Klein, where it was much more minimalistic and structured, and everything was extremely organized… It was always about staying very true to an original design idea and concept. From the beginning of the season to the end, it would never really falter or change.” He also worked under Donna Karan for over a decade, to which he attributes his understanding of comfort, wearability and what women really want.

His new Ferragamo woman is “a true modern woman of now: she works, she relies on her shoes and her wardrobe to take her on this multifaceted journey. She’s not just having tea and meeting friends for lunch every day – she’s in the boardroom, she needs clothes that function for this modern lifestyle. But she appreciates quality and doesn’t accept anything less.” With his namesake label now on pause, Andrew is pouring himself into the future of Ferragamo. Since raising the bar, he has received both critical and commercial kudos (sales rose for the second quarter in a row between April and June 2019), but his mandate for the brand is ambitious. As well as engaging more with Italian artisans and experimenting with innovative fabrications (such as that cuddly cashmere coat), within the next five years he’d like at least half of the products to be “made with sustainable thinking”. He certainly sounds up for the challenge: “In this business you have to keep your mind open. I’m very much a creature of habit and it’s easy for me to do things the way that I know, but the things that make you feel slightly uncomfortable are often the ones that end up being the most inspiring and, ultimately, take you the furthest.”

The model featured in this story are not associated with NET-A-PORTER and do not endorse it or the products shown