Italian fashion manufacturer
Founded: Established in Turin, 1887, as Donato Levi e Figli for production of men's off-the-rack clothing. Company History: Company purchased in 1925 by the Rivetti family who formed Gruppo Finanziario Tessile in 1930; GFT USA established, 1971; GFT Mode Canada established; 1983; manufacturers for Abboud, Armani, Dior, Fezza, Montana, Ungaro, Valentino, and others; also publisher of Il libro del sarto, 1987; L'abito della rivoluzione, 1987; Giornale delle nuove mode di Francia e d'Inghilterra, 1988; Apparel Arts, 1989; Ready-Made Fashion: An Historical Profile of the Clothing Industry in Great Britain, France and Germany, 1990; Women and Modernity: Fashions, Images, Female Strategies in Germany from the Beginning of the Century to the 1930s, 1991; Pagine e tavole del costume antico e moderno, 1992; company sold to Giovanni Agnelli's Gemina, 1994; Gemina restructured, Holding di Partecipazioni Industriali (HDI) becomes new parent of GFT, 1997; acquired Valentino house, 1998; bought Joseph Abboud, 2000. Company Address: Corso Emilia 6, 10152 Turin, Italy.
On GRUPPO GFT:
"Protectionism Ill Fits Apparel," in Chicago Tribune, 13 December 1986.
Trachtenberg, Jeffrey A., "Designers Are Made as Well as Born," in Forbes, 11 July 1988.
Rosenbaum, Andrew, "Italy's Fashion Trillionaire," in Avenue (New York), September 1988.
Nardoza, Edward, "GFT Gets Set for the 1990s," in the Daily News Record (New York), 31 May 1991.
Howard, Robert, "The Designer Organization: Italy's GFT Goes Global," in the Harvard Business Review (Massachusetts) September/October 1991.
Profile, "Holding di Partecipazioni Industriali SpA," online at Hoover's Online, www.hoovers.com, 11 January 2001.***
Before being sold in 1994 to Gemina, one of several companies owned by the legendary Giovanni Agnelli, Gruppo GFT (Gruppo Finanziario Tessile, or Textile Financial Group) was the world's largest manufacturer of designer clothing, competing at the highest end of the fashion business with ready-to-wear designer collections, one step below made-to-order haute couture. Its success is rooted in its unparalleled history, cutting edge technologies, well-organized labor practices and thorough understanding of fashion as an expression of contemporary culture. Innovative and flexible in an ever changing market, GFT single-handedly revolutionized the way artistic clothing was conceived, manufactured, marketed, and distributed. Its heart was on the pulse of social trends and needs, keeping it way ahead of its competitors.
GFT's involvement in contemporary fashion went way beyond the business world. The company was deeply committed to publishing rare treatises on the history of costume, organizing exhibitions with accompanying catalogues, and working with major contemporary artists. The exhibitions organized by Gruppo GFT, usually in conjunction with international events such as the Florentine Pitti Uomo shows, have been a symbolic expression of this world and of GFT's relationship with contemporary creativity. Exhibitions have featured the work of Frank O. Gehry (1986); Arata Isozaki (1986-87); and Giulio Paolini (1988); GFT sponsored major exhibitions of the work of Claes Oldenburg, Coosje van Bruggen, and Aldo Rossi, who also designed corporate headquarters in Turin, Italy. And in the 1990s, GFT helped to support the Rebecca Horn show at the Guggenheim Museum in New York.
Before 1887, most clothing was produced by cottage industry tailors who produced a small range of styles for local clients. In that year, however, in the Piedmont region of Italy, Donato Levi e Figli produced one of the first prototypes of a suit made to standardized measurements. In 1925 the Rivetti family purchased Donato Levi and Sons and created Finanziario Tessile (Fites), and by 1930 Gruppo Finanziario Tessile (GFT) was established as an organization to produce and market ready-made clothing. The company flourished in the period after World War II; while the rest of the world was still producing clothes in small cottage industry workshops, GFT laid the foundations for mass-produced clothing and created a vast new market for this ready-made clothes.
The democratic, mass-market and homogeneous styles of the 1960s gave way in the 1970s to a new era of increased individualization to which GFT responded immediately. It entered the more upscale market by catering to a stable of looks and added exclusive prêt-á-porter collections by some of Europe's leading fashion designers to its mass production activities. GFT's core group has consisted of Valentino, Armani, Ungaro, Fezza, and Claude Montana. GFT grew intellectually in their craft through their exchanges with its designers. Marco Rivetti, chief executive officer of GFT until 1994, commented that the company learned much from its fashion artists: "From Armani, a great deal about the construction of jackets, from Valentino, the design of shirts and the use of silk." These designers were, in turn, drawn to GFT's commitment to quality workmanship, openness to new systems of production, and superb distribution system.
GFT's ability to operate in a global market immensely benefitted the designers. Armani's classicism was less classic and more sporty for the GFT-USA lines; Giorgio Armani, Mani by Giorgio Armani, Valentino Boutique, Valentino Night, Valentino Uomo, and others were all adaptations of the European lines produced and marketed by the American division.
Since 1987 GFT collaborated with American designer Joseph Abboud, recognizing his world market appeal. In the following years, the company signed Andrew Fezza, Joan Helpern, and Calvin Klein, designers who were truly representative of our time, with the artistic sensibility of understated elegance accessible to a variety of markets.
In 1993 GFT had 46 companies worldwide, 18 manufacturing plants, and some 10,000 employees. The following year the company was acquired by Gemina, one of a stable of companies owned by the Agnelli family, due in part to financial problems from mismanagement. Ironically, another scandal somewhat tarnished GFT's struggling image in 1995, this time involving a number of its parent company Gemina's top executives. GFT weathered the storm and sought to regain its standing as the leading manufacturer of designer clothing in Italy.
In 1997 Gemina announced it would divide its industrial, apparel, and publishing businesses. GFT's corporate parent was christened Holding di Partecipazioni Industriali SpA (HDI) and the new holding company would concentrate more fully on fashion, in an attempt to regain GFT's supremacy and to challenge its closest rival in the luxury market, LVMH (Moët Hennessey Louis Vuitton SA). True to its word, HDI bought the Valentino couture business in 1998 as its founders considered retirement, adding a new brand to the company's fold. GFT, however, suffered two major setbacks: first, the loss of Ungaro's contracts in 1998, and second, all of Armani's licensing and production in 2000.
As Armani moved to control its own manufacturing and licensing, GFT and HDI countered by buying another leading design house, Joseph Abboud, for $65 million. Though GFT already licensed much of Abboud's product line—at a time when LVMH was buying Celine, Gucci, Pucci, and entering a joint venture with Prada to buy Fendi—buying Abboud's label and licensing rights outright was a sound investment.
GFT's mandate and goals have remained the same as they were in 1887—to create fashion for the truly contemporary world, to pay attention to detail, to produce efficiently, and to create the market and deliver the goods on time. The company met its goals by immersing itself in the history of the fashion arts and in the interrelation of the genre and other contemporary artforms. GFT's vision changed the way designers worked, without disturbing the integrity or soul of their creations.
—Marianne T. Carlano;
updated by Nelly Rhodes