Marta Ortega Pérez: the new chef of Zara is the new biggest name in fashion

She started in Zara’s workshop on Kings’ Road, running the dressing rooms and tidying up the stock. Today, at 37, she is named president of the company at 90 billion euros. But this is not a story of fortune: Marta Ortega Pérez is the daughter of the Spanish tycoon who founded Inditex, the parent company of Zara and other brands such as Massimo Dutti and Pull & Bear.

This week it was announced that Ortega Pérez would be taking over the family’s fashion empire. Ortega Pérez is the youngest daughter of Spain’s richest man Amancio Ortega, who co-founded Inditex in 1963. Ortega Pérez spent 15 years working behind the scenes in various roles within the company, but now comes out of his father’s shadow.

Inditex said that Ortega Perez’s rise to the highest position – and other changes announced alongside his appointment, including a new CEO – completes a “generational transfer process” that began in 2011 when Amancio resigned from his post as president. In a statement, Ortega Pérez pledged to “devote my life to building on the legacy of my parents, looking to the future but learning from the past”.

Marta Ortega with her father Amancio Ortega

/ AFP via Getty Images

A whiff of nepotism hangs over the promotion of Ortega Pérez and some investors have been annoyed by this decision. Inditex shares fell after the announcement. The other brands of Zara and Inditex are facing the challenges of low-cost startups like Chinese Shien, as well as the generational shift towards online shopping.

So, is Ortega Pérez ready for work? Ortega Pérez has “lived and breathed this business since my childhood,” she said in a statement, “I have learned from all the great professionals I have worked with over the past 15 years”.

A whiff of nepotism hangs over the promotion of Ortega Pérez

Ortega Pérez started her career at Inditex working in Zara’s studio on King’s Road after graduating from college. “The first week I thought I wasn’t going to survive,” she told the Wall Street Journal in a rare interview earlier this year. “But then you get a little addicted to the store. Some people never want to leave. It is the heart of the business. Since then, she has held various positions within the company, although she would not have had any specific titles before her promotion.

Richard Hyman, a longtime retail consultant, said Ortega Pérez’s profile in the industry was “not huge,” but it was not unusual given his father. Amancio, 85, is notoriously private – he would never have given a press interview and the first public photograph of him only appeared in 1999. This is all the more unusual given his fortune estimated at $ 75 billion, making him the second richest man in Europe, according to Forbes.

Biographers, official and unofficial, have reconstructed his career. Amancio was born on the eve of the Spanish Civil War in 1936, the youngest of four children. His father was a railway worker and his mother a chambermaid. Growing up in poverty, he left school at age 14 and found work with a local blouse maker in La Coruña, in northern Spain. In 1963, he created his own company manufacturing quilted bathrobes. Then, in 1975, he opened his first store to sell the products he made directly to consumers. He allegedly chose Zara’s name after finding out that his preferred option, Zorba, had been taken.

The first international store was opened in Portugal in 1988, and by the early 90s Zara was in New York and Paris. Today, the company is the world’s largest clothing retailer, with more than 6,600 stores and sales of € 20.4 billion last year.

Carlos Torretta and Marta Ortega

/ Getty Images

Ortega Pérez’s childhood was very different from that of her father. She grew up taking ballet lessons and riding – she has competed in nearly 400 equestrian events, according to the International Federation of Equestrian Sports. The Ortega family built their own stables in La Coruña, where Inditex still has its headquarters, in 2000.

Zara has long been known for her ability to quickly produce large quantities of on-trend items, pioneering ‘fast fashion’. While rivals could take entire seasons to come up with new designs, Zara could do it in less than half the time. This capability has been built over decades by Amancio. Hyman, who has toured the Inditex facility, said: “I have visited so many retail businesses in my day and I don’t think I’ve ever been so blown away.

Ortega Pérez is credited with connecting Zara’s vast production and distribution capabilities to the haute couture realm, serving high fashion looks to buyers at reasonable prices. She launched high-end lines like Zara SRPLS – biannual collections of runway-style pieces – and Charlotte Gainsbourg by Zara. Celebrity stylists and fashion photographers were recruited to carry out campaigns for the channel under his leadership. “I think it’s important to build bridges between haute couture and the shopping street, between the past and the present, between technology and fashion, between art and functionality,” Ortega Pérez told Wall Street Journal.

She is a Valentino “fangirl”, according to one profile, and is a regular on the brand’s runway shows. Indeed, she married her second husband in a Valentino dress. (Her second husband Carlos Torretta is himself the son of an Argentinian fashion designer.) Bruce Springsteen’s daughter, Jessica, reportedly attended the ceremony and guests were treated to performances by Norah Jones, Jamie Cullum and Chris Martin from Coldplay.

Despite the pomp, outgoing Inditex chairman Pablo Isla called Ortega Pérez “very humble” to the Wall Street Journal. Hyman said, “They are very collegial and non-hierarchical in structure. They are reasonably humble. Amancio is famous for never taking an office, instead working in the factory alongside designers. Marta is working at a desk a few feet away.

Hyman says Zara’s incredible track record and the success of Amancio’s retirement from his role as president in 2011 suggests that Ortega Pérez’s appointment will go well. “If she is the anointed successor, that has clearly been thought of,” he said. “History shows that these are people whose decisions are strictly business.”

Baroness Denise Kingsmill, an independent director on the Inditex board since 2016, said she was “personally delighted” with Ortega Pérez’s rise.

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“I think this is an excellent development which has been under consideration for some time,” she told the Standard. “Marta is steeped in the culture and the business of the company. She brings a youthful approach and a deep understanding of fashion, both of which are at the heart of Inditex.

Ortega Pérez said: “I am deeply honored by the trust placed in me and extremely excited about the future we are all about to embark on together.

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