Gianfranco Ferré: India, impressions etched in the memory

Fondazione Gianfranco Ferré

“What I call the great lesson of the East, of India in particular, a land that has won my heart forever, captured my imagination in an everlasting way and this love of mine is not simply a fascination with India’s ancient history and exquisite art.
Often what catalyzed my attention were the activities of everyday life that I observed in the streets while visiting Asian cities during my stay in India sedimenting in my mind sensations, impressions, influences that I then reworked and translated into my clothes through a detail, a shade of color, a special technique”.

“Here I lived and worked for years, very early on in my career. Having to sum up in a concept the truest sense of this fundamental experience of mine, I would have no choice other than to make use of one dual and apparently contradictory definition: opulent simplicity, lavish ease”.

“Especially in the beginning, when I didn’t know a word of Hindi, I’d spend the evening in my hotel room with sheets of rice paper - the least expensive and therefore the most common type in India - taking notes and sketching faces, bodies, objects.
I’d snap pics with my eyes, with my brain, and with a pencil, for I never wanted to use an actual camera.
And now I think back on those moments, I remember the colors, the environs, the crowd.
They are impressions etched in my memory”.

“India finds in silence a major accessory, for it aids and abets what I call ‘experience’: a moment suspended between life and poetry, travel and reflection, solitude and multitude, from which to draw infinite creative emotions”.

“In India, as in no other country, a mere look around is sufficient for getting hit by a harmonious myriad of hues constantly in motion. From birth to death, color becomes a true symbolic language that everyone is able to decode so as to create a unique identity amidst the crowd”.

In fulfilling his India experience, Ferré had the ability to look, see and understand with eyes, mind and emotions the phenomenal spectacle of Nature and Man.
He grasped color’s enthralling physical inflection in the form of spices of all different shades and hues.

“What strikes me in the chaotically vivacious markets is the dazzling array of spices, on and on in an amazing chromatic sequence, perfect, almost magical, telling me stories about colors and age-old traditions which I exalt through my choice of fabrics”.

Symbol of purity and fertility, wonderfully curative fresh curcuma is a favorite with nagas, or serpent-gods, and with other divinities to whom worshippers offer ablutions in yellow powder.

With its intensely fragrant mix of spices, curry powder vibrates in the form of a majestically primitive style.

Ferré adds cinnamon tones, almost as if aiming to magnify the spice’s delicate scent through the crisp folds of the dress.

"Your veil the colour of saffron inebriates my eyes”.

("The Gardener", Rabindranath Tagore, 1913)

The free forms vibrating with color heighten the recherché effect of the silk taffeta, which diffusing through air like a handful of spices contrasts the precious embroidery on the bodice.

“Simply observing the incessant flow of people crowding the streets, I assimilated a keen predilection for the full spectrum of pink, yellow and orange hues: bright sunny shades that Indian women often choose for their saris, as these colors are easily attainable through dyeing. And they remain impressed in my memory for the vibrant sense of vitality, passion and even opulence that they convey".

Yellow - as a religious symbol - appears to Ferré in dazzling pure form and contaminates his chromatic palette by storm.

Ferré captured all the purity of the color orange, whose symbology he felt with the intensity of his emotions.

Yellow and orange: colors of the sadhus, ascetes recognizable by singular manner of dress. They are an emblem of contemplative life and of the renunciation of material possessions.

The intense hue of curcuma powder unites with rani pink, a warm Indian shade of rose that Ferré uses for the lining of this caban.

In a magical game all about color, the supremacy of pink - symbol of Jaipur - gets the better of gorgeous yellow, where golden glints engender a subtler spicy tone.

In India the exaltation of color culminates in The Holi Festival: a euphoric celebration with singing, dancing, scattering everywhere of fantastically bright powders.

A sensational color feast and most joyous of jubilees, it attracts thousands of people who - with paint on faces - luxuriate in the whirl of powders all around.

Held on the first day of the full moon near the spring equinox, it celebrates the victory of good over evil, the end of winter, the solace of laughter and forgiveness.

The inflection of hues and influences emblematic of The Holi Festival appear all the more enchanting if thought to be bathed in a rosy light, quietly sensual...

... so becoming an explosion of pinks - from bougainvillea to azalea, from cyclamen to geranium - hinting evocatively at romance in the most luscious of tones.

But the love story promptly changes tune, awarding the same shades of pink the luster and crispness of taffeta which in the drapes and folds captures the feel for chiaroscuro so dear to the hearts of master painters.

The overflowing vitality of the color contrasts the calm grace and the purity of soft tones, symbolically summarized in the Taj Mahal which is rosy pink in the morning, milky white in the evening, golden when the moon is shining.

“It’s a tear of marble still on the cheek of time”.


