The Ferragamo Family Wants to Build a Business Beyond Shoes With Its Lungarno Collection Hotels
When Salvatore Ferragamo laid down roots in Florence in 1937, after kicking off his career in Hollywood, he unwittingly anchored the future of his brand to the neighborhood surrounding the Ponte Vecchio. It began with the Palazzo Spini Feroni, a 13th-century palace overlooking the Arno, which the visionary shoe designer acquired in 1938 to house his flagship store.
But more than a place to shop his pioneering designs, from the cork wedge sole to the pyramid heel, it was a venue in which Ferragamo could host guests and clients—many of whom traveled great distances to Florence to be fitted by the man nicknamed “the Shoemaker to the Stars.” Everyone from Hollywood actresses like Marilyn Monroe and Judy Garland to royals such as the Duchess of Windsor had their feet studied by the designer whose silhouettes were synonymous with both lightness and incredible comfort.
That innate sense of hospitality and emphasis on comfort would become the foundation for the Lungarno Collection, the hotel management company created by Leonardo Ferragamo in 1995, 35 years after his father’s untimely death. What began as a vision to run a single property just off the Ponte Vecchio to welcome guests in Florence quickly expanded into a portfolio of four distinct properties in Florence and one in Rome, turning the Lungarno Collection into the first fashion-branded hotel group. But the intention was never to re-create the codes of a label.
“Fashion is very short-minded—every six months you’re updating wardrobes,” says CEO Valeriano Antonioli. “The idea in hotels is to be more everlasting. It’s very hard to impart the exact same values from fashion into the hotel business. No one has been able to do it.”
Whereas more conspicuous fashion-backed properties such as the Bulgari Hotel, Armani Hotel, or the Palazzo Versace feature everything from furnishings to dishware designed by the brand, the Lungarno Collection properties are conceived as private residences with only subtle nods to the Ferragamo heritage. “It’s a parallel business but one that could live on its own, regardless of the future of the fashion brand,” explains Antonioli. What the company brings to the industry, he adds, are the Ferragamo family’s values—elegance, consistency, coherence, and a design that reflects their personal sense of style.
When the Hotel Lungarno, a 16th-century townhouse overlooking the Arno river and now the collection’s flagship property, reopened under the group’s ownership in 1997, the interior set a tone of timelessness. Its nuova classicità style—with ivory fabrics, antiqued furnishings, and blue and white palette—lend a luxury cruise vibe, while some 450 works of art—including original pieces by Picasso and Cocteau—displayed in common areas and guest rooms make it home to the most important collection of modern art in the city.
Directly across the Ponte Vecchio sits Portrait Firenze, part of a subcollection of luxury properties, composed predominantly of suites, that the group is developing under the name Portrait. The hotel is located a block from Salvatore Ferragamo’s historic hub along the Via dei Tornabuoni and was designed as an homage to the brand’s post–World War II golden years and 1950s-era glamour. Michele Bönan, the Florentine architect who oversaw the hotel’s renovation in 2014, pulled original black-and-white photographs from Ferragamo archives—candid shots of the designer with famous clients in his workshop and strutting on the streets of Florence—to decoratively document both the city’s and the family’s creative history.
Mid-century modern furnishings, some antiqued and some reproductions, alongside a mixed palette of white brick and dark, woody tones, strike the right balance of recalling the past while feeling refreshingly contemporary. Short of the namesake beauty products in guest rooms and copies of the designer’s autobiography, the Ferragamo brand operates with complete discretion.
Still, there appears to be some ambition that the legend of Ferragamo and the brand’s artisanal “Made in Italy” bona fides become naturally intertwined with its Portrait hotels—particularly as the group works toward its most ambitious venture in hospitality yet.
By early 2021, Portrait Milano, the group’s sixth hotel, will open in the 16th-century Archiepiscopal Seminary—Europe’s oldest and the second oldest in the world—in the heart of Milan’s fashion quarter. Little known even to Milan residents, the monumental structure has a striking baroque entrance that leads to a massive piazza framed by a double colonnaded loggia, all of which the group is helping to restore. Once complete, it will house restaurants, shops, and event spaces in addition to the hotel.
“We’ve had 10 years of consistent growth across the portfolio—it’s the right time to take a big step like this,” Antonioli says. “And bringing Ferragamo into the epicenter of fashion in Milan, the most interesting city in Europe right now, is important.”
Fashion may be ever-evolving, but style, in the way the late Salvatore Ferragamo imagined it, is timeless. And hewing to that focus may well enable the Ferragamo Group to ensure its longevity and a sustainable future in shaping hospitality.
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