“I’ve divided women, my clients, in three categories: Cinderella, Venus and Aristocratic. The Cinderella fit smaller shoes than the size 6. Venus fit a size 6; the Aristocratic 7 or above “.
from “Il Calzolaio dei Sogni. Autobiography of Salvatore Ferragamo”
In case you’re wondering if the shoemaker of Cinderella’s shoes could possibly exist in real life, the only reasonable answer coming up in my mind would be Salvatore Ferragamo.
If the Fairy Godmother had the chance to choose bewtween a crystal shoe and a pair of Ferragamo, the story we have been told so far would be very different!
And the uniqueness of Salvatore Ferragamo’s shoes was to make a woman be able to capture the attention of the their Prince Charming.
A man totally dedicated to beauty. And comfort as well, because a Cinderella at the ball shouldn’t get tired of wearing her shoes.
I dream about being Cinderella myself as I stumble upon an entire wall of shoes at the entrance of the current exhibition of the Ferragamo Museum, in the basement of a medieval fortress in the heart of Florence.
The museum celebrates the history and the life of the namesake founder of the brand, who made the palace his own in the 1940s.
His first creations, rare and innovative shoes are on display in the museum to tell you the story of how the myth of Ferragamo came to life.
As the current exhibition focuses on the history of the building itself, the magical world of the shoemaker’s early success is reprensented through its most iconic products.
Salvatore Ferragamo was born in Bonito, a small town near Naples. He was the 11th of 14 children and despite his young age, he immediately developed a passion for shoe-making. He used to work for a shoe-maker in Naples and when he was 13 he opened his first shop in his home town.
When he turned 16, he joined one of his older brother in America, where he was working for a shoe factory in Boston. Machines and modernity were characteristics that fascinated Salvatore, who however was concerned about the quality of those products.
In the beginning of the 20’s, Ferragamo moved to Santa Barbara, in California, where he opened a shop as a cobbler.
He began to design his shoes for the movies and spotted the great potential of the movie industry.
In the meantime he decided to take advantage of the time in the USA, studying human anatomy, chemistry and mathematics at the Los Angeles university. He was always struggling for perfection and it occurred to him that his creations were suffering of a lack of something, which he discovered later.
During his stay in California, he found the first idea to solve the problem of distribution of body’s weight on the arch of the foot. He patented an internal steel support, the ‘shank’. This support allowed the shoes to become lighter but resistant.
A series of further studies led him to discover an original system, which allowed him to approach mass production, without losing the quality of made-to-measure.
He measured the width of the plant, combined with the overall volume of the foot.
This concept has been developed on an industrial scale in the years following his death, and brought to the development up to more than 70 different combinations for woman and men’s shoes.
Hollywood was the next step in his career. In 1923 he opened “Hollywood Boot Shop” and he officially became the shoemaker of the stars. This name was given by the press of the time in California.
In 1927 he decided to return to Italy, in Florence, where he could easily settle his business and laboratories. Florence have been always renowned as a city of incredible artisans, specialized in crafting leathers.
Ferragamo opened his laboratories in Florence, where everything should be rigorously done by hand. He exported the product successfully in the USA.
The Wall Street Crash of 1929 blocked the exportations and Ferragamo was forced to declare bankruptcy.
However, his business was to sell shoes, not only to the American market, but also to the rest of the world.
In 1936 he was already able to rent the shop and a couple of laboratories in Palazzo Spini Feroni, in the heart of historic Florence, where now you can still find the shop, the museum and the headquarter of Ferragamo.
Under Fascisms, Ferragamo created some of his incredible models, as the cork wedges, resistant, solid but ultra light, shoes made with cellophane and candy wrappers.
Here in Florence, Ferragamo extended the concept of craftsmanship in the production of embroidered uppers, made with lace or straw, precious heels studded with stones, silver or metal. The Italian shoes of Ferragamo were known throughout the world.
The production was extended to a wider range of merchandise and the Ferragamo brand continued to preserve this craft, cultivating the attention for details and the passion for work, making it an asset for its success.
During the 50s Ferragamo’s name was a symbol of quality, luxury and was associated with the names of the Hollywood jet-set.
Palazzo Spini Feroni was a must-stop destination in Florence for the actresses of the time. Ferragamo began his business in Hollywood and Hollywood didn’t abandon him, even after he moved to Italy.
Audrey Hepburn, Ava Gardner, Greta Garbo, Anna Magnani, Paulette Goddard, Lauren Bacall, Sophia Loren, Marilyn Monroe. All of them contributed to the success of Ferragamo’s shoes.
Ferragamo’s fame was recognised with The Fashion Award “Neiman Marcus Award” that he won in 1947 for his invisible sandals, made with nylon wires.
The weight of the sandals where the same as the forbidden fruit, the apple!
In 1960 Salvatore Ferragamo died. His dream had come true: creating wonderful and comfortable shoes. The family were able to understand the importance of his studies, research and designs, making Ferragamo an international Italian brand, known all around the world.
Fiamma, one of Ferragamo’s daughter was called by the international press “The teenager of fashion”.
She was in charg of designing everything that was related to leather. Shoes, bags, luggage,umbrellas and all accessories for women and men.
In 1967, exactly 20 era after the her father’s Award, Fiamma received another Neiman Marcus Award, praising the creative effort of the brand.
She was the creator of Vara, the most famous of Ferragamo’s shoes, embellished with the iconic bow, and the W bag, thought exclusively for her mother Wanda.
Fiamma was the first one who had the idea to open a museum in the family’s building in Florence, the Museum of Salvatore Ferragamo.
The Museum is a thriving place, where every year a new exhibition is held. The museum itself is very interesting, because it is housed in one of the most historic places of all Florence.
In a corner of the ancient rooms of the museum you can find the well where legendarily Dante and Beatrice met for the first time and Dante fell desperately in love with his wonderful and divine muse. The palace Spini Feroni is one of the most ancient building in the city of Florence, which fortunately survived since our present days, with all its history, legends and treasures, which Salvatore Ferragamo bought and preserved in their entire beauty.
He also dedicated a scarf to the palace, which is displayed in the museum and it’s currently on sale in the Ferragamo stores. The scarf, whose design where made in collaboration with a local artisan, should celebrate the beauty of the palace, and was developed one year before the death of Salvatore Ferragamo. He saw the sketch of the scarf, but he didn’t had the chance to survive and see in 1961 the scarf on sale in his shop.
I strongly suggest you to visit the Ferragamo Museum, because it’s a beautiful ancient Florentine building, which also functions as flagship store and headquarter for the brand, and because it’s a rare opportunity to see such an amazing collection of rare shoes from the archives of Ferragamo.
If you’re visiting Florence and you love fashion this is a place you don’t want to miss.
Palazzo Spini Feroni, Piazza di Santa Trinita, 5/R, Firenze
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