Ferragamo: Bringing the French Riviera to Italian menswear

Guillaume Meilland tells us how being from France has influenced his new take on the Italian house's heritage


I started at Ferragamo about a year ago – previous to this I was a designer at Lanvin for eight years and before that I worked at Yves Saint Laurent. I moved to Italy in August and transferred myself from Paris to Florence because it is a big job, so I have to be here every day.

I like the cultural differences between France and Italy. I take the heritage here from a position of distance and I try to play with all these Italian elements while infusing my 'Frenchness'. Now I’m deep into the culture, but I still have my roots. I can look at it from the outside and try to pick the best things from Ferragamo's Italian background and mix these with ideas from elsewhere.

I think for Ferragamo it's not that hard to deal with this international aspect, because it actually started in the United States and then came back to Italy. It has mixed influences – it's not a simple story, it's very rich.

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Today Ferragamo is trying to build a new chapter. Of course, I have to deal with culture that has been here for years, but I'm also asked to bring something fresh: it's like building a new language.

The first season [autumn/winter 17] was really about listening to people – figuring out what's the story. Not being Italian, I was unfamiliar with the brand and so had to learn a lot about it. I was gathering information and trying to build my own story around it.

It's really all about garments. The reality is that we have to create a proper jacket or a shirt, something that a man will want to wear. So we started working with the factories, we were asking them about ideas and ways of approaching our products. It's about questioning every step of the process of how we build a garment – changing the fabric used, trying to give it a twist. This is a very real collection for me in that it's classically wearable, but it's also contemporary by way of the design and the fabrics we use.

Ferragamo is quite different to a lot of classic Italian menswear brands. At its roots it is a shoemaker, and therefore the soul of what we do is surrounding shoes and leather goods. That's why I'm quite lucky; there's a lot of scope to build on this foundation, and I don't have to worry about a long history of tailoring. That leaves me free to create a new and different language for the wardrobe.

The idea is to start with the casualwear and make it evolve into something smarter. There are a lot of knits instead of shirts, for example: I wanted to get rid of all the strictness and bring some ease to the silhouette. I really don't have to fight so much with a tailoring legacy.

For the spring/summer 18 collection I have brought the French Riviera to Italy. My inspiration was Alain Delon in the film Plein Soleil, which was loosely based on Patricia Highsmith's book, The Talented Mr Ripley. The look is relaxed and luxurious, but always masculine.

Being a shoe brand we do, of course, have to deal with more and more people wanting something lighter to go with a more casual style of dressing – something that they can wear all day rather than anything too heavy. The challenge here is to also keep the classic beautiful shoe style that we are famous for, but find ways to lighten the soles. The ready-to-wear approach is the same: we have to make everything lighter and more comfortable. So we not only have beautiful leather trainer styles, we also have extremely soft, unlined leather models, as well as more formal styles.

I'm also drawn to function and I like to work with fabrics that have a practical look and feel. This season, for example, I have a raw-looking linen that I have used for a great nautical-style pea coat. It feels a bit rough, and texture is something I like. We also have a spongy fabric that has a towelling feel to it that is very distinctive.

Knitwear is very important and we have a huge offer of yarns and blends. Trousers also give us an opportunity to develop a product category that has perhaps been a bit neglected. Twenty years ago there were lots of different styles, but now with our less formal way of dressing, jeans have become so dominant. I like to play with the shape and silhouette of trousers, because, like the shoe, it tells the story of the season somehow, so you want to have something that's recognisable.

Leather is also vital, not only because of my personal taste but also because we are a leather brand. So, I like to bring something new to this – in next summer’s collection we have bonded leather and unlined leather, which we have used in jackets.

In my mind, I picture a Ferragamo outfit as an elegant cardigan; handmade, nice, shaped trousers and a very structured shoe. This is my new Riviera look for next summer.

GUILLAUME MEILLAND is men's ready-to-wear design director for Ferragamo; ferragamo.com

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