Salvatore Ferragamo, searching for ‘shoes which fit perfectly’

7 Jul

Salvatore Ferragamo

Salvatore Ferragamo was one of the most influential footwear designers of the 20th century, providing Hollywood’s glitterati with unique hand-made designs

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Salvatore Ferragamo was born, the eleventh of fourteen children, in 1898 in Bonito, a village about 100 kilometres from Naples. After making his first pair of shoes when he was only 9, for her sister to wear on her confirmation, young Salvatore decided that he had found his calling.  He studied  shoemaking in Naples for a year, and opened a small store based in his parent’s home. In 1914, Salvatore emigrated to Boston, where one of his brothers worked in a cowboy boot factory. Salvatore was fascinated by the modern machinery and working procedures but at the same time saw its quality limitations  After a brief stint at the factory, Salvatore convinced his brother to move to California, first Santa Barbara then Hollywood. In the early Twenties he moved to Santa Barbara, California, to join another brother. It was here that Salvatore found success, initially opening a shop for repair and made-to-measure shoes, which soon became prized items among celebrities of the day, leading to a long period of designing footwear for the cinema.
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Joan Crawford

Joan Crawford

Sophia Loren

Sophia Loren

Audrey Hepburn

Audrey Hepburn

Greta Garbo

Garbo & ferragamo

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Marilyn Monroe famous movie scene in Salvatore Ferragamo heels

Marilyn Monroe

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California was a dreamland in those years . For more than 30 years he shod the whole galaxy, from Lillian Gish in the first silent films to Marilyn Monroe in the Seven Year Itch. Greta Garbo purchased 70 pairs of shoes in one visit to the shop in Florence. One of his most celebrated pieces are Dorothy’s ruby slippers for the 1939 version of The Wizard of Oz. Meanwhile Salvatore himself, in his constant search for ‘shoes which fit perfectly’ studied human anatomy, chemical engineering and mathematics at university in Los Angeles. When the movie industry moved to Hollywood, Salvatore  followed. In 1923 he opened the ‘Hollywood Boot Shop’, which marked the start of his career as ‘shoemaker to the stars’, as he was defined by the local press. His success was such that he couldn’t keep pace with the orders, but American labour wasn’t capable of making the shoes Salvatore wanted and in 1927 he decided to return to Italy, to Florence, a city traditionally rich in skilled craftsmanship.
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Salvatore Ferragamo
Ferragamo Workshop
Salvatore Ferragamo

Salvatore

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.

 Ferragamo FamilyFerragamo family
Neiman Marcus Award (Salvatore second from left, Christian Dior standing at the right side)
1947 Ferragamo Dior

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).

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Cage heel 

Cage heel

Cage heelStiletto heel

Salvatore-Ferragamo-shoesPlatform sole
ferragamo_platform
Ferragamo
Golden sandal
Golden shoe
Raffia
Ferragamo
FerragamoInvisible sandal

Salvatore-Ferragamo-invisable-shoes

Ferragamo

salvatore-ferragamo-wedge-300409-1

ferragamo

Ferragamo

Ferragamo

Greta Garbo shoe by Ferragamo

The_Mystery_of_Style_Exhibition-14 2

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.

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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.

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Dorothy’s ruby slippers for the 1939 version of The Wizard of Oz

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