Ferragamo's Renaissance

Ferragamo Maximillian Davis Fashion

A young British designer is revitalising the famous Italian fashion house of Ferragamo, a cornerstone of Bond Street. By Peter Howarth

Maximillian Davis, the 28-year-old Mancunian who became creative director of Italian fashion house Ferragamo last year, is acutely aware of the heritage of the label he has inherited. He says he always looks at the archive, and there are many examples in the three collections he has shown to date that clearly reference pieces that Ferragamo aficionados will recognise. Witness the dresses in his Spring 2023 collection, his first for the house, that were made from scarves featuring leopard patterns derived from prints in the archive, or a heeled shoe that is inspired by the house’s Opanka model. Or the bag – the Wanda – that nods to a 1988 style.

Those unfamiliar with Davis’s work at his own label – called Maximillian – may well have been surprised at his appointment to the top job at this storied Italian house. And yet the young Brit had already established his eponymous brand as one to watch, attracting attention from some high-profile people, including Kim Kardashian, Dua Lipa and Rihanna. Now put on pause, Maximillian will have to wait to be revived while Davis applies himself wholeheartedly to Ferragamo.

Davis has told vogue.com that he learned: ‘I have more in common with Ferragamo than I ever expected. I found clothes and accessories in the archive that I thought were very current, and that have some connection to my work. The idea of bringing a little bit of myself into the new direction of the brand started to feel very natural to me.’

What he brings to this very Italian party is a breath of contemporary fresh air. No one could fault Ferragamo for its elegance and quality over the past few years, and yet this was a house built by a true innovator. Salvatore Ferragamo himself was an extraordinary pioneer in shoemaking and had a remarkably inventive mind – among his many creations was the wedge, which he patented in 1937.

Davis, like the house’s founder in his formative years, is young and has been transplanted from his homeland. Salvatore left his hometown of Bonito near Naples to join his brothers in America, where he became known as ‘The Shoemaker to the Stars’. Opening the Hollywood Boot Shop in Los Angeles in 1923, he attracted a movie-star clientele – including Greta Garbo, Gloria Swanson and Jean Harlow – with his elegant creativity.

It is not too trite to see a parallel journey unfolding for Davis. But his creative energy comes not from a childhood spent in a small Italian town, but one that blends Caribbean family roots and a youth spent in Manchester with study at the London College of Fashion and a love of the east London club scene. Both his mother and sister studied fashion, and his father has an enthusiasm for tailoring. Introducing this sort of cultural and family dynamic to an established Florentine fashion company (also a family business) has proved to be an inspired move. Already the new Ferragamo has been seen on the likes of Kylie Jenner, Beyoncé and Michaela Coel.

Davis talks of his interest not only in Ferragamo’s archive – of 14,000 pairs of shoes – but also in the founder’s story, which saw Salvatore continue his relationship with Hollywood and film stars even after his return to Italy. Later fans of Ferragamo include Greta Garbo, Lauren Bacall, Sophia Loren and Audrey Hepburn, who wore a pair of his black suede loafers in Funny Face. Davis wants to continue the legacy, but in his own way. ‘I wanted to pay tribute to Salvatore’s start by bringing in the culture of Hollywood – but new Hollywood, its ease and sensuality; its sunset and sunrise,’ he said of his first show, which introduced a new house red-tone, in part referencing the pair of 1960 red shoes Salvatore made for Marilyn Monroe.

But he is also fascinated by the Renaissance, the historical period most associated with the brand’s hometown of Florence, and sees it as a period when light came to illuminate art and culture, bringing it out of the darkness. At the firm, his contribution has already been referred to as Ferragamo’s New Renaissance. Interestingly, the new autumn/winter campaign for the brand sees this referenced literally in the form of a shoot that features models in Ferragamo pictured with masterpieces from the Uffizi.

A stroll from the Palazzo Spini Feroni – which dates back to the 13th century and is the place Salvatore Ferragamo chose as his firm’s home on his return from the States in 1927 – is the city’s celebrated art gallery. For his autumn/winter campaign, Davis has partnered with the Uffizi to create memorable images of his elegant and sensual collection. Famous artworks of the 15th and 16th centuries by the likes of Veronese, Botticelli and Bellini act as dramatic backdrops for shots by Tyler Mitchell, in which history and modernity converse.

‘The Renaissance is hardwired into Florence, and Florence is hardwired into Ferragamo,’ says Davis. ‘At this time of a new beginning at the house, it made perfect sense to reclaim the cradle of the Renaissance as our spiritual home, and to harness the deep, artistic spirit of this city to showcase the new collection.’

Ferragamo is at 24 Old Bond Street, London W1S 4AL

Peter Howarth is the former editor of Arena, British Esquire and Man About Town and is the men’s style writer for Luxx, The Times’ luxury magazine

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