Alberta Ferretti, born in 1950 was known as the ‘uncrowned queen’ of the Italian fashion industry before she became a world famous fashion designer. It all started off when she opened her own boutique, Jolly at a tender age of eighteen in 1968 alongside her competitors who are today’s fashion moguls like Gianni Versace and Giorgio Armani. With the art of dressmaking running in her genes, Ferretti soon became a force to be reckoned with. Her exquisite goddess gowns made with delicate chiffon fabrics and intricate designs soon brought her talent into the limelight when her work was spotted by an agent who motivated her to start her own line of outfits.
1974 was Ferretti’s time to shine when her first signature line was launched under her own name, Alberta Ferretti which was praised to the skies. Alberta Ferretti soon became a renowned fashion designer and it wasn’t long before she became the owner of her own company in 1980 called Aeffe in partnership with her brother Massimo Ferretti. Today Aeffe has made its mark in the industry, producing and distributing designs for famous fashion houses like Moschino, Pollini and Jean Paul Gaultier. The year 1981 was when she made her debut on the Milan fashion runway and launched her second line called Philosophy di Alberta Ferretti after three years. It was 1985; her daytime and evening apparel had become popular among youngsters due to its comfortable, fit and chic look.
In the spring of `99, Alberta broadened her horizons by targeting the middle class masses with her relatively low priced fashion line called Alberta Ferretti Tech which turned out to be a favorable move for her. Years later in 2007, Ferretti experimented with children’s clothing and launched her line of outfits for little girls at Pitti Bimbo. The following year, her decades worth of experience landed her a spot on the famous television show Project Runway as a judge and she opened a shop at Melrose Avenue, Los Angeles. In 2009, the designer launched her own fragrance endorsed by supermodel Claudia Schiffer.
Born in Cattolica, Italy, c. 1950; married, c. 1967 (divorced); married Giuseppe Campanella (an anesthesiologist); children: sons Simone, Giacomo (first marriage).
Opened boutique in Cattolica, Italy, called “Jolly,” c. 1968; designed first collection, c. 1973; co–founder of Aeffe (a clothing manufacturer and distributor), 1976; began showing seasonal collections on runways of Milan, Italy, 1981; launched Ferretti Jeans Philosophy, 1989, renamed Philosophy di Alberta Ferretti, 1994; renovated a 13th–century castle into the Palazzo Viviani hotel, Montegridolfo, Italy, 1994; signed licensing deal with Proctor & Gamble for a fragrance line, 2000. Named best female entrepreneur in the state of Emilia Romagna, Italy, 1991.
Designer Alberta Ferretti built a thriving fashion empire from a small boutique she opened in a seaside Italian village in the late 1960s.
A savvy entrepreneur best known for her translucent, gossamer dresses, Ferretti also heads a manufacturing company that makes and distributes the lines of designers Narciso Rodriguez and Jean Paul Gaultier, among others. Her business acumen is combined with a characteristically Italian respect for la dolce vita, or “the good life”: she renovated a medieval village near her hometown, complete with castle/luxury hotel, and she prefers to spend time in both places rather than Milan. In a 2001 Times of London feature titled “Italy’s Quiet Achiever,” Lisa Armstrong described Ferretti as “a formidable industrialist,” and representative of a country with “a sufficiently developed aesthetic sensibility to be able to accept captains of industry who waft around in floaty wisps of chiffon.” Ferretti did not view herself as paradoxical in the least, she told Armstrong. “I don’t see any reason why you can’t look delicate and act tough.” Ferretti grew up in Cattolica, Italy, in the 1950s and ’60s. This seaside town lies on the Adriatic Sea near Rimini, in the state of Emilia Romagna. Her mother owned a dressmaking atelier in town, and Ferretti was cutting fabric for it by the time she was 12. At age 17, she left school and married not long afterward. With a small loan from her parents, she opened her own clothing store in Cattolica, calling it “Jolly.” It had a workshop upstairs as well as living quarters, and within a few years she had two little boys and a thriving business to look after. “I could hold it all together only by giving up everything that was to do with having time to myself,” she recalled in the interview with Armstrong for the Times.By the early 1970s, Jolly was selling the work of then–unknown Italian designers like Mariuccia Mandelli, Giorgio Armani, and Gianni Versace, and Ferretti had started to run up some of her own design ideas as well for sale there. A sales representative visited her store one day, liked the frocks, and suggested she sell them elsewhere. Thus Ferretti’s own line took shape around 1973, and within a short time proved such a hit with Italian women that she had to hire more seamstresses and move them into a 400–square–foot shed. From her perspective, Ferretti realized how problematic it could prove to have a seasonal collection sewn perfectly and then delivered on time, and so she began contracting her workshop to take in the work of other designers. Her business sense coincided with a boom in Italian fashion in the mid–1970s, when Milan’s biannual “fashion weeks” began attracting an international crowd of buyers and journalists and Italian fashion became synonymous with well made and modern. Ferretti formally launched her second company in 1976, calling it “Aeffe” after the Italian pronunciation of her initials, and asked her younger brother Massimo to run it. By 1980 they had landed their first major contract, signing with an up–and–coming Italian designer, Enrico Coveri.
