PARIS – He's come out of the shadows and into the world spotlight. But Massimiliano Giornetti, Salvatore Ferragamo's creative director since 2010, says that he's still a "down to earth" guy — despite having tea with Meryl Streep and hanging out with Angelina Jolie.
The humility is perhaps surprising considering that Giornetti, who has breathed life into the 84-year-old fashion house, made history this week with the biggest catwalk coup in recent times: taking over the arcades of the Louvre for the 900-year-old building's first fashion show.
While the Louvre venue might be new, the Hollywood A-list has been linked for an eternity to the storied Italian brand.
"The link between Salvatore Ferragamo and Hollywood is as old as the company," Giornetti told The Associated Press. "It was probably the first house (in the 1920's) to create this link between fashion and celebrities."
It was patronage of actresses — such as Marilyn Monroe and Greta Garbo — that ensured Salvatore Ferragamo's "fairytale" rise from a humble shoe repair shop in California into the leather "shoemaker of the stars."
The ongoing Marilyn Monroe exhibit in Florence's Museo Salvatore Ferragamo is proof enough of the brand's star quality. It features 14 pairs of the house's shoes once worn or purchased by the screen siren.
Today, Ferragamo is one of the world's biggest fashion empires — spanning leather goods, watches, perfumes and ready-to-wear for men and women. Sales last year were $1.37 billion.
Giornetti says Ferragamo's a natural hit because of a simple and universal concept: beauty with functionality.
"The first time Greta Garbo visited the Ferragamo headquarters," Giornetti recounted, "the diva said 'I want to have shoes to walk with.'"
That eye for comfort, stamped on the house from the beginning, was what made the shoes so famous. Salvatore Ferragamo — the founder of the house who died in 1960 — even studied human anatomy to master how to make elegant shoes truly wearable.
From this know-how sprang the famous wedge heel in 1936. Then later came the classic staple bestseller — the Vara Bow Pump.
Ferragamo ensured this philosophy was carried on to Giornetti, half a century later.
A native of Tuscany, Giornetti studied in Florence. After 10 years designing Ferragamo's menswear, Giornetti was named creative director in 2010, giving him control of the women's side, too.
With Ferragamo's headquarters situated in Florence's Palazzo Spini Feroni — a fortified medieval edifice — it's clear that both the designer and the brand have the city in their hearts.
Florence's hands-on artisanal tradition has existed since the Renaissance. Giornetti says it's key to the house and to his own personal style, mixing aesthetics with practicality.
"It's modern teaching that started back in the past. (Ferragamo's philosophy) is linked with the work of Leonardo da Vinci, who also studied the anatomy and the human figure."
It's thanks to Ferragamo's links and sponsorship of da Vinci's restored masterpiece "The Virgin and Saint Anne," that the Louvre granted access to Tuesday's show — a showcase of clothes inspired by Florence's artisanal history.
In the collection, relaxed cool-colored clothes with intricate and detailed stitching were combined appealingly with Florentine leather savoir-faire.
There was a nod to couture craftsmanship in a knee-length cream dress with myriad organic looking leather appliques.
Though he just showed in one of the world's most famous buildings, Giornetti remains unpretentious.
He lives in the non-trendy part of Florence on the left bank because "it's the most authentic and genuine part of the city, where you find the artisanal traditions: the goldsmith, the silversmith, the art of dyeing leather, the old tradition of basket weaving."
Given his roots it's no surprise that Giornetti praises the slower and less showy side to fashion. It's rooted in a simple, artisanal approach to clothes — devoid of ego.
The down-to-earth values of a family-run label also appeal to him.
"Working for a family business means a lot, especially when everything is becoming more global with fashion brands becoming part of enormous companies."
Despite Giornetti's new-found fame — people now want to take photos with him in the street — he says he's still a "very down to earth person."
Yes, he's now able to rub shoulders with his idols like actress Angelina Jolie and Chinese film director Wong Kar-wai, but he says, "I still like to go to the cinema by myself."
It's with genuine pride that he speaks of a fitting he did for actress Meryl Streep in London ahead of last year's Academy Awards.
His favorite moment with the Oscar-winner? As it rained, "sharing a cup of tea."
Thomas Adamson can be followed at http://Twitter.com/ThomasAdamsonAP