Gianfranco Ferré: China's eternal and magnificent images

Fondazione Gianfranco Ferré

“When I think of China I promptly think of the iron pavilions of the Canton Fair that I visited in the mid 1970s.
What comes to mind are visions of the pink and azure nuanced sky, the bustling figures clad in dark blue, gray, army green.
They are vivid memories that I hold within along with the eternal image of the magnificent China in red and gold emerging from stories I have read about a fantastical past that, through subtle reminiscences and echoes, leads to the heart of the East”.

Almost twenty years later, in May 1993, Gianfranco Ferré took part in a major fashion event: “Chic ’93” organized by the China International Fair for Investment and Trade at the China World Trade Center in Beijing, where he presented a synthesis of his style, a perfect balance of opulence and rigor, ostentation and severity in the thoughtful elaboration of a sophisticated idea of luxury for the Chinese woman.

China is a requisite reference point for the creativity of Gianfranco Ferré.
The Chinese aesthetic had an impact on his fashion, influencing it on a deep interpretative level. Chinese culture and mythology fed his imagination: the results are there in fanciful assonances of shape and form.

Unity, Harmony, Change, Spontaneity, Nonconformity: the rules of Tao.

Order governs the course of things through these five principles, which Gianfranco Ferré always manifested in his work.

“The ‘lesson’ of the East enabled me to finetune the principle of opulence and luxury, rethinking the concepts simply by focusing on doing away with the superfluous, redundancy...

... and this ‘mal d’Oriente’ resurfaces in my fondness for warm, bold colors and for pure materials - as in the vibrant reds and rich brocades of Imperial China...”

For Gianfranco Ferré color is very much a matter of memories and impressions, too.
In 1979, in front of the Chinese Consulate in New York City...
“I discovered color: against a perfectly vivid blue sky a gorgeous red flag flew as if in a dream. And I imagined a Chinese dragon in a fantastical Orient. The vision made a deep impression on me - and ever since, in my eyes, this shade of red has symbolized motion”.

For the Lantern Festival, most important of holidays after the Chinese New Year, cities become aflame with the color red - symbol of good luck, happiness and prosperity.

Also through travel, Gianfranco Ferré finds inspiration for his reflections on color and shape: “Behind the use of a color - explaining and motivating it - there must be a specific function, a meaning”.
He uses red extensively when he wants to endow the female body with a sense of magic, modern beauty; sparingly, when he wants to assign to red the role of striking symbolic element.

In China red represents fire, symbolizes luck and joy.
Ferré loves the mineral intensity of the hue — emblem of power, presence and wealth.
Brilliantly vibrant red magnifies the plastic movement of the lacquer gold decoration, reminiscent of enchanting pavilions in ancient Chinese gardens.

The distinct linearity of the wrap dress with short train is heightened by the richly saturated shade of pure lacquer red. Adding to the beauty of the dress is the chunky gold cord soutache ornamentation. Complete with lacquering, it forms spirals that decorate the asymmetric armholes and edge the open back.

The qipao is a common Chinese type of dress first popularized by Manchurian women in 1644.
Gradually the style evolved and, thanks to the practical tube shape, took a solid place in the sphere of traditional clothing. Today women wear the dress on formal occasions. While not explicitly referencing the style, Ferré did keep a memory of its inherent sensuality: ideal for accentuating the feminine silhouette, here ennobled by the gorgeous red color and by the gold decors on sleeves that call forth the sweeping curvature of pagodas...

... typical Chinese structures with famously emblematic style of roof.

The traditional men’s garment - now worn in black for formal occasions, with only the original Korean collar intact - derives from the changshan, introduced into China during the period of the Manchurian Qing dynasty. Through the ages it evolved to the point of becoming the Mao jacket. As in: utter simplicity, exquisitely classic style, a cut above all fashion trends.

Black, color of the Zhou dynasty, indicates dignity and integrity. In modern-day China it’s a unifying element in men’s clothing.

With this absolute color, Ferré exalts in the women's outfits cleanliness of construction - parameter of a glamorous urban style, expression of true elegance and allure.

"I wondered what features I had made my own as, practically unawares, I proceeded on my journey toward the Eastern clothing culture...
... wide straight sleeves, back-skimming cut, to infuse the material with a plastic sense of shape and to award motion the beauty of spontaneity".

To exalt and ritualize the essence of black, as is commonly the case with the main female characters in Chinese theater, face and forehead of the models were whitened with a substance similar to ceruse. This tends to give the face a distinct oval shape - a “duck egg face” is what it’s called in China.
Across the span of two thousand years, makeup slowly and craftily came up with the concept of small lips in a brilliant shade of red. Here the same color gives definition to accessories.

Along with red, yellow, white and black, blue is one of the "orthodox" hues in that imposed by the rules of tradition. Once upon a time reserved only for imperial palaces, weapons and items of clothing, all of the five are pure basic colors. Now blue, which is obtained with the same cobalt aluminate that’s used in making porcelain, is a symbol of important social roles. It’s also a symbol of immortality, silence and the soul.

Blue is not one of the hallmark colors of Ferré fashion. Rather, it serves to reference that sense of "elsewhere in the world" linking the designer to places and things which were a precious part of his travel experiences. Not insignificantly, blue works wonders in enhancing the power of form, as in the exuberant swirl of this bias-cut fabric.

Ferré inflects a primary porcelain hue in two different materials: suede leather and wool/cashmere fabric for the dress and capacious coat that give a nod to the traditional kimono in both the style of sleeve and the type of fastening.

