By Giulia Piceni. Photos: Gabriele Busi.
It is a fashion house’s most coveted, exposed and prestigious figure. And no doubt about it, the fashion director is a brand’s rock star, but it can often reveal many surprises.
That’s why the dream of most fashion students has shifted in the last decade from wanting to become fashion designers to creative directors: the thrill of establishing one’s vision on a series of products has become the latest ambition of aspiring insiders.
In this sense, a talk with Ferragamo’s former shoe and accessory designer and founder of his eponymous brand Paul Andrew looked like the perfect occasion to explain what’s behind the job to the students at Istituto Marangoni Firenze.
THE KEY TO DISRUPTIVE CREATIVE DIRECTION
He entered room 106 wearing the ultimate Tuscany visitor apparel: an open, short-sleeved shirt over a white sleeveless top and khaki pants. Walking down the street, he could be mistaken for an American tourist ready for a wine-tasting experience in Chianti. Besides the look, his kind manners, down-to-earth attitude and bright smile are the first features you notice about Paul Andrew.
“It feels like a comeback”, states Ferragamo’s former shoe and accessory designer and now Creative Director of his eponymous brand while mentioning the pleasure of being in Florence after years away.
Paul Andrew left Ferragamo in 2021, but although it wasn’t long ago, many things have changed in the fashion industry.
As he pointed out, the latest social media like Tik Tok have created a GenZ-oriented communication for fashion brands, in which everything on the table is offered for potential or established customers to see, killing the magic to which fashion owes its mythological allure.
Rather than being a fashion superstar, Andrew said he prefers a low-key way of communicating and a quiet, almost hidden creative leadership.
To give a further example of his work ethic, he quoted a friend with whom he had the pleasure to work during his decade at Donna Karan in New York: Daniel Lee. By wiping clean the brand’s social media account, the creative director – now at Burberry and formerly at Bottega Veneta – shifted the audience’s attention to the fashion house’s products and printed paper communication.
In a world fascinated by AI-generated images, the absence of immediacy adds value to a brand, while going back to physical reality is the most accurate definition of groundbreaking.
THE ENTRY POINT TO SUCCESS? ACCESSORY DESIGN
Whether it was written in the stars or he made himself his fortune, Paul Andrew certainly made it in life. Focusing on accessories and establishing codes by reworking the brand’s heritage, he turned Ferragamo from a brand for old ladies to a contemporary appealing fashion house.
“The truth is that the vast majority of things in fashion are a regurgitated idea. The work you do, it brings it forward”, said Andrew while going through the Ferragamo codes he created, such as the Gancini, the signature bow and the sculpted heels inspired by the founder’s drawings. By looking at the house’s heritage, Andrew refreshed the brand, kept long-time customers and attracted a new guard of consumers.
While going over his many working experiences varying from Donna Karan, Calvin Klein, and Alexander McQueen, the guest of our talk at Istituto Marangoni Firenze pointed out that many of the current biggest roles in ready-to-wear and even couture are covered by previous accessory designers.
Among them, the names of Alessandro Michele, Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierapolo Piccioli must ring a bell in everybody’s mind. To give solid proof to his affirmations, Paul Andrew continued his discourse with a frank tone, stating that only 6% of a brand’s revenues come from garments themselves, while accessories, eyewear, shoes and even perfumes are the real cash cows. Through a creative director’s work, all these departments interact with each other because, as Paul Andrew stated: “at the end of the day, it’s just one look!”
FROM MENTOR TO MENTOR
Being part of a creative industry takes a lot of courage: everything must be precise like a scientific formula but instinctive like poetry; needless to say, finding a compromise between these two parts can be a real struggle for any industry insider. “Embrace what you like, follow your obsessions, and they’ll fuel your creativity,” said Paul Andrew as an encouragement for the students staring at him, captivated by his words.
One day a certain Jimmy Choo said to a younger Andrew: “You should stick to designing shoes”; back then, the shoemaker was the former Ferragamo designer’s mentor. A fun fact that seemed like a closing circle for Andrew, now covering the same role for the students at Istituto Marangoni Firenze.
Giulia Piceni is an Undergraduate Arts Curating student at Istituto Marangoni Firenze.