Salvatore Ferragamo was one of the most influential footwear designers of the 20th century, providing Hollywood’s glitterati with unique hand-made designs
Marilyn Monroe famous movie scene in Salvatore Ferragamo heels
From his Florentine workshop – in which he adapted production line techniques to the specialised and strictly manual operations of his own workers – he launched a constant stream of exports to the States. Then came the great crisis of 1929, which brusquely interrupted relations with the American market, and the firm had to close. Salvatore didn’t not lose heart however, turning his energies instead to the national market. By 1936 business was going so well he started renting two workshops and a shop in Palazzo Spini Feroni, in via Tornabuoni. These were years of economic sanctions against Mussolini’s Italy and it was in this period that Salvatore turned out some of his most popular and widely-imitated creations, such as the strong but light cork wedges. Cork, needlepoint, lace, hemp, wood, metal wire, raffia, felt, glass-like synthetic resins cellophane and raffia, – he even tried fishskin- were among the innovative materials that Salvatore used to creatively replace the leather and steel which trade restrictions prevented him from using.
On the strength of his success, in 1938 Salvatore was in a position to pay the first instalment for the purchase of the entire Palazzo Spini Feroni, which has been Company headquarters ever since. In 1940 he married Wanda Miletti, the young daughter of the local doctor in Bonito, who had followed him to Florence and who was to bear him six children, three sons (Ferruccio, Leonardo and Massimo) and three daughters (Fiamma, Giovanna and Fulvia). In the post-war period, all over the world the shoes of Salvatore Ferragamo became a symbol of Italy’s reconstruction, through design and production. These were years of memorable inventions: the metal-reinforced stiletto heels made famous by Marilyn Monroe, gold sandals, and the invisible sandals with uppers made from nylon thread (which in 1947 were to win Salvatore the prestigious ‘Neiman Marcus Award’, the Oscar of the fashion world, awarded for the first time to a footwear designer).
Greta Garbo shoe by Ferragamo
When Salvatore Ferragamo died in 1960 he had realised the great dream of his life: to create and produce the most beautiful shoes in the world. His family was left the task of carrying on and fulfilling the plan that Salvatore had nurtured in his final years: transforming Ferragamo into a great fashion house.
Salvatore Ferragamo was always recognized as a visionary, and his designs ranged from the strikingly bizarre objet d’art to the traditionally elegant, often serving as the main inspiration to other footwear designers of his time and beyond.
Dorothy’s ruby slippers for the 1939 version of The Wizard of Oz