Ferretti began showing her own line in Milan in 1981, a debut she described to Interview ‘s Ingrid Sischy as “an experience which was very, very frightening for me.” Her designs were both feminine and modern, made from the most delicate of fabrics like chiffon, gazar, or georgette. They caught on with style–conscious women on both sides of the Atlantic. By the mid–1990s, Ferretti’s dresses were sold at upscale American retailers like Bergdorf Goodman and Neiman Marcus. Writing in the Times, Armstrong described Ferretti’s signature style as “a kind of Valentino look for a younger, slightly more bohemian woman.” Reviewing her Spring 2002 line, a writer for WWD listed the variations on the diaphanous—”bias–cut and pleated, ruched and side–draped, Empire–waisted and wrapped obi–style”—that had become the signature Ferretti frock. Her profile was boosted by a celebrity clientele that included Julia Roberts, Nicole Kidman, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Andie MacDowell; for the 2000 Academy Awards ceremony, Uma Thurman appeared in a red Alberta Ferretti number that won rave reviews. Ferretti summed up her design ethos in a talk with Tamsin Blanchard of London’s Independent newspaper. “My clothes are not trendy at all costs,” she declared. “They are an extension of a woman’s personality, not for the woman who identifies with a Seventies or a Forties look.”
A jeans line, Ferretti Jeans Philosophy, was launched in 1989, but by 1994 had morphed into a pret–a–porter division called Philosophy di Alberta Ferretti. For this the designer produced a more whimsical look. “The line allows me to let my creativity run wild,” she told WWD journalist Samantha Conti. “Because the prices are contained and well below my top line, I feel much more free in designing.” She also began opening boutiques—both Alberta Ferretti and Philosophy brands—in some of the world’s best–dressed cities, from Milan and London to Tokyo and New York. Aeffe operations continued to expand, and by the late 1990s its state–of–the–art computerized factory near Cattolica was producing the lines of Narciso Rodriguez, Jean–Paul Gaultier, Rifat Ozbek, and Moschino. Ferretti also takes an occasional assignment for film, such as the outfit worn by Madonna in one crucial scene of the 2002 film Swept Away. “It was a caftan, and she had to keep falling off a yacht into the water,” Ferretti told WWD. “So of course that meant a lot of caftans.”
Ferretti keeps a seaside villa in Cattolica, and a winter place a few miles inland in San Giovanni in Marignano, where her Aeffe headquarters are located. One of her adult sons, Simone, works as a computer programmer for her company; his younger brother Giacomo raises mussels. After her first marriage ended, Ferretti wed anesthesiologist and acupuncturist Giuseppe Campanella. In the mid–1990s, she bought and renovated an entire hillside town, not far from Cattolica, called Montegridolfo. With structures dating back to the 1200s, the medieval town was in ruins, but the castle was turned into a four–star hotel, the Palazzo Viviani.
Ferretti’s success, she notes, has but one drawback: she misses the daily interaction with clients that came from running a single store. “For me it’s very important not to lose perspective when you become famous,” she told Guardian writer Susannah Frankel. “I work all day. I’m a real woman. I cater for different needs. I’m not tall and I’m a bit, shall we say, rounded. I understand such problems and always design clothes that I myself would like to wear.”
Guardian (London, England), April 5, 1997, p. 42.
Independent (London, England), April 13, 1997, p. 46.
InStyle, April 1998, p. 86.
Interview, October 1998.
People, January 26, 1998, p. 81.
Times (London, England), July 23, 2001, p. 13.
WWD, February 22, 1993, p. ID12; March 9, 1995, p. 12; January 30, 1996, p. 16; September 17, 1997, p. 13; October 27, 2000, p. 27; October 2, 2001, p. 6; March 25, 2002, p. 14; May 31, 2002, p. 13.
— Carol Brennan – Refined-Culture