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Exclusive Interview With The Ferragamo Family

On a balmy Thursday in Florence, James Ferragamo, grandson of Salvatore Ferragamo, is playing tour information at his company headquarters — the eleventh century Palazzo Spini Feroni overlooking the winding River Arno. Ferragamo, the director of men’s and women’s footwear and the leather division, is proudly highlighting all the patents mounted on the partitions of the dining room: the undulating cork wedge with its layerlike rock formations; the Gloved Arch, which swathes the entire foot in leather-based; and the iconic F Wedge.

When Ferragamo spots the glass wedge patent, he proudly recalls his grandfather’s unwavering concentrate on innovation. “He created the idea of covering a wedge with glass and then breaking it with a bit hammer to get a shattered impact. He made it for Carmen Miranda in the 1950s.” One other cabinet accommodates replica lasts that the house’s late founder made for Hollywood royalty, including Marilyn Monroe and Audrey Hepburn.

The family’s rags-to-riches story has all the makings of a movie basic reminiscent of the icons the company has dressed through the years. From its humble beginnings, Ferragamo has grown into one of Italy’s most highly effective fashion firms. Final 12 months, it posted sales of 1.4 billion euros, or $1.6 billion. While the corporate has dramatically evolved since its inception, one thing has remained the identical: The business has at all times been a family affair.

After an FN photograph shoot along with his dad, aunt and cousin, James Ferragamo opened up about his distinctive expertise at the company and the classes he’s discovered alongside the way in which.

Your grandfather died earlier than you were born. What do you would like you could have talked to him about
I might have liked to have met him to grasp his character and relentless drive. He made his first pair of shoes at 9, was working in a store in Naples at eleven and set sail for the U.S. at 16. He got here from a really poor family and had nothing to lose, however it’s still difficult to consider that someone at that age would do that. He was a threat-taker. He purchased this place [Palazzo Spini Feroni] in 1938 in the course of the Second World Struggle, paying in installments. The deal stipulated that if he missed one fee throughout the time period, he would forfeit the lot. I would love to know that daring.

He was known for crafting so many iconic sneakers. What was his creative process like
He was such an inventor. Sure, he was fixated on footwear, but he also drew plans for leg braces and even submarines. He had an inherent need to create. For him, it wasn’t so much a query of success. It was more about doing and being progressive, as that was what he loved.

Like your grandfather, you went to the U.S. at an early age and labored at Saks Fifth Avenue. You additionally interned at Goldman Sachs in London. How did these roles inform your expertise
I found the inventory market very attention-grabbing, however there was no tangible product, so I felt that one thing was missing for me. It was additionally very a lot numeric as opposed to telling the story of the corporate you’re selling and what it means. At Saks, I was in shopping for and distribution. That was a captivating job. It’s actually one of the vital tough roles, as it’s important to cater to a population with such an unlimited style selection.

You first joined the corporate in 1998. What is the perfect a part of being involved in a family enterprise
That it was created by my grandfather. For me, to be a part of the third generation and to work with this superb workforce is an unbelievable feeling and an incredible honor.

What is probably the most challenging a part of being in a family business
Generally it’s tough to not cross the line when you have a number of bosses. For instance, I can’t discuss to my father [Ferruccio Ferragamo] with out talking to the CEO [Eraldo Poletto] as a result of he is my direct boss. You want to take care of that company method and not play one particular person towards the opposite. I couldn’t try this. I went to high school in England, so they are saying I’m “very correct.”

What’s the largest conflict you’ve had through the years, and how was it resolved
You’ve bought to recollect, this is an Italian company, so individuals talk with their hands. There’s all the time a full-on argument. Prior to now, you’ll hear my aunt Fiamma shouting at her brother Jerry from the following room. When my grandfather handed away, Jerry wished to replicate the handmade shoes in a extra industrial approach, in order that they argued about design versus industrialization. It was all the time for the nice of the company, although, and nobody held salvatore ferragamo dress code a grudge. I don’t shout. You possibly can try this inside a family, however not when there are exterior managers involved. The third technology — my cousins Angelica, Diego and myself — we’re extra civilized when we get collectively.

What have you learned out of your father
My father is amazing. He has dedicated his life to growing the corporate, bringing it forward and guiding the business by way of strategic alternatives. He has additionally protected it. He was CEO until 2006 when he became chairman. He is meticulous and grounded. I can typically be too theoretical, however he at all times talks in a really concrete method, and he jogs my memory, “You’ve obtained to make it occur.” But he has at all times been very honest.

You’ve gotten a twin brother, Salvatore, who works in the household vineyard. How has his experience been completely different from yours
When he was rising up, he loved the outdoors, so that was always very pure for him. Now we have a tremendous wine property my father purchased in 1993; it’s hooked up to a small 13th century village near Arezzo. He works on each the distribution and develops new products. He’s additionally within the process of constructing a golf course there.

Ferragamo has a rule that solely three third-generation relations can be immediately involved working the business. How does it work
It was created in 1997 earlier than we went public. It’s appeared on favorably by the analysts, as they see that there’s the suitable steadiness between family members and non-family members. In the third technology, there’s myself, Angelica [Visconti], who is the director for southern Europe, and Diego [Di San Giuliano], who’s the family consultant on the board and accountable for e-commerce.

Ferragamo has been including non-family members to the design and executive teams, together with your current CEO. How has this technique shaped the company
My father at all times reminds me that the largest threat for a household enterprise is when it will get to the third technology. It gets more durable the more distant you’re from the founder. From a statistical standpoint, that’s when companies fail. However if you look at the stats, these businesses are usually where solely the family is concerned. So that you want to ensure that the administration is made up of one of the best talent.

You will have brought in Paul Andrew as footwear design director. What prompted this resolution, and what drew you to Andrew particularly
Paul is an incredible expertise. When we first met, it was extra about his vision for the corporate than the sneakers themselves. He got here up with the “high tech meets high craft” concept. He’s about creating shoes that have that legacy. He dresses ladies from the shoes up. Ferragamo began out as a shoe company, after all. Paul is also all about embracing all of the small details that make a shoe timeless, and never compromises on fit and consolation. That is so Ferragamo.

What do you suppose your grandfather would consider the corporate at present on this digital-obsessed era
He would have been on that earlier than anybody else. He would additionally probably have made the lightest sports shoe before anyone else because he was such a fanatic about innovation in general. He created an over-the-knee sock boot in 1925. We now have a saying in the family that everything has already been created by my grandfather.

What other household-run businesses do you notably admire
The Antinori household. They’re 26th-technology winemakers with a tremendous vineyard simply exterior of Florence.

What would you want your own legacy to be
That I have continued to satisfy the dream of my grandfather to make Salvatore Ferragamo one of many world’s leading brands. There continues to be loads of work to do.

The Matriarch
Wanda Ferragamo, James’ grandmother, is the honorary chairman and a huge force. Here, the youthful Ferragamo talks about her contributions.

On stepping into her late husband’s sneakers: “She has devoted her life to the pursuit of what he needed the model to grow to be. It was solely a women’s shoe label when he died. There should not many brands that will have been able to progress in such a manner.”

On her guiding ideas: “She gave a silver doll to each single Ferragamo cousin. There are 23 of us. The doll has a weight at the underside. When it falls over, it comes again up. It is to remind us to not be petrified of failing. If you’re scared of creating errors, you’re not going to go very far.”

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On her collection of letters: “We keep her letters in 4 volumes of this red guide. She wrote us stories about her father: how he was concerned in the first World Conflict and the difficulties he needed to go through as a doctor.

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