The shadows of color created by the intense blue hue give depth and life to the coat, knotted at the waist with a satin sash.

In the Land of the Dragon we can find a link between architecture and fashion, which is one of the "lesser" arts.

This connection emerges in shapes and colors... and also in the decorative motifs finely ornating fabrics, buildings and many other art forms underpinning the richness of China’s cultural heritage.

Steps in the historical evolution of traditional Chinese costumes often had the connotation of changes in fashion - yet not in the modern sense of the term, for mutations were clearly the result not so much of passing fancies as of practical motives and symbolic functions. According to official code rules, the costume had to correspond to particular standards regarding textiles, colors, styles, accessories and occasions of use.
Rich with symbolic signs and references, the fabric defined the true fashion element.
By pursuing keen textile research and by making the fabric the effective emblem of his designs, Ferré follows in the spirit of this tradition.

Through his glorious use of red and fondness for lustrous velvets and warm, brilliant satins - complete with doubling and topstitching - Ferré recaptures the stunningly graphic beauty of ancient Chinese lacquer engraving.

Similarly, this black wool fabric illuminated by red chenille decors references the motifs on lacquer screens and doors typical of imperial palaces.

Lacquer is a resin made from the sap of the rhus verniciflua tree. This clear, precious liquid turns red thanks to the addition of cinnabar, aka vermilion, powder.
The art of lacquer engraving dates all the way back to the Shang dynasty, in the 15th century B.C.

Magnificent prints bring to life the red and gold hues marking frieze work on the doors of pavilions in the Forbidden City.

The crimson Forbidden City - Zijin Cheng - is a complex of imperial palaces dating to the Ming and Qing dynasties.

According to what Confucius wrote in one of his books, we can thank Empress Xi-ling-shi in China, 2700 B.C. ca, for the first silkworm cultivation and for the first spinning of silk.
Two friars from the Order of Saint Basil whom Justinian sent to China in 552 A.D. were subsequently the ones to bring the eggs of the bombyx mori back to Constantinople, hidden in the hollow of their bamboo canes.

The long story of the Silk Road intertwines with the history of China. The oldest commercial route between East Asia and the Mediterranean basin sparks images of caravans transporting valuable spices and precious goods. In Gianfranco Ferré mere mention of the legendary road evokes the idea of a dialogue between cultures, the same which we then find in his designs where fanciful moods and otherworld silks take on a modern-day allure.

In a gorgeous silk/lurex fabric, lavish chromatic brilliance stirs thoughts of lacquer screens - in Ferré’s mind, the perfect backdrop for tales of emperors and concubines.

The red, amber and golden hues of quilted silk satin and velvet add volume, warmth and levity to the jacket and the caban.

The polychromatic impact of black, red and gold underscores once again the power of color and the fascinating symbolic significance of the harmoniously elaborate decoration of silk.

A deep dark lustrous shade of red, with the gold door-knocker adding an antique glint, resurfaces in the richest of fabrics, expression of a priceless textile heritage.

A bold brushstroke, the vibrant chiaroscuro effect of silk brocade infuses the majestic silhouette of a contemporary empress with the remarkable force of Chinese lacquer work.

Form gives center stage to material, where dyeing and weaving techniques take this shot brocade to a whole new level all about tone and texture.

Ferré’s passion for red emerges also in the darker shades he uses in the brocade referencing antique Chinese tables.

An utter simplicity of shape serves as the backdrop for this stunningly luxurious silk twill print.

The source of inspiration here bypasses pure decorative motifs in favor of the adventures and atmospheres relating to Coromandel screens. In particular, the rocaille framework around the polychrome scenes informs fancy textile design with a flair for gold.

From immemorial time, a powerful five-clawed dragon, with the phoenix, symbol of the imperial family, has snaked through ever fabulous brocade. Here it appears in blue camaieu form — or the monochrome technique which originated in France in the second half of the 16th century to imitate the decorations of Chinese porcelain.

The porcelain manufacturing, decorated under the glaze with a cobalt blue pigment, flourished in China in the 14th century.

The alchemic mix of materials in the chromatic inflection of brocade in the tank top benefits from ornate placed embroidery where - as in an ancient Ming porcelain - dragons and phoenixes, mythical symbols of beauty, meet boldly face to face.

Gold and silver embroidery and lacquering take the decorative force of this fabric to impossible heights.

Making expert use of Haute Couture techniques, Ferré loves to fashion a perfect union between linear form and rich brocade, with chromatic rhapsody graciously adding to the allure.

While material essentially joins with color in underpinning the design, Ferré always surprises us with his particular research and application of textile technology. As in these totally new textures and luscious chromatic effects.

“Technological experimentation offers unique possibilities in the use of materials, in the invention of new materials too.
People fear, are sure that in fashion there is nothing new to discover. I do not share this fear”.

Synonymous with life and fertility, the stylized wave patterns that once embellished court dress in China make a contemporary statement in the form of an exquisitely nuanced jacquard fabric.

Painting dating to the Han dynasty (206 B.C. - 220 A.D.) has the merit of immortalizing the social characteristics, customs and traditions of the prosperous and erudite nobility.

Gianfranco Ferré likens the fusion between symbolic/floral motifs and the chromatic moods of fine Chinese art to “interpreting the musical score of style”: i.e., imaginatively divining the sense of harmony, as in this splendid polychrome fil coupé silk cape.

“... to arrive at this gentle oriental smoothness, this sublime balance of simplicity and opulence that blossoms luxuriantly, I blended together feelings, images, culture...”

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
Translate with Google