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Ferragamo Woos China
Text by Mala Vaishnav
Published: Volume 16, Issue 6, June, 2008
The Italian fashion label travels from its European headquarters to the mystical Orient to celebrate the 80th anniversary of Salvatore Ferragamo’s illustrious legacy. Verve is a special invitee to the spectacular fusion of an archival extravaganza, fashion preview, fresh product launches and a champagne-laced grand finale. Mala Vaishnav watches Florence sweep Shanghai off its feet
A Verve Exclusive

So this is Shanghai. Swish flyovers, speeding cars, towers scraping the sky. And the local lad on the street as overwhelmed as me. The driver of my airport limo and I exchange polite silences because we speak two different languages and never the twain shall meet. Had I known even a smattering of Mandarin or Cantonese, it would have been redundant, for in Shanghai, they speak Shanghainese. Or we can gesticulate and they may respond.

It must be a well dressed city, I surmise as we glide along Nanjing Road – the street on which I am to live for the next three days — where swanky stores flash their international bling. Ferragamo, the genteel, understated brand of yore, has decided to up their impact quotient with a high voltage 80th anniversary celebration and JW Marriott has prepped up for the same. Sleek, long cars, bearing the brand’s logo empty out the suited and the ‘stilettoed’ at regular intervals, a posse of hotel bigwigs and company execs line the glass-fronted entrance to welcome the family Ferragamo and the lobby on the 38th floor is the hub of all event-related activity. The Ferragamo desk is manned by super charged, designer draped youngsters on a perpetual adrenalin fix, handling any query – silly or sublime – with a high degree of efficiency. I later learn that they will never again pooh pooh the benefits of beauty sleep, since all they got in three days was six hours! My host, Prasanna Bhaskar, regional director, South East Asia & India, Ferragamo, sporting the company’s new tote on her shoulder and the reinvented Varina on her feet, meets me for a quick lunch at the Marriott Café and updates me on the itinerary, while I steal glances at her ballerina shoes. The Vara, a best-selling round-toed classic, designed in 1979 by Salvatore Ferragamo’s eldest daughter, Fiamma, was given a contemporary spin earlier this year and has been spotted on Hollywood celebutantes Drew Barrymore, Kirsten Dunst and Anne Hathaway. “Can you dance in them?” I ask. “Absolutely,” replies Prasanna and in the nights to come, she even clicks her heels to prove it!

Later, following the introduction of the floral, woody eau de toilette, Tuscan Soul, created by renowned perfumer Pierre Bourdon, and the international debut of the brand’s premier line of watches, of which the very first personally engraved F-80 GMT Chrono Automatic — in titanium and black ceramic — will be presented to Ferragamo special guest Roberto Bolle, a rising star of Italian ballet, we don our formals for a dinner reception to be held at the elitist Whampoa Club. Waiting for our respective vehicles in the Marriott lobby, I exchange pleasantries with Leonardo Ferragamo, chief executive, Holdings, and his lovely 17-year-old daughter, Maria Sole. Leonardo, freshly jetted in from a luxury conference in Delhi, seems relieved with commerce minister Kamal Nath’s assurances of looking into cutting import duties on premium luxury products. “It is good news to the many international brands intending to expand operations in India.”

The club, housed in a heritage building third from the river, predictably named 3 on the Bund is all tinkling chandeliers and oriental splendour. Michele Norsa, CEO, Ferragamo, India lover and Ganesha collector, effortlessly mingles and poses with stars and scribes before raising an impeccable toast laced with dollops of humour. It is an elaborate sit-down affair with a sprinkling of Page Three. At our table we have Jessica Tan, the current Miss Singapore, in a cleavage challenging Ferragamo dress, who chatters prettily while we pick at our 18-course meal (I kid you not) of which I remember very little except the merging flavours of pickled orange peel, dragon fruit, lime jelly, sweet dumplings, steamed shrimp, crispy chicken, fried pork....

The morning after, our cosmopolitan group makes its way through the leafy lanes of People’s Park, past students earnestly airing English phrases and circles of gambling locals, to the Museum of Contemporary Art (MoCA) for a serious lesson in fashion history. Salvatore Ferragamo Evolving Legend 1928-2008 a retrospective that took the company and curator Cristina Morozzi months to put together, commemorates 80 years of the brand. And is a rediscovery of its legendary founder fondly referred to as ‘shoemaker to the stars’ for his unwavering ties to the most famous soles in Hollywood. It is a magical journey — through more than 500 iconic pieces — of shoes, bags, clothing, scarves, jewellery, materials and the original wooden casts of famous feet, showcased in 11 sections, starting off with the Hollywood Boot Shop, Salvatore’s elegant store in Beverly Hills. There is the Gancino clasp and the panther silk print; the patented cork wedge and the Neiman Marcus awarded ‘invisible’ sandal. Handcrafted luxury that keeps the maker’s illusion alive that possessing a Ferragamo shoe is like owning a piece of Florence.