Meet Marta Ortega, Zara's golden girl and the most powerful woman in fashion you've never heard of

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Marta will take charge of Inditex, the parent company of a portfolio of world-famous high street brands including Zara, Massimo Dutti, Uterque, Stradivarius and Bershka – fotopress/ Getty Images

To a casual observer, the elegant blonde woman in a caramel turtleneck watching Madrid Horse Week from a private box could be any high-flying member of Spanish society.

In fact, her name is Marta Ortega Pérez and she’s the youngest daughter of Amancio Ortega, the world’s 11th richest person and reclusive founder of Inditex, the parent company of a portfolio of world-famous high street brands including Zara, Massimo Dutti, Uterque, Stradivarius and Bershka. Now, Marta has been identified as the successor of that empire.

The man with his arms wrapped around Marta’s waist is her husband of three years, former model agent Carlos Torretta. With them is their one-year-old daughter Matilda and her eight-year-old son Amancio, from her previous marriage to professional equestrian Sergio Álvarez Moya.

Although Marta prefers to avoid the limelight, she and her family are exhaustively covered by Hola!, Spain’s answer to Hello! and the Spanish edition of Vanity Fair. You can’t blame them really; friends include Queen Letizia, Athina Onassis and Jessica Springsteen. When she married Torretta, she wore four Valentino couture creations, flown in via private jet and delivered personally by Pierpaolo Piccioli, the label’s creative director. Their 400 guests enjoyed performances by Norah Jones, Jamie Cullum and Chris Martin, and it was all captured by the late legendary fashion photographer Peter Lindbergh.

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Despite all these trappings, and her front row seat at Valentino couture shows, the 37-year-old generally steers clear of the fashion party circuit, favouring the equestrian crowd instead. For the past 14 years, however, she has also held an integral – if undefined – role at her father’s company. Come April, she will become the most powerful woman in fashion you've never heard of, when she assumes the role of chairman of Inditex.

It’s a familiar kind of story: company founder grooms son or daughter, before handing over the reins to their empire. It’s a compelling one too – the combination of family and business can be explosive, as we’ve seen in the stranger-than-fiction plotline of Ridley Scott’s new House of Gucci film and television dramas such as Succession and Empire.

In a rare interview with the Wall Street Journal in August, Marta claimed she had no plans to take a more formal leadership role. You could almost imagine Succession’s Shiv Roy breezily saying the same thing to a reporter, despite her ambitions for the top job. But that’s where the similarities with the HBO hit end.

Although she has never had an official job title, Marta has been the chosen one from the get-go. The only child of Amancio and his current wife, Flora Pérez Marcote, she has two older siblings from her father’s first marriage to Rosalía Mera Goyenechea, with whom he founded Zara in 1975: Marcos, 50, who was born with cerebral palsy, and Sandra, 53, who became Spain’s richest woman when she inherited her mother’s seven per cent stake in Inditex in 2013 and devotes her time to Fundación Paideia Galizak, the charity Rosalía founded to support people with mental and physical disabilities.

Marta, meanwhile, quite literally worked her way up from the shop floor, having started her career as a sales assistant at Zara’s King’s Road store (the Duchess of Cambridge’s favourite branch) in 2007 after graduating from the European Business School in London. “The first week, I thought I was not going to survive,” she told the Wall Street Journal of that time. “But then you kind of get addicted to the store.”

Marta’s husband is former model agent Carlos Torretta – Oscar Gonzalez/NurPhoto/Shutterstock

If you’ve ever shopped in a Zara store (and, let’s face it, most women in Britain have) you’ll know it will have been a demanding job, replacing products on rails as quickly as they sell. Since Zara opened its first UK store in 1998, it has set new speed records in bringing catwalk trends to the high street, ultimately replacing Topshop as the fashion girl’s destination of choice. Yet, unlike Boohoo and its ilk, it remains that rare, affordable beast where even designer addicts aren’t embarrassed to shop. And Marta is largely responsible for that.

Despite having no official job title until now, Marta’s role has been described as “overseeing Zara womenswear design and merchandising”. She has been responsible for setting Zara’s image apart from its high street competitors with commercially savvy decisions such as putting stores on streets dominated by designer boutiques, hiring big name photographers like Mario Sorrenti and Steven Meisel to shoot supermodels including Sasha Pivovarova, Paloma Elsesser and Precious Lee, as well as the launch of Zara’s more high-end SRPLS line and the collaboration with KASSL Editions.

“They’re smart,” says Hattie Brett, editor of Grazia. “By using top photographers and models they elevate their positioning on the high street. I don’t know a woman that doesn’t shop there.”

It’s a strategy that has paid off – even the pandemic, with global lockdowns and forced retail closures, did little to quell our appetite for Zara: Inditex reported a 49 per cent increase in sales and profits of £1.1billion in September, defying high street trends by some distance. H&M’s sales were only nine per cent up on the same period last year, John Lewis’s just six per cent.

Marta’s high fashion connections have come in useful too – she had the late design genius Alber Elbaz, as well as Piccioli, speak to the Zara design team. Rare privileges in the fast fashion world.

Marta, pictured competing in 2015, has always been more comfortable with the equestrian crowd – Carlos Alvarez/Getty Images

In terms of their approach to work, it seems as though Marta and her 85-year-old father (the son of a railroad worker who began his career at 14 as a shirtmaker’s delivery boy) are cut from the same cloth. Both prefer to sit on the main floor of the company’s headquarters in La Coruña, the Galician port city where he founded the very first Zara store, rather than in private offices, in order to “stay close to the product”. The organisation boasts that its structure is hierarchy-free and on its careers website it says humility is a quality it actively seeks in its workers. By all accounts, Marta operates by these tenets too. “She’s very calm and polite,” says a source close to the company.

Inditex has said that Tuesday’s appointments completed a “generational handover process” that began in 2011 when Amancio stepped down as chairman and, though Marta is an unquestionable asset to the company, she has big shoes to fill when she assumes her new role in April: she will succeed Pablo Isla, who has been chairman and CEO of Inditex for over a decade and has been credited with making it a $100billion (£75.4bn) company. Indeed, shares in the company fell almost six per cent in Madrid following the announcement.

“I’m interested to see how Marta evolves the business,” says Brett. “She’s got to tackle some thorny issues for all high street brands, such as an emphasis on sustainability – something consumers are increasingly asking questions about.”

The source says Marta will be happy to leave the day-to-day operational and financial decisions to incoming CEO, Oscar Garcia Maceiras, much as her father has allowed Isla to run the show. “We can expect a natural evolution of what she does now – she has no desire to rock the boat,” they said. “Her big thing is the product; she brings the consumer perspective.”

Although she has never had an official job title, Marta has been the chosen one from the get-go – Jose Oliva/Europa Press

What may change when Marta becomes chairperson is a focus on Inditex’s other brands, as her current role only involves oversight of Zara womenswear. It’s likely that she will be expected to work that same magic on Massimo Dutti, Bershka and Zara Home.

There is another role Marta can play though and that’s as a figurehead, which it currently lacks as her father is so publicity-shy. When she steps up as chairman, it is likely that she will become the public face of the company too. “Marta lives and breathes Zara, she’s grown up with the company,” the source says. “She has great respect for the brand.”

Clad in Zara most days, albeit accessorised with an Hermès handbag, Celine shoes and Marie Lichtenberg diamonds, Marta is the woman we all hope we’ll look like when we buy a new top on a lunch-break shop. For all its expensively shot campaign supermodels, the definitive Zara woman is sitting under Inditex’s nose.

Marta has said: “I will always be wherever the company needs me most.” Marta, prepare to step into the spotlight.

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