Taking up the hobby of designing jewelry for your girlfriend doesn’t usually lead to a position as the stylistic director at Christian Dior, but that was Gianfranco Ferré’s reality. Although he landed this role from a lifetime of perfecting ensembles and accessories, his work may never have reached the forefront of late-20th-century Italian couture if his novice jewelry had not ended up in a small boutique in Portofino.
Ferré was born into a family with high expectations and was raised by his mother and two aunts. Much of Ferré’s early childhood is unknown, but his time in school was a balance between studying architecture and funding his tuition by making belts. Split between his love for fashion and a more traditional education, he graduated with a degree in architecture from the Milan Polytechnic Institute and began designing for a furniture company in 1969.
Soon after, Ferré found himself in the same rooms as costume designer Christiane Bailly and Walter Albini — an unsung hero of 20th century fashion. The pair introduced him to expensive fabrics and techniques, which he improved upon during his time doing freelance work for fashion designers Karl Lagerfeld and Elio Fiorucci.
Ferré appreciated other cultures and drew inspiration from his travels abroad. His most influential — a three-year stint in India — introduced bright colors and patterns to his evening dresses and day dresses. His trip ended in a meeting with Italian fashion-house owner Franco Mattoli, who would go on to become an important collaborator for more than four years.
Ferré and Mattoli became equal business partners in Baila — Ferré’s own label which included women’s ready-to-wear and menswear collections. In 1983, he became the founding professor of fashion at the Domus Academy in Milan.
While teaching, Ferré won the Occhio D’Oro, Italy’s award for best fashion designer, six times. In 1986, he was named Commander of the Italian Republic by the country’s president. That same year, he released his first women’s fragrance, first couture and fur collections and a new line, called Studio 00l.
Ferré died of a brain hemorrhage in 2007 and is remembered fondly, with a nod to his architecture education, as the “Frank Llyoyd Wright of Italian fashion” and the “Architect of Fashion.”
On 1stDibs, find a collection of vintage Gianfranco Ferré clothing, accessories, and handbags and purses.