Not too long ago, Paul Andrew, the British shoe designer who now lives in New York City, found himself sitting in a large Gothic palace in Florence, Italy, almost entirely filled with shoes. “There were over 15,000 pairs,” he recalls, still bemused. Frescos—faded from time but no less transcendent—sprawled above his head, while gilded moldings decorated nearly every nook and cranny in sight. It was the Palazzo Spini Feroni, a medieval mansion originally built in 1289 by the merchant Geri Spini that now houses the archives of Salvatore Ferragamo.
Last September, the creative, who has brownish blond hair neatly combed in the gentlest quaff, joined the fashion house as its new design director overlooking women’s footwear. A year later, he’s become creative director across all ready-to-wear, accessories, and leather goods, and the like.
Born in rural England, Andrew recalls an early interest in style. His father worked as an upholsterer for the British Royal Family, while his mother delighted with him in the glamour of Christian Lacroix and the like. In the young boy’s spare time, he’d digest copies of Vogue. Later, while studying at the Berkshire College of Art & Design, a professor suggested footwear as his focus. Andrew’s first realized collection debuted at London’s Graduate Fashion Week, seizing the attention of veteran fashion buyer Yasmin Sewell and leading to an apprenticeship for Lee McQueen. Soon after, Andrew journeyed to NYC, where he launched Narciso Rodriguez’s footwear line, worked for Calvin Klein, and designed for Donna Karan for nearly a decade.
In 2012, Andrew began his own namesake line of ladylike, single-sole shoes that offered a timeless edge with red-carpet grace. Two years later, he became the first shoe designer to win the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund, and has since been nominated twice for the Swarovski Award for Accessory Design, taking it home the second time around this past year.
At Ferragamo, Andrew’s task has been reinterpretation. How can one revisit the past in new and compelling ways? “Everything I do is based on what I’ve discovered from the archives,” he explains. “The challenge is distilling these very personal notions from 80 years ago and making them very modern for today.” The house’s eponym was famous for many things—Hollywood interest, exaggerated drama, Florentine charm—but perhaps nothing is more relevant to this than his innovation in design. Salvatore Ferragamo’s work was architectural and revolutionary, from the crocodile stilettos he made for Marilyn Monroe (“it’s quite humbling to hold those,” laughs Andrew) to the iconic F-shaped heel, for which the founding designer won the Neiman Marcus Award in 1947. First introduced as a sandal, the design references its maker’s name, but also mimics the curvature of the letter “F” in cursive. “The way the heel defies gravity, people look at it and ask if it’s even possible to be worn!” says Andrew, who rendered the shoe in a new version for the house’s 2018 Resort collection.
Based on an original drawing by the founder, the reinvented style is slightly more underslung and sits a bit higher, says Andrew. “Salvatore was only able to cover the heel with a seam because it was such an extreme curve that leather couldn’t be molded over the shape. I had a bit more help through today’s technology.” Andrew’s new F Heel joins a seasonal line that very much reflects his ultimate effort for the fashion house: reconciling the future with the past.
As a creative, Ferragamo was often fascinated by floral motifs; in homage Andrew revisited the Covent Garden flower markets of his youth to find Resort inspiration. The photographs he took there became the basis of the graphic printed silks in the collection, meant to also reference the house’s own iconic scarves. Andrew also reconsidered Ferragamo’s 1939 Flower Heel silhouette. “It’s become the most major inspiration to me,” he smiles. “The heel proportion has been reworked and now comes in stiletto and block heel versions. It’s also being used on buttons in ready-to-wear and on bags.”
With lively purples and lush greens, Ferragamo’s color palette this season is more vibrant than ever. The iris flower, which details Andrew’s prints, is a symbol of Florence, yes, but perhaps also is emblematic of the fashion house in this new chapter. “I’m honing in on sophistication,” says the designer, “but also amusement. Salvatore was such a brave designer. There is so much history in his incredible shapes, and I’m really having so much fun reintroducing them.”