The autumn/winter 2018 collection marks the first combined men’s and women’s show for Salvatore Ferragamo. We speak to the men’s creative director—who designed the collection together with the newly appointed womenswear designer, Paul Andrew—about the cross-pollination of male and female codes, the importance of colour for the house and the inspiration for those killer leather trousers.
ESQ: What was it like working with Paul Andrew? Looking at the autumn/winter 2018 collection, it’s clear that you both had a shared vision when designing the men’s and women’s pieces. Was this a decision made early on in the process? To work on the men’s and women’s collections together?
GUILLAUME MEILLAND: It was something that came up in the minds of everybody. We joined the company at separate timings and both of us respected each other’s visions. He had great respect for what I was doing with menswear and for what I was trying to put together. And then it felt so right to be in the room together, to start discussing and working on the men’s and women’s collections together; especially since they were both going to be shown together on the same runway in Milan.
ESQ: I love the colour palette for the collection; there were so many rich and sophisticated hues. What was the inspiration behind that palette?
GUILLAUME MEILLAND: The idea of having a huge palette—we’re talking about more than 35 colours—and creating an immersive experience with all the different rooms for the runway show was, for us, a key element of Ferragamo as a brand. So the inspiration came from looking at the DNA of the brand. Obviously, we are thinking about the rainbow. The winter season was a great way to introduce it as you don’t normally expect so many colours. But this was an opportunity to prove how the brand can have a strong proposition with colour, but still tie in subtle hues by way of seaweed green and burlap leather, while adding a splash of juniper parakeet green. It was really about doing monochrome looks with a pop of colour. A bit of colour with a wardrobe of layers.
ESQ: Tell us about how you and Paul worked together. Did you both come up with a concept and then worked on your menswear and womenswear lines separately? Or did you shadow each other and share ideas throughout? I’ve noticed shared styling elements across men’s and women’s—for example: the pins on shirt collars, and the house Gancio hardware on the boots for guys was reflected on the hardware on belts for the ladies.
GUILLAUME MEILLAND: Paul lives in New York and I’m here in Italy, so we had moments together in the design process. For example, we would spend a week together doing fittings and working on the colours and fabrics. Just spending days and days doing stuff. Why is it so connected? Because we’ll think about how we wanted to dress the boys, and then we’ll try that same element on the girl as well. So it’s not gender-specific, but there is a fluidity and consistency throughout the collection.
ESQ: Yes, I noticed that there were shared pieces or design tropes carried across men’s and women’s. One of my favourites was the beautiful ostrich leather suit for ladies and we also saw it interpreted for men by way of a gorgeous chocolate leather blazer. Let’s focus on menswear. You told me after the runway show that your vision for the Ferragamo man is one of ease and confidence. And, as the menswear designer for the house, you have the dual task of creating a collection that respects the brand’s heritage but, on the other hand, is in sync with the times. How did you approach that?
GUILLAUME MEILLAND: Modernity. It’s something we’ve been working on for menswear for a few seasons now. I like referential pieces, like vintage pieces. I like to think about what type of guy would’ve worn it in the past, and then take it somewhere else with materials and construction. For this collection, I worked with our suppliers to make the suits lighter; to make decisions on the cotton lining, to make the facing very narrow, in order to take out the weight. It’s really a constant play with all the classical, traditional and timeless elements of a suit in order to make it contemporary. For construction and the choice of materials, I like to steal ideas from the women’s wardrobe—thinking about how we can incorporate fluidity and a certain lightness.
ESQ: Near the end of the show there was a black semi-transparent knit blouson that allowed the punch of the neon yellow shirt worn underneath to come through. Transparency seems to be a recurring element for your winter collection. Is that something borrowed from the women’s world as well?
GUILLAUME MEILLAND: Yeah, sort of. I mean we are not doing red carpet and evening wear for this collection. But, rather, cocktail dressing. Already, as a concept, it means making something that has a lot more ease and versatility. It’s not like a tuxedo, which is narrow and stiff. For me, it’s something more like a raincoat, but cut in a beautiful Japanese woven silk material, which has a certain softness. The idea of the transparency is key. But so is the idea of the subtle styling cues from the women’s world. For example, the use of a pin to hold garments in place. There’s the masculinity of the material, but the softness and styling is clearly borrowed from the women’s world.
ESQ: How did you approach the silhouette for menswear? For a heritage brand like Ferragamo, you need to design within a template. You can’t be too crazy. But I noticed a slight change in silhouette when it came to the tops—there were truncated sweaters with large bands at the hemline to emphasise the waist. What was the thinking there?
GUILLAUME MEILLAND: It has to do with the fact that I like to show myself off (laughs). No, I like to play with proportions. You have a shrunken pullover and then you also have generous blanket coats and full-length outerwear. Very dramatic. This is part of the job that I really like—playing with volume and shapes.
ESQ: Leather trousers on the runway. I’ve seen it a lot this autumn/ winter 2018 season and it’s definitely an emerging trend. Why leather trousers? Was there an image or a person that inspired this?
GUILLAUME MEILLAND: I think we came up with it even before we did the casting and before we did the styling. Our leather trousers are quite wide-legged, and we could have made them in a synthetic material to make it a bit shiny, but this is Ferragamo. How do you translate that look for a luxurious brand? Leather. Our trousers are crafted from nubuck leather, so it’s very matte. It is extremely light and you can even make shirts out of this leather.
