Paul Andrew wants you to know that comfort is not a dirty word in fashion. “When I started my own brand I talked about how I was using all these innovations to make shoes comfortable, and everyone looked at me like I was nuts,” says Andrew, the new creative director for womenswear at Salvatore Ferragamo. “But people don’t want to be constricted and handicapped by their footwear – or their ready-to-wear, for that matter. We want to empower women, not cripple them. We want women to stand strong and be powerful… looking good and feeling good at the same time.”
To Andrew, comfortable fashion means grown-up elegance with a menswear dash. For his first outing at Milan Fashion Week, he showed a collection full of autumnal hues, tailoring and standout boots. “I didn’t really know whether people were going to like it or not, in truth,” he says the morning after his debut, still dazed to find himself the talk of fashion week, let alone the creative director of an Italian fashion house.
Born in Berkshire, Andrew, a boyish 39, studied ready-to-wear and footwear design at Berkshire College of Art and Design. Yasmin Sewell bought his graduate collection for her influential Yasmin Cho boutique (“I definitely saw in him a rare combination of talent, elegance and drive, even at that age,” says Sewell, now the vice-president of style and creative at e-tail giant Farfetch), but after Andrew won an award for shoes during Graduate Fashion Week, he set ready-to-wear aside. He went on to design shoes for Alexander McQueen, Calvin Klein and Donna Karan before launching his own brand in 2012, joining Ferragamo as its first women’s footwear design director in 2016. One year into the job, the house’s leaders approached him about expanding his remit to cover womenswear. “I thought, design is design, and I have this very clear understanding of who this woman should be.”
Andrew began his research by looking at photographs in Ferragamo’s archives, gravitating toward images of Katharine Hepburn in her signature suits. Then he started watching The Crown, Netflix’s award-winning series about the life of Queen Elizabeth II, and became “absolutely obsessed” with Vanessa Kirby’s Princess Margaret. He felt a personal connection to the material – his father was an upholsterer at Windsor Castle – and a new Ferragamo woman began to take shape: “I loved the idea of creating a wardrobe around the idea of this woman of pedigree who has gone a little bit off the rails.” He envisaged her coming home to her country estate from a night out at 7am, throwing a cape and boots on over her velvet dress before she rushed outside to feed the chickens.
Cue a range of supple leather trousers, asymmetrical velvet dresses with flyaway sleeves and long, Balmoral-style trench coats with printed silk linings. Although the show opened with khakis and greys, colour soon came into the frame with deep greens, wine reds and petrol blues. Not that those greens were ever simply “green”: “the coat is ‘juniper’, the knitted dress and the clutch bag are ‘parakeet’ and the calf-leather boots are ‘army’,” he says, indicating elements of the 10th look. And no, this isn’t a bid to join Farrow & Ball’s paint-naming team – it’s a Ferragamo tradition. “Internally there’s a strange rule that you can’t use the same colour name twice. Given that this is a 90-year-old brand, there aren’t many names left to use,” he says with a shrug, “so I went a little bit wild.”
He worked in tandem with menswear designer Guillaume Meilland to make sure there was a strong connection between the collections, so the women also wore crisp shirts and single-button blazers. Trousers were particularly strong – the best could be buttoned at the ankle to create a carrot shape, or worn unbuttoned for a wide-legged look.
Every outfit seemed to taper to or draw the eye to the shoes, almost like an exclamation point. “Everything began with the shoe,” he says. “This brand was born in footwear, so the idea was to build the wardrobe from toe to head.” Pull-on equestrian-style boots with square toes came with an angular metallic block heel (based on a Salvatore Ferragamo design from 1930, but made of plastic and galvanised with brass in an Italian car factory) or a nearly flat gold wafer. Rarely have flat boots looked so elegant. Thanks to Andrew’s new lasts and memory-foam insoles, he insists they’re as comfortable as trainers. “I’ve made it my mandate to ensure that every shoe we create is the most comfortable that it can possibly be.” Katharine Hepburn would most certainly approve.