Discovering the Alchemy between Gianfranco Ferré and Gian Paolo Barbieri 

Together they created unforgettable images framing the most famous models from the 1980s and 90s. Learning how the magic happened is now possible thanks to exclusive insight by Emmanuele C. Randazzo, Vice President of the photographer’s eponymous Fondazione.


By Zoë Kooren. Cover image: Gianfranco Ferré, Milano 1993. © Gian Paolo Barbieri. Courtesy of Fondazione Gian Paolo Barbieri / 29 ARTS IN PROGRESS gallery.

It can be defined as one of the most iconic fashion collaborations. The level of respect between these two influential men in the Italian fashion industry is unmatchable. Barbieri truly admired Ferré’s architectural style, while the couturier was in awe of the photographer’s chic and minimalistic visual style.
Their creative chemistry resulted in powerful campaigns and further mutual understanding. Together they created their vision of what fashion should represent in the 1980s and 90s, as they were two of the biggest names in Italian fashion.
Today Randazzo shares with us the secret of this unique dynamic duo.

Why did Gian Paolo Barbieri decide to establish the Fondazione? What is the institution’s mission?

In 2016 I found myself in the archive with Gian Paolo, talking about his vast collection of photographs, the past and the many stories he had witnessed. It was only natural to suggest that we had to create a connection with the incredible world he had captured from the 1960s to the present day.
As a result, we decided to establish this Foundation, an archive featuring more than 1 million photographs (including negatives and positives), 3200 Polaroids, more than 2800 vintage works, as well as countless publications, sculptures and paintings, serving as valuable research tools that effectively speak to the public.
The purpose of this institution is not only to disseminate photographic culture but to support young photographers approaching this complex world.

Can you tell us more about the collaboration between Gianfranco Ferré and Gian Paolo Barbieri and why they decided to work together to form such an iconic duo?

First, I would like to thank Rita Airaghi for her invaluable support. Rita served as Gianfranco Ferré’s assistant for many years and later became the head of Fondazione Gianfranco Ferré, now known as Centro di Ricerca Gianfranco Ferré. Her support helped me piece together the history of these two remarkable artists. I would start by sharing two quotes from these masters. In his monograph, Gianfranco Ferré said about Gian Paolo: “Gian Paolo Barbieri, a divine photographer who knows how to tell the seductive power of fashion and femininity.” 

Gianfranco Ferré, Milan, 1982. © Gian Paolo Barbieri. Courtesy of Fondazione Gian Paolo Barbieri / 29 ARTS IN PROGRESS gallery.

About his friend Ferré, Gian Paolo Barbieri wrote: “Ferré is simply Ferré. There are no adjectives for him: his fashion style is unique, and his designs are irreproducible. And most importantly, he refers to no one else but himself. He’s truly an architect, meaning that, through wonderful cuts, he can emphasise a dress’s structure. A photographer is helped in depicting his fashion: you can change the lighting and find a different setting, but the image is already fully present in the clothes. Precise, defined, carved and painted with subtle strokes…”

Aurore Clément in Gianfranco Ferré, Milan, 1978. © Gian Paolo Barbieri. Courtesy of Fondazione Gian Paolo Barbieri / 29 ARTS IN PROGRESS gallery.

Gian Paolo started collaborating even before he established the Gian Franco Ferré brand. While the designer worked for Baila, Gian Paolo took care of the brand’s advertising and campaigns. A standout among these is the spring/summer 1978 campaign featuring Aurore Clément, considered one of the most beautiful. Ferré was attracted to Gian Paolo because he admired the editorials he had published in several magazines. Therefore, choosing Gian Paolo was an easy and natural decision when it came to selecting a photographer for his creations.

What were the qualities or characteristics of the models that Gian Paolo Barbieri and Gianfranco Ferré chose for their collaboration?

Models were always selected for the uniqueness of their facial features.
Their beauty came with expressions and shapes radiating energy and vibrancy. They would express their personality, attitudes and feelings through a carefully curated look and Gian Paolo’s take through his lens. Their beauty was not solely based on objective standards but on their ability to evoke intense emotions. An example of this philosophy is their choice of using older male models instead of the typical young men seen in the fashion industry.
Both artists agreed on the importance of showcasing the diversity of human personalities, including intelligence and liveliness, by treating the models more like actors than just models.

What message did Gian Paolo Barbieri want to convey by photographing Gianfranco Ferré’s designs?

Gian Paolo attempted to grasp and interpret the technical and scientific aspects that influenced Ferré’s artistic vision. Barbieri was impressed by Ferré’s architectural style and aimed to create a single photographic rendition that would anticipate the minimalist trend of the 1990s, which Ferré pioneered.

Aly Dunne in Gianfranco Ferré, Morocco, 1991. © Gian Paolo Barbieri. Courtesy of Fondazione Gian Paolo Barbieri / 29 ARTS IN PROGRESS gallery.

How was your experience working with Gian Paolo Barbieri? What is he like?

I have been working with Gian Paolo for more than 15 years and have grown a lot thanks to him. I had the honour of working alongside a master of creativity and more. I have always admired his compassionate nature, which helped me believe in what I was learning.
His demanding nature stems from his desire to push beyond what already exists and strive for something more, seeking opportunities to experiment and create fresh perspectives.

Emmanuele C. Randazzo is the Vice President of Fondazione Gianfranco Ferré, Milan.
Zoë Kooren is a Postgraduate Master Art Management student at Istituto Marangoni Firenze.

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