Salvatore Ferragamo is known as the “shoemaker to the stars.” Back in the late 1920’s before most of the big names in Italian fashion were even born, Salvatore Ferragamo was crafting beautiful shoes for some of the most famous feet in Hollywood.
He was born in Bonito, near Naples, one of fourteen children. By the time he was nine he knew that he wanted to make shoes for a living, and convinced his peasant father (who considered shoemaking too lowly a profession) to allow him to move to Naples and become an apprentice. The wave of Italian immigrants to the United States had not yet ended, and by fourteen the youngster was on a slow boat to America.
Hollywood was in its heyday, and the stars were as revered as gods and goddesses. After a short stint in his Hollywood Boot Shop in Boulevard Las Palmas (opened in 1923), he realized that a USA workforce couldn’t give him the quality he needed. He returned to Italy and in 1927 he established his headquarters in Florence. From there, he continued his work for the American public.
In the 1930’s and 1940’s, the history of shoes was marked by Ferragamo’s creations. In 1938 he gained the nickname “Shoemaker to the Stars” when he made Roman sandals for the Cecil de Mille epics (inspired by his traveling experiences in Egypt). Shortly afterwards Salvatore Ferragamo patented his first invention in the world of fashion: his strong but light cork wedge. Widely imitated and recreated in many different materials, shapes andr colors, the wedge-heeled shoe of Ferragamo made a huge impact on the world of fashion. But it wasn’t the only one.
The year 1947 marked the launch of Ferragamo’s Invisible Sandals. Made of water-colored nylon thread, the shoes took some getting used to but resulted in Ferragamo becoming the first footwear designer to win Neiman Marcus Prize at the Fashion Oscars. He didn’t stop there though. In 1951, at the very first Italian fashion show, Salvatore Ferragamo presented “Kimo”, a multi-purpose sandal inspired by the Japanese tabi. And in 1956, returning from a trip to Australia, he launched the 18 kt gold sandals with their patented metal sole.
Ferragamo’s relationship with the cinema never ended. When Marilyn Monroe declared “I don’t know who invented high heels but all women owe him a lot,” she was probably referring to Ferragamo, who was the creator of the famous stiletto heels with metal reinforcements that she used to wear and which he designed especially for the star. Audrey Hepburn inspired him to design a ballet pump that eventually came to epitomise the style of the beautiful actress. The list of stars who wore Ferragamo is a long one including Greta Garbo, Ava Gardner, Sophia Lauren and Lauren Bacall.
Ferragamo was unique in that he was not only interested creative beautiful shoes, he wanted his clients to be comfortable as well. In an era when many women squeezed their feet into the smallest size bearable, Ferragamo studied the anatomy of the foot, insisting that “high fashion and comfort are not incompatible.” From natural materials like cork, wood and raffia to synthetic resins, metal or even the plastic candy wrappers, Ferragamo used everything possible to express his creativity, despite the inevitable restrictions imposed by war.
He was still a young man when he died in 1960, but his wife Wanda and his children have carried on the tradition, each taking their place in this family- owned business. Wanda Ferragamo Miletti is the current honorary president of Salvatore Ferragamo Spa., assisted by her son Ferruccio Ferragamo. Leonardo is the managing director of the family holding company the Palazzo Peroni Finanziaria, names after the family building. Massimo is the president of Salvatore Ferragamo USA, which deals with the American market while Fulvia Visconti Ferragamo is vice-president of the group. And we must not forget Fiamma di San Giuliano Ferragamo, who died in 1998, but not before leaving her creative mark on the firm.
It was in 1965, under her supervision, that the revitalized Ferragamo group started producing its famous bags. Four years later, the accessory known as the “gancino” made its first appearance in the catwalk. The gancino handbag soon became famous and everyone started to buy it. The iconic design was reworked in new versions and materials, such as the plexiglass used in the Nineties, and is still very much on-trend. Fiamma also designed Vara, the flat women’s shoe that is now famous all around the world and worn by many celebrities.
In recent decades, the group has launched a ready-to- wear line that is simple but luxurious and features butter-soft leather garments, as well as accessories and jewelry lines. In 1998, they began a collaboration with Luxottica to produce a sunglasses and eyewear collection which was followed by the Ferragamo Perfumes division in 2001.
Nowadays, the company is quoted on the Stock Exchange, has recorded a yearly turnover of over 600 million Euros and has more than 500 flagship stores. The expansion of its market has reached not only the main capitals of Europe and USA, but also Japan, China and the Orient, as well as Africa (a boutique was opened in Egypt, one of the places that inspired the work of Ferragamo). In 2008, the fashion house chose Shangai as the location for the celebrations of its 80th anniversary.
When he returned from the USA, Ferragamo established his headquarters in Palazzo Feroni-Spini on the Via Tornabuoni, Florence’s chicest shopping street. After his death, his family transformed the building into a museum dedicated to the footwear designer and to the history of fashion. Opened in 1995, the Salvatore Ferragamo Museum hosts the Ferragamo group’s main collections, proudly displaying the shoes that gained Ferragamo worldwide acclaim as well as housing the archives of the whole of this talented and irreplaceable designer’s life work.
Salvatore Ferragamo’s dream was one day to “dress women from head to toe.” He would be very proud to know that his family fashion house now does exactly that.
Salvatore FerragamoVia Tornabuoni 2,
50123 Florence, Italy
Tel: [+39] 055 43951
Fax: [+39] 055 5395215
Web: Ferragamo Luxury Fashion House