ESQ: Your casting was very current. People usually associate Ferragamo with classically handsome models, but your models had a certain grit and spunk. It felt very now.
GUILLAUME MEILLAND: The moment you start to play with codes that are timeless, the way you layer and alter with the proportions of classic menswear, you start to create something with edge. So the models had to be current. The idea is to appeal to people like you—the next customer for Ferragamo. And also to prove that Ferragamo is diverse. We had Indian models, African guys and models of Asian ethnicity. We want to show that Ferragamo is suitable for different persons and characters.Also, we made sure the make-up and the hair complemented the features of the models. We wanted keep the model’s own attitude. It was a really interesting process trying to match the right boy and girl to each of the 68 looks. It’s like a puzzle. And it’s also sort of telling a story. Diversity was definitely an intentional element of this collection.
ESQ: You’ve been with the house for a few seasons now as the men’s creative director. When you design, do you have a long-term vision of gradually building on the same design template for the Ferragamo man? Or are you open to designing something totally different collection to collection?
GUILLAUME MEILLAND: The elongated silhouettes that you see for winter 2018 were introduced last winter. So, I like continuity and building on top of an existing design direction. But it’s not like we’re staying in the comfort zone either. I like to take something, deconstruct it and then rebuild it. It’s not like having a blank page and starting again each season. It’s about being consistent.
ESQ: In menswear, if you had to choose, what do you think is more important: craftsmanship or comfort?
GUILLAUME MEILLAND: I really like how Ferragamo built his business by making women’s shoes. He was very architectural and played with embellishments, but never forgot about the ease and comfort for the wearer. He studied the anatomy of the foot. So, always at the back of my mind, is the idea of ease, comfort and functionality. Even if you’re talking about a raincoat in leather, you should be able to wear that in real life.
ESQ: In today’s digital age, how much thought is given to marketing when you design clothes? Do you think about how a garment will translate on a phone screen for social media?
GUILLAUME MEILLAND: People can watch a live stream of the show from their phone wherever they are in the world. This season, the idea of colour was key to the collection. We want to make this an iconic element of the house. When you see this guy in a splash of green on your phone screen, hopefully it will catch your attention. But, obviously, I won’t put a big Ferragamo logo on the garment. We’re trying something more subtle.
ESQ: Streetwear has been a major trend in menswear for many seasons now. Is that something you are trying to build into your collections?
GUILLAUME MEILLAND: It’s related to comfort and ease that I mentioned earlier. How many people have a smart style but are wearing trainers too because it’s comfortable? It has an influence on the garments. And somehow the way we do tailoring does have an influence on outerwear or sportswear, making them softer and lighter and trying to play with the construction. So it has a great influence. And we’ve produced successful sneakers in the past. But at the same time, we have these boots this season with Gancio hardware on the heel that is really comfortable.
ESQ: And you can hear the ‘chink’ sound that the hardware makes when the models walk past you on the runway. That was brilliant.
GUILLAUME MEILLAND: I’m glad to hear that because we were thinking about fixing the hardware so it wouldn’t make a sound. But, in the end, we decided to keep it as it reminded us of real cowboy boots, but reinterpreted with that modern edge.
ESQ: It’s a very exciting new chapter for Ferragamo. You can see the connections from the past, but there’s a clear demarcation that this is the new Ferragamo.
GUILLAUME MEILLAND: The immersive experience was really important for us when designing the runway for this show. The idea was to create a house full of rooms—everyone with a front row seat—to make it something very intimate. The casting and the music. Step by step, it was about building the new world of Ferragamo.
ESQ: Any surprises along the way?
GUILLAUME MEILLAND: The bad ones definitely did not make it onto the runway (laughs). But good surprises always happen. For sure. The trench coats were first made of cotton. It was only later that we made them from the same matching fabric as the trousers or suits. This was not really a look that we planned for, but it happened organically. Also, the leather trousers. One morning, I came over to the office and just decided to take the construction of worker trousers and make it in leather. Two different worlds, but somehow it worked.
ESQ: How close is the final show to what you had in mind when you first started working on this collection?
GUILLAUME MEILLAND: It has a lot of elements to the original vision. The idea of those overshirts was conceptualised from the very start of this collection. The shirt is a key piece for Paul as well, but he created a shirt dress made by a men’s manufacturer. For the men’s line, I had the idea of the craftsman behind the craft. The idea of creating elevated utilitarian workwear. For example, there are working gloves cut in leather and bonded with cashmere. And playing with layers was very important. From the beginning, we felt that layering would be a way for us to keep the ease and softness but, at the same time, propose contrasting fabrics and colours.
ESQ: You talk a lot about how womenswear influenced you, but you also see the menswear influence on Paul’s women’s collection— there are a lot of tailored and structured pieces for ladies. The collection at a glance is sophisticated and elegant, but look closer, it’s also quite androgynous and edgy.
GUILLAUME MEILLAND: Thank you. It’s the result of how Paul and I worked. We would take pieces and put it on both the boy as well as the girl. Constantly trying stuff on her and him, and vice versa. It was a lot of playing around and trying to find ensembles that looked stunning on a woman as well as on a man. It’s a new way of approaching design for the Ferragamo customer.
This article was originally published in the September issue of Esquire Singapore.