It’s a sultry July day in Florence, Italy — nearly 100 degrees — and Paul Andrew, the 40-year-old newly minted creative director at Salvatore Ferragamo, is busily preparing for the legacy brand’s September presentation in Milan. In addition to more of the colorful leather garments for which the house has become synonymous over the course of its 92-year history, he notes that the collection will feature “a lot more skin.” It’s no wonder why: He can’t help thinking about the heat. “I’m going to London tomorrow, and it’s 103 degrees,” he says. “I grew up in England, and I can tell you that there were never ever, ever days that hot. The temperatures globally are not normal.”
In the face of the global climate crisis, the fashion industry — which is currently responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions than maritime shipping and international flights combined — is faced with the critical task of reformulating long-held practices in an effort to clean up. Sustainability is no longer a buzzword but an absolute necessity, and this notion is the crux of an exhibition on view through March 2020 at Museo Salvatore Ferragamo in Florence.
“Sustainable Thinking” tracks the late founder Salvatore Ferragamo’s own experimentations with fishskin, hemp, and cellophane, as well as the house’s recent forays into innovative new materials like orange fiber. Per Andrew’s design, one floor-length black evening dress on display is comprised of a jersey fabric obtained from plastic bottles transformed into yarn. Elsewhere, a pair of contemporary platform sandals decorated with a rainbow of crocheted organic cotton mirror a 1940 shoe, a marriage of raffia and kidskin held up by a sculpted cork heel and culled from Ferragamo’s massive 15,000-piece archive. The exhibition is reflective of Paul Andrew’s mandate at Ferragamo, which places the company’s environmental footprint top of mind.
“I want 25% of the entire line to be sustainable this season,” Andrew says, recognizing that this is a lofty goal for a brand built on time-honored and sometimes slow-going Italian craftsmanship. Working with leather makes this particularly difficult, as tanning hide is cheapest and fastest when chemicals are used, but Andrew is dedicated to erasing harmful chrome tanning and works directly with tanneries to ensure leather is produced in a way that preserves water. “When you look at the volume that we do on a yearly basis, it’s quite staggering,” Andrew says. “We’re producing a lot, so I am very conscious of our footprint.”
Environmentally-aware design is one of many innovations made by Andrew in his short but fruitful three years at Ferragamo. Heavily influenced by his time as an apprentice to Lee Alexander McQueen, he launched his eponymous line of women’s shoes in 2012, becoming the first shoe designer to win the Council of Fashion Designers of America/Vogue Fashion Fund in 2014. Still overseeing his own brand, he was brought on as design director of women’s footwear at Ferragamo in September 2017, catapulting that leg of the business in his first season by introducing new product categories with a strong focus on sneakers. (“To this day, one of the sneakers is one of the best-selling shoes in the line,” he says.) Next came a promotion to women’s director in October 2017, then creative director of the whole shebang in February 2019. Where previously each product category was headed by different designers, creative director Andrew aligns all categories under his singular vision, which he defines by a “combination of high-tech and high-craft.”
This recently culminated in the launch of Andrew’s debut menswear collection during Pitti Uomo in June, which marked his first in his new role helming both men’s and women’s, as well as Ferragamo’s first runway presentation in its Florentine hometown and the only fashion show to be held in the city’s majestic main square, Piazza della Signoria. Models walked under the shadow of the newly restored Fountain of Neptune (made possible by contributions from Ferragamo), while a series of the collection’s prints abstracting the god’s torso nodded to the location. The line took inspiration from workwear: slightly oversized cuts in neutral palettes, punctuated by bright sky blue or softened by feminine lavender, created a laid-back sense of utility. The brand’s staple bit loafer was traded for a hybridized sneaker featuring a thick, vulcanized sole. The show was devoid of Ferragamo’s iconic Gancini monogram, making way for Andrew’s new sartorial language, which he’d rather speak for itself. Certified cool kids like Cole and Dylan Sprouse, Jacob Bixenman, and former Out cover star Tommy Dorfman — all of whom were in attendance — seem to agree.
“I started collaborating with incredible artisans. Some of them hadn’t been working in fashion for a long time, but started weaving, knitting, and sculpting pieces that became key in the show,” Andrew says. “So using the old-world Italian craft and combining it with technology, I have a new philosophy: to reshape the product and make the brand relevant to a new generation.”
This article appears in Out's 2019 Fashion Issue covered by Janet Mock and Dan Levy. The issue will be available on newsstands on October 1. To get an advanced look at the issue, preview other articles here, or view it on Apple News+, Kindle, Nook, and Zinio beginning September 24. Grab your copy by subscribing now.