Is fashion art? The debate has raged for decades. Now, the Italian house of Salvatore Ferragamo has staged perhaps the most audacious – and expensive – bid to authenticate clothes as high culture by staging the first ever catwalk show in the Louvre.
As exclusive sponsors of the exhibition La Sainte Anne: Leonardo da Vinci’s ultimate masterpiece, the brand was granted permission to showcase their own Italian works of art in this high temple of fine art at the very heart of Paris.
The latest Salvatore Ferragamo collection, including finely sculpted snakeskin boots and intricately crafted crochet dresses, was unveiled under the pale stone colonnade adjacent to the Louvre’s glass pyramid. Context, as Margaret Atwood wrote, is all.
The cost to the Ferragamo company of sponsoring the exhibition is not disclosed, but to the brand the association is priceless. Ferragamo was founded in Florence, home of Leonardo, and has sponsored several restoration projects in the city. The Louvre exhibition provides a platform to tell the story of Ferragamo’s Tuscan heritage to an audience outside Italy.
Designer Massimiliano Giornetti described the exhibition as “a chance to express a lot about the links between Ferragamo, Italy and the artistic and artisan traditions of Tuscany.”
At 140 metres long, the catwalk is one of the longest built for a Paris show. “We want to prove that our shoes can walk a long way,” said Michele Norsa, Ferragamo’s CEO.
He was keen to note that the Italian brand had “come to Paris in a spirit of respect”. Giornetti designed the collection in shades of pale stone inspired by the building within which they would be showcased “because I wanted the palette to be in harmony with the Louvre and with Paris”.
The collection made concessions to a Parisian aesthetic, with slouchy leather trousers and flat boots mixed in with more typically Italian mini dresses. Not surprisingly for a brand whose heritage lies in footwear, shoes – from gladiator sandals to thigh-high boots – were the highlight of the show.
Ferruccio Ferragamo, chairman of the group, released a statement underscoring the links between the brand founded by his father Salvatore in 1927 and the work of Leonardo. “Endless creativity, an innovative aesthetic, artisanal roots and groundbreaking research have always characterised the Italian genius, as embodied by Leonardo da Vinci, that we have always appreciated,” he said.
Giornetti highlighted another link with Leonardo the anatomist, telling editors before the show that “Salvatore Ferragamo studied the anatomy of the feet, and was fascinated by the function of the shoe as well as the appearance.”
The catwalk audience, which included the Hollywood actor Hilary Swank and Fan Bing Bing, from China, were given a private tour of the exhibition shortly before taking their seats.
The Ferragamo event is significant as an indicator of where the future of fashion branding may lie, because the company has form as one of the savviest and most forward-thinking in the industry.
Ferragamo was one of the first major European brands to recognise the potential of the Asian market, and their early investment paid off handsomely. The company ended the last financial year reporting a 69.8% increase in net profit, with Asia-Pacific confirmed as the label’s main market, accounting for 36.3% of revenues. In 2011, 10 new stores were opened in China, bringing the total to 60. Boutiques opened in other emerging markets including Peru and Colombia, and e-commerce was expanded into new territories including Mexico and the Ukraine.
One interesting strand of the Ferragamo sponsorship is how the brand have used the focus on a great individual genius, Leonardo, as an opportunity to lift the profile of their own designer Massimiliano Giornetti, within the lore of their own label. Giornetti, who has worked for Ferragamo for twelve years and been creative director for two, was placed in the spotlight at the Paris event, giving talks to editors about his inspiration. This was in marked contrast to previous Ferragamo occasions, where the emphasis has been on the family history of the company. It suggests that, at a moment when a sequence of new designers taking up high profile jobs at Dior and Yves Saint Laurent, Ferragamo wish to boost their artistic cachet by increasing the visibility of their own creative director.
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