(“Shah Jahan”, Rabindranath Tagore)

“I often have the occasion to say that, in all probability, minus my encounter with the East my style would have been profoundly different. It’s an encounter which without any doubt represented my first great life experience, also my first great experience in the realm of style”.

Safeguarding memories of his observations and emotions, Ferré elaborated upon influences and impressions which he then translated into forms, details, articles of clothing without ever ignoring traditional everyday modes of dress.

Men’s dhotis and women’s saris comprise an authentic identity card indicating the caste, religion and civil status of the wearer.

The kurta and the dhoti, exquisitely simple men’s garments dating back to ancient times, offer unique input to contemporary design.

"As an architect, I draw on a flat two-dimensional surface so outlining the construction of a dhoti-style pair of pants where the fabric gets wrapped around hips, passed between the legs, then fixed in place at the back of the waist...”

“In my fashion, in my style there is a surely strong intent to give the dress a clear connotation directly from initial sketch: a few quick lines on the sheet of white paper that promptly convey a natural and necessary connection with the body and its physiological need to move in synch with what covers, protects and enhances it".

"Another ultra important and fascinating element is the wealth of symbolic meanings found in every aspect of Eastern life, I’d say, in every corner of the Eastern soul, as in every drape and fold of the sari.
I studied the sari at length: absolute simplicity and total elegance, endless ways of wearing it, with an infinity of different meanings and possibilities for draping”.

Sari, in Sanskrit chaira, wearable piece of fabric: it’s the world’s most ancient garment.

How she wears it also indicates the woman’s caste, tribe and region of origin.

“... naturally, I think about shapes and styles, sari above all: absolute simplicity and total elegance, humble fabric, no encumbrance whatsoever, direct rapport with the body, adaptability to every gesture and movement, particularly those made by women from the lowest castes as they perform the heaviest of tasks..."

“... and I think about the saris in some lavish material that heighten the tone of a woman’s every movement, even those typifying the lofty bearing of maharanis or of rajamatas belonging to the country’s most powerful and influential of castes”.

“The sari is still a major player in the new India - the Bollywood scene - with its popular myths, immense force of attraction, easy sense of opulence that enraptures us on the spot”.

Encapsulating the sari style, this is a design where Ferré divides and reassembles two precious rectangles of shimmering embroidered silk taffeta.

“... what inspired me here was the idea of giving the sari a contemporary slant, combining pure white and dazzling brilliance, suggesting new modes of interpretation, at once delineating and enveloping the body with a special sheen somewhere between techno and tradition”.

In this case the garment seems to bypass a shape of its own in favor of one which - like the sari - makes utmost use of the material in adapting to and/or following the figure.

In the absorbing white hue of this shirt-dress, Ferré captures all of the sari’s natural grace and beauty.

In the India of maharajas the sherwani - long jacket with gentle flaring at knees, often made from a rich and/or beautifully embroidered material - is worn over slim churidar trousers.

Gianfranco Ferré captures the shape and feel of both sherwani and churidar through multiple inflections of a stunningly slender figure exuding a quiet everyday ease.

Sense of simplicity is the very first building block on the way to ingenuity.

“... a piece of clothing is the result of a careful and conscious working with shapes, analyzed, taken apart and assembled so as to achieve the desired effect”.

The expression of form infuses the morphological aspect of a garment, on functional as well as structural levels.

Men and women of the Indian subcontinent opt regularly for a leg-flattering churidar, slimfit trousers extra snug at knees.

These excessively long stretch pants feature an edgy-chic fold effect that, like the churidar, makes bending and/or crossing legs and sitting comfortably so very easy.

“In a world where forms of dress find inspiration in an utter simplicity of shape, encountering a similar wealth of drapings, fluid volumes and elaborate constructions is surprising yet in no way rare. It’s all about an intricate and fascinating interplay of customs and cultures”.

Still white, yet connected with a primitive culture, expressed in the clothing styles of Rabari, a pastoral people, proud of the solemnity of their traditional costumes, as well as in the Hellenic peplums common in primitive depictions of the Indian subcontinent’s divinities. The latter represent an important legacy dating to Alexandre the Great’s military adventure reaching nearly the banks of the Ganges river.

“Aiming for a powerful impact plays an essential role in my design process… this leads me to envision the dress in terms of some emphating detail: so volumes put distance from the body to become lavish and accentuated by dazzling white”.

Design assonance is a matter of intersecting shape and offsetting material to attain a whole new concept. All the same, Ferré has a fondness for explicating the creative spark behind his ideas.

In this sculpture dating back to the second or third century b.C., Siddhartha Gautama assumes the form of a bodhisattva garbed in a rich draping of fabric.

In elegantly draped clothing Hinduism’s mythological divinities call forth images of modern-day runway goddesses to whom Ferré offers pure freedom of movement through the natural drape of ancient Greek-style peplum gowns.

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