With an enviable legacy of making shoes for Hollywood stars and elegant luxury for the well-heeled, Salvatore Ferragamo has the kind of creative power many labels can only dream of.
The creative giant behind cinematic classics Paris, Texas (1984) and Wings of Desire (1987), Wenders has – in addition to the Oscar nods – bagged Venice's Golden Lion, Cannes's Palme d’Or and a host of other accolades for his work.
Blessed with an uncanny ability to tell a story without the need for dialogue, via sweeping panoramic shots and clever use of colour, Wenders is credited with making the ultimate American road movie with Paris, Texas despite, in fact, being German. For Ferragamo, Wenders turns his lens to a very different subject matter – its new-season fashion.
The clothes, the final collection of ex-creative director Paul Andrew, carry a futuristic air. Created during the darkest days of the pandemic, with no respite on the horizon, Andrew's collection was created as a reply to the new world around him.
Stripping away all forms of frippery, the designer offers an almost utilitarian vision, devoid of nostalgia and brimming with new technology. Gone are fussy details, instead replaced with sleek silhouettes and clean lines in jumpsuits, motorbike-inspired leathers and body suits, with sheer jackets, raincoats and even trousers in a new biodegradable PVC plastic.
In bright colours and bold shapes, Andrew focuses on different materials, so that glossy patent, chainmail and even fluffy mohair play against one another. To debut the collection in September 2020, the creative director created a digital presentation inspired by the 1997 sci-fi film Gattaca.
Asked to create the commercial to show off this new collection, Wenders tells The National why he decided to accept the project. “The proposition was smart and interesting; it left me a lot of freedom to invent and bring in something on my own,” he says.
“I thought the brand itself was trustworthy, so to speak, with a good old-fashioned tradition behind it. A few years ago, I read the book about its founder Salvatore Ferragamo and his adventurous life story, going from Naples to the east coast and then on to Hollywood. That gave me a connection.“
With Ferragamo keen to convey a sense of optimism, Wenders explains the challenge was finding a concise way of telling a story in just two and a half minutes. More used to the scope of feature films, in contrast, he had to quickly spell out a tale in line with the brand's vision.
“If you had time to develop a real story, I could think of a few solutions. But in a commercial, you don’t have time, which made it simpler; the most direct path to a positive attitude was to introduce a love story. Ferragamo was a bit amazed at first, but then they understood it was a clear and uncomplicated way to avoid the trap of dystopia," Wenders says.
“They had actually quoted a few sci-fi movies that they liked, mostly for their look, among them Gattaca. I do like that film, but is it ever dystopian and gloomy. Of course, the client didn’t want gloomy at all, understandably so. So, I tried to lift a possibly dystopian ambience into a joyful, energetic surrounding. The key to that was the love story in its middle.”
The result is a mini-movie called A Future Together, and stars newcomer Gaia Girace as an on-screen director making her own sci-fi. As a film within a film, the camera follows Girace as she accidentally collides with the sound man – played by model and musician Felix Sandman – sparking a fledgling romance. The result is a sweet, unfolding tale of fleeting glances and shy smiles, as Wenders leads us through the earliest moments of a love story.
That Girace is making a sci-fi film in the advert is no coincidence, Wenders explains, as it offers a far wider narrative than just giving context to the clothes.
“Sci-fi films always describe the greatest fears of the times in which they were conceived. All of us today, still living in the constraints and horror of the only pandemic our generations have ever faced, are not exactly looking into a hopeful future, with the climate crisis, the migration problem and the unresolved question of poverty looming over everything. Today, more than ever, a positive outlook was and is a challenge.”
The commercial opens with Girace shouting the only spoken word of the mini-film – "action" – and we see the cast weaving through multicoloured posts. Dressed in clothes of pink, white, lilac and green against a floor of blue, it feels like a modern version of dancing around a maypole, the ancient ritual to welcome spring.
Shown from above – a Wenders trademark – the camera sweeps around to show the futuristic background of the Milan Convention Centre, designed by architect Mario Bellini. As a location, its undulating, fluid shapes fitted Wenders's vision exactly.
The filmmaker decided to be in Milan for two weeks before the shoot, to develop his script in the city. "The idea of a sci-fi surrounding depended entirely on finding the right places. We looked for days and days, nothing convinced me, and there was this terrible and most depressing drawback: it was February," he says. "Milan can be very rainy and grey in February, especially in the middle of a pandemic."
But, after spying the new convention centre, Wenders says he knew "at first sight".
"All we needed was sun. It was raining all through pre-production, and on the two days of the shoot, the sun was shining, and our places looked gorgeous, fun and hopeful. Sometimes, you need a little help from the weather angels."
Bathed in fleeting sunlight, and with a cast dressed in dazzling block colours, the result is surprisingly uplifting. Against the futuristic background of twisting towers and fluid roofs, A Future Together offers a charmingly realistic story, played out against incredibly beautiful clothes.
With a youthful attitude that speaks of optimism and excitement, despite being only 153 seconds long, Wenders's film offers a glimpse of a joyful future ahead, when the pandemic's dark days are finally behind us.