Installed in a spacious corner office on the top floor of Florence’s historic Palazzo Spini Feroni, Italian fashion house Salvatore Ferragamo’s headquarters since the 1930s, shoe designer Paul Andrew is in a pensive mood as he gazes out across the Arno River. “The idea that I’m working in the space where Salvatore Ferragamo once worked and all of his creations were born...it’s pressure,” the 38-year-old confesses. Last September, the British designer was named Ferragamo’s first design director for women’s shoes. (Previously, the collections were created by a team.) The son of an upholsterer who worked for the Queen at Windsor Castle (he remembers “all of these magnificent textiles and trims coming in and out of the house”), Andrew studied at the Berkshire College of Art & Design and worked in shoes and accessories at Donna Karan for almost a decade. But it was when he launched his namesake line of women’s shoes in 2012 that the fashion world took notice. Emma Watson and Gwyneth Paltrow were photographed in Andrew’s plunging single-sole pumps, appreciating, no doubt, his focus not just on red carpet appeal but also on comfort. That word, he says, is all about empowerment: “I hate it when I see women walking in shoes that are crippling them.” In 2014, Andrew won the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund award, making him the first shoe designer, and the youngest brand, ever to scoop one up. This put him on the radar of the house of Ferragamo, which would soon part ways with longtime creative director Massimiliano Giornetti, who had led the men’s and women’s design teams. Andrew, it seems, has a mandate for change (at least with footwear).
Upon arriving in Florence, Andrew spent days just opening boxes in the Ferragamo Museum. Inaugurated in 2005 in the basement of the company’s palazzo, the facility is also an archive of more than 15,000 Ferragamo shoes spanning a century. Andrew was overwhelmed—and impressed with the founder’s innovation. “He was using fish skins and raffia and macramé. No one had made a shoe from those materials before,” Andrew says. His own forward-thinking designs nod to Salvatore, with a handful of new models based on the founder’s famous gold column heel. They are in line with what Andrew calls his “high tech meets high craft” approach. He explains that the heels of these 2017 versions are galvanized in a car factory. Other shoes are inspired by Richard Serra’s Torqued Ellipse sculptures. Salvatore, who died in 1960 and left the empire he had created in the hands of his wife and six children, was, according to the new design director, “an innovator—and a genius.” Andrew looks down at one of his new suede ankle boots, which feature the house’s revolutionary F-heel design, patented by Salvatore in 1947. “He engaged with artisans but worked with engineers.”