For some weeks in the summer of 2023, the Zara shop on High Street Kensington, in central London, few yards from the palace where Prince of Wales William, the future king of England, and his wife, Kate, live, had been closed. People were wondering whether the shop had closed down forever: was it maybe another victim of high streets’ enduring crisis, due to online shopping customers and rent prices soaring due to inflation?
It was not the case: soon after, the shop reopened, better than ever, as Zara Home, showcasing some of the finest pieces of furniture and tableware. Items so luxurious, one would hardly believe they really are from the low-cost retailer Zara. The global chain started as a wannabe competitor of the Italian brand United Colors of Benetton, selling fashionable clothing at highly accessible prices. Now, it’s a global retail powerhouse which spans from fashion to upscale furniture.
THE MAN BEHIND THE CURTAIN
Amancio Ortega Gaona is the billionaire businessman who created the Zara empire from scratch. He was born in 1936 in the tiny village of Spain called Busdongo de Arbas, on the mountains of the northwest region of the province of León. Last year Don Amancio was credited a net worth of $63 billion, making him the third-wealthiest individual in all Europe. He trails behind Bernard Arnault, the king of LVMH luxury group, and the French heiress Françoise Bettencourt Meyers. Worldwide, the Retail Mogul ranks “only” the 14th-richest person. Back in 2015, though, for a brief period of time, Ortega felt the exuberance of being the richest man in the world, surpassing Bill Gates when the Spaniard’s net worth peaked at $80 billion.
GOING TO (GREEK) MOVIES
Little Amancio lived a very modest childhood: he was the youngest of four children and grew up in Tolosa. His family background was humble as well: the father was a common railway worker. At the age of 14, the Ortegas moved to La Coruña, in northwest Galicia region, due to the father's job relocation. There, Amancio embarked on his journey in the fashion industry and the city would become his stronghold forever. Still a teenager, he started a job as a shop assistant at a local shirtmaker called Gala, which still stands at the same downtown corner in the city. In the shop, young Amancio acquired invaluable skills on how to craft cloth.
Then he decided to start his own clothing business: in 1975, almost forty years old, Ortega opened a shop called ZARA. The name would prove to be blessed, but it wasn't the first choice and came by accident. The young Spanish entrepreneur was planning to have the shop signed, quite provincially, “Zorba” after the movie "Zorba the Greek". Unfortunately, there was already a local bar with the same name in Coruña. But because he had already bought moulds of the letters Z-O-R-B-A, he kept with what he had and ended up with the name Zara. Ten years later, in 1985, the small shop was so successful Amancio turned it into a clothing company: Inditex was born.
HOW TO BUILD A GLOBAL GIANT
Inditex, from a provincial town in north of Spain only famous for a second-tier football club until then, is now the world's largest clothing retailer. The company owns a portfolio of fast-fashion brands: besides Zara, one of the best-known and most successful fashion brands in the world with nearly 3,000 stores in 96 countries, there is the Italian upscale couture Massimo Dutti; the teen-focused brand Pull&Bear, which counts more than 970 stores in 76 countries; and also Bershka, the second largest chain after Zara. In 40 years, Inditex has grown into a fast-fashion behemoth: it shows more than €25 billion in revenue. A big chunk of if comes from online sales, nudging Inditex closer to becoming one of the world's largest e-commerce sellers besides Amazon and AliBaba.
A MAN OF SIMPLE TASTES
Don Amancio is notoriously private about his personal life, having granted only three interviews in his entire life. His reclusive nature has led him to maintain a low profile. Remarkably, no photographs of Ortega had ever been published until 1999.
Being known for his simplicity, such as living in the same apartment for ages in Coruña, the 3rd richest man in Europe refuses to wear a tie and his daily attire is a basic uniform: a blue blazer, white shirt, and grey trousers. Quite curiously, none of these clothes are from Inditex. In fact, Don Amancio never wears his own brands.
In 2012 Bloomberg reported the billionaire eschewed an office to sit among the designers and fabric experts at Zara's headquarters, while another report said he typically eats his lunch with employees in the company cafeteria every day, fostering a sense of family and simplicity.
He allows himself some high-life benefits, though: he only drives black Mercedeses, from S-Class (W221) GL- Class (X166). Longer trips are accommodated on a Gulfstream G650 and a Bombardier Global Express private jet. As every billionaire does as a Status Symbol show-off, he also had a boat: an $84 million superyacht named Drizzle. Reportedly, it was put it up for sale in 2022. Despite a wide and expensive range of transportation means, Ortega rarely jets off on vacation. As a matter of fact, he took his first vacation ever only in 2001, after Inditex's initial public offering on the Ibex, the Spanish stock market.
THE RICHEST WOMEN OF ALL SPAIN
When Amancio was just a little clothing merchant in Coruña, he met a girl called Rosalía Mera Goyenechea: they married in 1966, at the time neither Zara nor Inditex even existed. This normal and anonymous couple had two children: Marcos and Sandra Ortega Mera. Amancio and Rosalia were not happily ever after: the couple divorced in 1986, the year after Inditex’s creation. In that very same year, Don Amancio became father of another daughter, Marta Ortega, but not from his wife. That's probably why Mrs Mera sought a divorce. Time is crucial: Don Amancio founded the company together with Mrs Mera, something quite common in small family businesses. So, after the divorce, she remained as the company's second-largest shareholder after her ex-husband Amancio, who today owns 59% of Inditex. As far as the Zara empire grew bigger and bigger, the stake of Mrs Mera grew as well, without the need to work or have a daytime job. In few years, she had become Spain's richest woman. But Mrs Mera could not benefit from this huge wealth: she died in August 2013 at the rather young age of 69. At that time, Ortega's first daughter, Sandra Ortega Mera, inherited the title of Spain's richest woman after her mother's death. Worth over $6.5 billion, Sandra has a 5% stake in Inditex, though she's not involved in the company management.
LIKE FATHER, LIKE DAUGHTER
The now wealthy and powerful Don Amancio did not have to wait for his first wife’s passing to build another life for himself. In 2001, the same year Inditex was listed, he married his second wife Flora Pérez Marcote with whom he had their daughter, Marta. The younger daughter started as a fashion merchandising manager at Zara. She married top Spanish equestrian Sergio Álvarez Moya in 2012, but her marriage lasted less than her father’s. The couple separated just 3 years later.
In 2018, Marta married Carlos Torretta— then a modelling agent and son of designer Roberto Torretta — at her family's home in Galicia, Spain. Spanish publications called the ceremony the "wedding of the year".
Marta Ortega has been long considered the natural heir to follow in her father's footsteps and lead Inditex. The founder stepped down as Inditex's chairman in 2011 and handed the reins to executive president Pablo Isla, but in 2022, Marta Ortega finally took over as Inditex's chairwoman.
A PASSION FOR BRICKS (THE TALLER, THE BETTER)
Amancio's wealth does not come solely from the fashion industry. Since Inditex's IPO in 2001, a debut almost overlooked at the time because of the 9/11 terrorist attack, the son of a railway worker has received more than €9 billion in dividends.
However, most of his wealth has been reinvested in real estate through his investment company, Pontegadea. In 2011, he acquired the tallest skyscraper in Spain, the 515-foot Torre Picasso in Madrid, for more than $500 million. In 2015, he bought the historic E.V. Haughwout Building in SoHo, New York City, for $145 million. The year after, he purchased another prominent Madrid skyscraper, Cepsa Tower, for a similar amount. Ortega's real estate ventures extend to luxury properties in various international locations, including Miami, London's Mayfair and the Oxford Street neighbourhood.