Age-old techniques and crafts traditions recount an everlasting tale, sweeping across the ages from the India of a thousand years ago to the India of the twenty-first century, capturing through colors, fibers and fabrics an integral part of the country’s anthropological culture.
India is a land of inimitable textiles, rich with esoteric symbology. Whether lavish or humble, they accompany every Indian throughout his or her life. Important prints featuring elaborate motifs - as in the boteh ones - appear even on inexpensive fabrics. Embroidery becomes authentic artwork, while other amazing forms of textile art - precious applications, dazzling metallic inserts, unique types of topstitching - set India a class apart.
Shawls made by using a special shuttle weaving system to create the pattern date all the way back to ancient times in the Indian region of Kashmir, where Napoleon Bonaparte "discovered" them during his Egyptian campaign (1798-1801). Subsequently imported into Europe, they are famous for the twisted teardrop motif called boteh.
Soon textilers in France were imitating the design by using the less expensive jacquard weaving technique. In the process the typical boteh motif took on an increasingly elongated shape.
Great Britain too made an important contribution to the trend: the Scottish town of Paisley, major production center for this type of fabric, became synonymous with the cashmere design.
Gianfranco Ferré often made use of cashmere/paisley inspired motifs - in printed or woven form - for fabrics and clothes.
For his Fall/Winter 1988-89 Haute Couture collection Gianfranco Ferré studied a private collection of original 19th century French shawls, from which he drew inspiration for his organza prints with embroidery executed by Indian artisans.
In this collection the paisley patterns - ever recognizable by the twisted teardrop motif in any of a vast array of variants - were printed with a technique that also gave the fabric an iridescent mother-of-pearl sheen.
In Ferré’s concept of Couture secret affinities meet apparent contrasts.
Here the use of rich embroidery and chantilly lace in defining the boteh enhances the structure of a one-shoulder dress that clearly references the sari.
The weaving of shawls featuring the boteh motif originated in Kashmir some time in the period 1420-70 AD. Paisleys reached the height of popularity in France around the years 1850-1860, when a romantic-exotic mood imbued the entire fashion world.
In the Fall/Winter 1988-89 Haute Couture collection a gorgeous wool/cashmere fabric complete with embroidery replicates the pattern of an Indian shawl from times past.
Artisanal talent takes materials emblematic of traditional Indian embroidery to the next level on the modern fashion scene.
The rare beauty of every paisley pattern comes from a particular delicacy of hue - thanks to the use of natural dyes - and from the infinite variety of combinations.
In the Spring/Summer 1991 Prêt-à-Porter collection the vibrantly rich embroidery serves as lavish counterpoint to the traditional silk print motif.
Ever intent upon staying true to traditional arts thanks to Italian expertise in producing artisan textiles, Gianfranco Ferré infused the boteh with a fresh force while in no way misrepresenting its ancient origins.
“Primitivism of form is instrumental in heightening the impact of the material. As for the woman’s body, it makes quite a strong statement even when clothed in a fabulous semi-sheer boteh print”.
The foulard, folded in half to form two rectangles, becomes a shirt knotted at the neck and fastened with a tribal safety pin. Meanwhile, a bandeau-bra plays the role of choli, short-sleeved traditional blouse, often one exposing part of the midriff.
“In approaching fabrics and colors I always take an experimental attitude”.
Rather than simply opting for traditional textiles, Ferré tends to go much further.
With practical ingenuity, he pursues experimental research ultimately breaking the rules and inventing novel techniques. As in this jacquard with metal threads woven into the design.
Silver glints give a discreet new allure to precious decorative symbols. Metallic topstitching reinforces ultralight nappa leather, while tiny aluminum buttons add a special sparkle to the jacket worn with silk tussah pants.
Interwoven into unusual materials typical of Indian art are decorative mosaics executed by hand.
Stretch tulle with lovely openwork heightens the allure of slim tapered trousers.
Indian art - linked to the tangible, visible world - brings Man closer to the Gods.
Gianfranco Ferré perceives in representations of divinities the principles of feminine beauty, a supersensory spiritual dimension, and with emotional intensity explores reference sources. All in pursuit of ornate detailing on Indian temples, magnificent stage sets for the culture of this land.
At once solemn and sinuous, innocent and alluring - as in the images of certain divinities - fine artistic practices serve to endow the figure with a recherché sense of primitivism.
“I seek to create singular decorations and see-through effects that exalt the body”.
Sculptures of sybaritic/monstrous dancing Shiva - impassive of countenance, frenetic of limb - spark in Ferré impressions of power and grace, sensuality and spirituality.
What he finds so compelling, so emotionally enthralling, is the intense physicality of the decorations.
"Vibrating between legendary enchantment and latest-generation software, India tells a magical story that I let myself be enthralled by, paraphrasing it in exquisite fashion mode, completed by a tech twist.
In narrating this passionate exploration of mine, I made deliberate mention of all that’s pure and strong, vibrant and free, modern and stimulating in the ancient soul of this amazing land".
Through body ornamentation art makes a joyously sensuous statement, expresses sheer exuberance.
“In India people appreciate the refinement at once complex and sublime of henné skin decorations. While perfectly common, the art has a distinct element of virtuosity.
Even if unfathomable to me, I understood that each one of these marks holds a message, has a meaning, tells a story.
And stopping to admire them involves getting taken away to a universe that transcends rationality and crosses over into a fascinating realm embedded deep in the Indian soul”.
