When I meet Amanda at her daughter's beautiful home in London, she’s immaculately dressed with sparkling eyes; just one firm word sends putti-like grandchildren scarpering downstairs. Though English by birth, Amanda seems Italian, often slipping into the tongue and steering our conversation via the path of family life.
Amanda I learn, was always rebellious, courageous and ambitious. She left her strict convent where she ‘hated school’ at 16 and was sent to Italy to paint. It was here that she met and fell in love with her husband, Ferruccio Ferragamo, who would go on to be Chairman of the illustrious Ferragamo fashion house. Quite a thing for your father-in-law to be Salvatore Ferragamo, who had dressed all the stars of his day from Audrey Hepburn to Greta Garbo and transformed the perception of shoe-maker in Italy from that of the lowest rung of society to take on a cult status.
Amanda describes a wild and happy early married life with Ferruccio and their five babies, though she says she was a ‘useless mother. We never even had car seats. I’d just put the babies in baskets on the back seat and drive at high speed! Terrible but really a lot of fun.’
The couple famously renovated the medieval village, Il Borro in Tuscany. Her book Seven Years in Tuscany charts her work on the extraordinary project, restoring and transforming the Borro into one of Italy’s most splendid estates. After her divorce in 2004 Amanda returned to England for several years. But then her insatiable appetite for adventure hankered again and she returned to Italy to be close to her grandchildren. She bought a ‘little ruin’ in the Appenines and again set to work making her home; it sounds exquisite of course.
And then came Ailanto Design, Amanda’s latest project. Stemming from her love of drawing, and of nature, she wanted to design prints with flowers and patterns using strong colours, ‘purples and pinks together, bold colours’. Wallpaper is the starting point - a novel concept for the Italians she says, who are used to frescoes - and there are fabrics too. Many of the contacts for the production she knew from the Ferragamo days, like fabric specialists Ratti in Lake Como who 'truly know colour’. Many things she has learnt as she goes.
I point out that it’s quite remarkable to start a new business at 70. Amanda just laughs; ‘as some people grow older they develop a fear of new things. I don’t have that screw. I love adventure, I love challenge, I love to be ambitious. And I sense that you are the same.’ And with a wide smile she’s off to attend to her grandchildren.
Words by Daisy Allsup. The Iris Letter April 2017.