On a recent stormy Monday in Milan, Lorenzo Serafini, the designer of Alberta Ferretti’s Philosophy line, set off on foot to spend an afternoon at his favorite local haunts. The crush of work designing the spring/summer 2017 collection was only beginning, and Serafini — tan and unshaven after a week of scuba diving in the Maldives — was still relaxed.
Taking some free time with T, he roamed the city’s historic nooks, stopping to browse antique collectibles and a trove of designer vintage clothes. He began close to his home east of the Duomo, where Serafini wandered under a pointed archway into a vine-covered alley amid the neo-Gothic buildings of the Verdi Conservatory. The street resonated with the sound of musicians at practice. “Milan has these secret paradises that let you feel outside of time,” he said.
After 20 years in women’s wear, Serafini, 43, inhabits a position of enviable autonomy in fashion. Picked by Alberta Ferretti to be the creative director of the secondary line she created in 1984, Serafini has been given freedom to express his romantic vision as the head of the brand. (The offshoot label retained Ferretti’s own name for 30 years until, after an 18-month stint with designer Natalie Ratabesi, Ferretti rechristened it in honor of her new designer: Philosophy di Lorenzo Serafini.)
Strolling towards the headquarters of Alberta Ferretti and Philosophy, Serafini opened a plaid umbrella against the rain, pausing to take in Via Bellini’s Art Nouveau masterpieces. Soon, he reached his own studio in Palazzo Donizetti, a florid, Liberty-style building designed by Piero Portaluppi in 1920. On the villa’s elegant second floor, his office is papered, preteen style, with his icons: Brooke Shields, Jane Birkin, Siouxsie Sioux — “the women of my youth,” he said wistfully. On his desk, the upcoming spring collection was beginning to take shape: “Inspired by the freedom you feel on vacation, the naturalness you have by the sea,” he said, gazing at a photo of Brooke Shields. “Wild, like ‘Blue Lagoon’…”
Nostalgia runs deep in Serafini’s approach to fashion. He looks back reverently on his working experiences — four years as head of women’s wear at Dolce and Gabbana, 10 at Roberto Cavalli and five at Blumarine — as “the best education possible.” His youth in the seaside town of Riccione, where his father ran a hotel for beachgoers, left its mark — he still keeps the magazines that first piqued his love for fashion, which continue to inspire him. “I’m not interested in inventing anything,” he said. “The past already offers us the keys to feminine style that work for every woman — romanticism, lightweights, fluid volumes, prints, ruching — that I interpret with new silhouettes and new fabrics.”
After a lunch of his customary order of spaghetti alle vongole at the iconic Milan restaurant Da Giacomo, a taxi deposited Serafini at L’Oro dei Farlocchi, a gallery of antique curiosities in the Brera neighborhood. A larger-than-life handmade ostrich stood by the entrance, surrounded by collectibles of every sort: a narwhal tusk in a bronze base, gilt-framed 18th-century illustrations, a hand-carved cabbage like one Serafini had bought for a friend. He crossed himself with holy water in the neighboring church before continuing on to Franco Jacassi, a nearby three-story emporium filled with racks of vintage clothing by designers like Yves Saint Laurent, Pucci and Issey Miyake.
“Vintage pieces were made with more love,” he said conspiratorially, as he admired a pair of chiffon Versace harem pants from the ’70s. “There was less mass market and more attention to detail then, and time gives the clothes a very singular patina.” In his own designs, he seeks to create a timeworn feeling with washes and treatments, mislaid creases and raw edges. “I want a woman to wear my dress as if she’s already had it for a very long time,” he said. He pointed to his own vintage sweater and twenty-year-old Levi’s. “An object is more than just an object — it’s a vehicle of emotions. It’s that sentimentality, that love for clothes, that I try to express with my designs.”
Thunder rumbled as Serafini walked on towards the Palazzo Brera, a former abbey that’s home to an art school and the Pinacoteca di Brera museum, where Philosophy held its spring show, his second for the house. “The beginning was a bit scary — directing a label from A to Z, and being in the spotlight,” he said softly, referring to his initial collection presentation. “I’m a bit shy and reserved, and it was a shock to see my name on the brand.”
He headed into the botanical garden behind the building, where monks once planted medicinal herbs. “I never think about the future, but my vision for Philosophy has always been clear,” he said, pacing the dense rows of greenery. “My mission is to create a complete wardrobe for a woman today. The classic, romantic codes of femininity are my tools. I just revisit them with a touch of modernity — more comfort, and more uses for a dress.” The rain had stopped, and the 17th-century garden filled the stillness of the moist air with the scent of roses, juniper and rosemary. “Everything exists already,” he said. “The only things I can create are new emotions.”