Tool of beauty and seduction, mehndi - decoration of bride’s hands and feet - symbolizes inner and outer light.
Ferré rethinks the practice of mehndi through the finest of leather soutaches, so garbing the female body in a voluptuous embrace.
“With the force of tattoo art, faux ink patterns underline the woman’s figure, border on seductive body painting”.
Sheer second-skin tech organza works the tattoo magic here.
The idea of power and opulence permeates the iconography of maharajas, great sovereigns who gave origin to the magnificence of Indian royal courts.
Lovers of beauty and extreme wealth, they had a famously outré flair for spectacular ornaments enriced by precious gemstones, rare diamonds and pearls.
The utter preciousness of intricate embroidery featuring the use of different size stones, Swarovski crystals and pearl beads evokes both a maharaja’s taste for opulence and the thrall of a timeless story.
Gianfranco Ferré stretches beyond every decorative principle to open a gem-studded jewel box that recaptures traditional Indian motifs in fabulous miniature form.
The opulent embroidery in these images replicates the splendor of ancient Indian royal court life. There are also references to miniature painting, where philosophical tenets meet concepts of ritual art.
The sherwani - redingote style jacket originally dating to the early 20th century - becomes stunningly rich of impact in a silk jacquard fabric with silver boteh motif embroidery.
“Gold in dull or dazzling form, silver with a varyingly lustrous sheen, poor metals apparently as fine as precious ones, stones of a phantasmagorically kaleidoscopic beauty...
Indian jewelry plays richly with symbolic values, serves an essential - possibly even ostentatious - role in decorating the body.
I made this jewelry my own, integrated it into my creative imagination, reinterpreted it in my collections, always pairing it with exquisitely simple looks, unequivocally Western of style”.
Aiming for an eloquent harmony of inspirations and moods, Ferré creates an indissoluble bond between clothing and jewelry.
Two contemporary magnificent chokers with fine metal embossing are examples of jewelry typical of Gujarat, state in Western India.
The stupefying beauty of the Qutb complex in Delhi, proper treasure of exquisite architecture and ornamentation.
This intricate chisel work, result of the extraordinary Italian craftsmanship creates astonishment in the references to the sophisticated columns of the temple.
Elegantly offsetting the suit’s sublime simplicity is a gorgeous gold bracelet, for a sense of contrast the height of sophistication.
India is a land of myths and legends, infinite energy and creativity, where a piece of jewelry is much more than an artistic creation. Ferré grasps the aesthetic essence of the jewel as a talisman, a mark of social status, an attestation of some important ritual, an ornament in the sense not of pure decoration but of indispensable complement.
He reproduces it as a product of the modern technology.
Bearing in mind Indian tradition - according to which jewelry plays a crucial symbolic/decorative role, as without them nothing seems to be completed - Ferré adorns and defines the sensual beauty of this uniquely shaped dress.
When the superfluous becomes absolute necessity: that’s the essence of the ornament’s function.
Large pins from the Ferré’s collections find inspiration in a stupa frieze.
This is a 20th century bronze votive stupa.
Stunning design, golden patina, spiral shape, artful craftsmanship merge in what for Indians is never a mere symbol of elegance. Jewelry is, rather, an identity mark encompassing and revealing spirituality, social group and rank, a sense of magic.
In this case too the modern technology reproduces the shape of the object, yet making them lighter and more flexible.
“In my imagination a piece of jewlery serves in giving structure to the body, sculpting it in a clean and precise way, defining sense of harmony and proportion with strong, distinct lines or, in alternative, heightening the impact by placing the ornament directly on bare skin...“
“One of the wonders of India: the people live in the same geographic area, yet in a variable historical dimension”.
("Un altro giro di giostra", Tiziano Terzani, Longanesi & C., 2004)
Drawn from his notes, lessons and interviews, the words, thoughts and ideas of Gianfranco Ferré - here in the form of quotes - express the designer’s passion for the real, yet mostly imaginary “neverending journey” that always inspirited his style, his collections.
Ferré Gianfranco, "Lettres à un jeune couturier", Editions Ballard, Paris, 1995.
Ferré Giusi (curated by), "Gianfranco Ferré. Itinerario", Leonardo Arte, Milan, 1999.
Frisa Maria Luisa (curated by), "Gianfranco Ferré. Lezioni di Moda", Marsilio, Venice, 2009.
A.A.V.V., "Fashion Intelligence", Edizioni del Sud, Bari, 2016.
Gianfranco Ferré, “I colori dell’India”, Ulisse 2000 magazine, January 1988.
Gianfranco Ferré, “A colori indelebili”, Capital magazine, December 1991.
Maria Luisa Frisa, “Un sogno lungo vent’anni”, Amica fashion weekly, October 9, 1998.
Guido Vergani, “Ferré”, Sette news weekly, October 10-16, 1998.
Maria Giulia Minetti, “I miei primi 20 anni”, Lo specchio della stampa news weekly, October 31, 1998.
Brigitte Benkemoi, “Gianfranco Ferré, Carnets de voyage”, AOM Magazine, December 1998/January 1999.
Karin Hesedenz, “Das Mode-Monument”, German Vogue, November 1998.
Olivier Lalanne, “La force tranquille”, Vogue Paris, September 1998.
Samantha Conti, “Hip Hip Ferré”, W Magazine, October 1998. Silvia Paoli, “Il leone non dorme”, Vanity Fair (Italy), August 10, 2004.