The only constant is change; people age, seasons shift and empires rise and fall. This is a universal truth but Alberta Ferretti’s story is more defined by transition than most. The backdrops of her life range from runways to boardrooms; Italian villages to international megacities; small-town shops to multi-million-dollar fashion empires. For the better part of her illustrious career, Ferretti has carved out a reputation for her light touch and for bringing to life designs that are soft and unashamed in their femininity. With the arrival of her dark and dreamy Fall Winter ’23 collection, she yet again proves her indomitable ability for adaptation.
Special thanks to The Ironmongers Aylsham.
Ferretti’s journey into fashion seems fated. It begins with a dressmaker’s shop, a childish cheekiness, and that defining feature of Italian life – family. In the small seaside town of Cattolica, nestled between Le Marche and Emilia-Romagna regions, the young Ferretti spent her days watching her mother drape fantastic fabrics over bodies, no two the same. What hooked her wasn’t the friendly chatter or swirling colours. It was the metamorphosis of ordinary women into princesses. The world of design enthralled Ferretti, with its timeless promise of transforming what is into what could be.
But childhood dreams are destined to stay just that – fantasies envisioned on bedroom ceilings or scrawled on scraps of paper – without something more; something that helps them survive the dizzying leap outside the mind and into the world. For Ferretti, that something was a razor-sharp business acumen. She asked to work in her mother’s shop and discovered two things: she loved advising women and she was pretty good at it. It was Ferretti who suggested to her mother that they open a shop focusing on prêt-à-porter. As a teenager, she sensed the tide turning as the ready-to-wear market boomed in a world where women didn’t want to be measured up every time they needed a new outfit.
That intuitive grasp of what women want only grew at Ferretti’s first boutique, the Jolly Shop. The name is a little whimsical, perhaps better suited to a pasticceria, but when the 18-year-old opened her first shop just as her fabric dealer closed down, he offered her four pristine ‘Jolly Shop’ signs for free. No one can blame Ferretti for taking up a good deal. The Jolly Shop became her first real school – unbeknownst to them, the women who entered doubled as her customers and her greatest teachers. Lessons included studying the way certain fabrics could make women feel light and free; change their body language; the way they moved. It was a fertile playground for Ferretti to hone her lethal combination of artistry and astuteness.
There’s a tendency to categorize the people who drive the fashion industry into one of two boxes – in the first box, there’s unbridled creativity and boundless imagination; in the second, there are sales targets and spreadsheets. But neat little boxes are deceptively simple. Of course, being creative and business-minded are far from incompatible and Ferretti is a glaring example of this. The designer engineered the rise of one of Italy’s most important clothing manufacturers and distributors, Aeffe, which she founded with her brother Massimo in 1980. Ferretti’s entrepreneurial spirit was indelible from the start. She began collaborating with popular stylists like Enrico Coveri with a simple yet savvy proposition to produce ready-to-wear collections for them. Her winning idea turned out to be the building blocks of a fashion behemoth. What followed was a long list of collaborations that saw Aeffe ink licenses to create collections for icons like Franco Moschino, Jean-Paul Gaultier, and Narciso Rodriguez.
Today, the publicly-traded company’s headquarters remain in Cattolica but their influence is global. The group employs 1,400 people across 69 countries, with 158 direct and franchised single-brand boutiques and a selected network of multi-brand boutiques. Four is another important number for Aeffe, marking its ownership of the iconic Italian labels Alberta Ferretti, Moschino, Philosophy di Lorenzo Serafini and Pollini. Whilst houses like Versace and Fendi made a name designing clothes that mark their wearer with distinct motifs and logos, Ferretti’s eponymous label follows a different philosophy – women, not the garments they wear, are the protagonists of the story. From the top floor of the Jolly Shop, she developed her signature vision of ethereal elegance. After debuting at Milan Fashion Week in 1981, that vision would be reimagined countless times in the form of Grecian toga-tunics, lace-appliquè gowns or fringed flapper dresses that could have slinked straight out from a page of The Great Gatsby. Transcending trends and romantic to its core, Ferretti’s collections are a celebration of all that is free and feminine.
For a brand known best for its delicate cocktail dresses, the Alberta Ferretti Fall Winter 2023 show came with a clear message: evolution is irresistible. Inspired by a nocturnal garden, the blooms of this collection were powerful and moody; a playful blend of masculine and feminine. Elongated shapes on sculptural heels dominated the runway with an understated glamour that demanded closer attention to the true magic of the show – its exquisite details. Models in fiery tartan blazers trailed dark lace negligees and crimson roses printed on silk voile gowns. Every detail felt considered, from the fil coupé layering that decorated one v-neck top like falling petals, to the velvet panelling on a sheer dress that evoked the stem of a rose, complete with angular lines and thorny points. The rose continued to guide Ferretti’s nocturnal odyssey as deep reds and crimsons dominated, carnal and timeless in their allure. Black wide-brimmed hats cast dusky shadows over steely faces, cloaking them with an intriguingly anonymous charisma. Like dark punctuation marks, they tied together a vision that oozed smoky sophistication. Venturing outside her natural territory paid off – Ferretti’s rare flowers evolved, blending softness and strength together in a visual reminder that the two can co-exist in clothes and the people who wear them.
Apart from her impressive collections, Ferretti’s accomplishments are equal parts diverse and dizzying. She boasts a list of accolades recognizing her colossal impact in the business and creative spheres, including the 2018 American Award from the Italy-USA Foundation and the 2022 Guido Carli Prize. Taylor Swift and Beyoncé perform for thousands cloaked in her dreamy designs. On the red carpet, they adorn the likes of Meryl Streep and Andie MacDowell, both of whom she counts as friends. Ferretti’s creative energy knows no bounds – she designed a car for Lancia and refurbished the Palazzo Viviani Castello of Montegridolfo, transforming a dilapidated mediaeval castle into a luxury hotel. Even though she has been called ‘‘Italy’s quiet achiever”, she suits the label “Italy’s quiet overachiever” better.
Despite the prestige and pomp of awards and celebrity, the designer holds the same values she did as an 18-year-old girl. There’s a deep love for her native Italy. It sits alongside an unwavering dedication to quality and craftsmanship. That entrepreneurial spirit never left either. But perhaps the most important of all is a profound fascination with the complexity and richness of women, a preoccupation that Ferretti just can’t seem to shake. It’s comforting to know, amidst a flurry of fleeting trends that dominate the fashion world, Ferretti’s commitment to artistry and elegance is unwavering.
You can discover the complete story inside the Fall Winter 2023 Issue 11
Purchase your copy here.