Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Salvatore Ferragamo Artistry (and Fairy Tale Magic)

Take a tour of the Salvatore Ferragamo Shoe Museum

Salvatore Ferragamo was one of Marilyn Monroe's favorite shoe designers, and it's easy to see why.  His creations were sexy, feminine, unusual, artistic, multicolored, glamorous and -- thanks to his 400+ design patents -- engineered for optimum comfort and support.  He dedicated his career to the search for a shoe that fit perfectly.  He even studied anatomy, leading him to create the revolutionary Ferragamo shoe lasts which redistributed body weight over the joints of the foot.  A girl needed to feel good as well as look good, Ferragamo thought.  His shoes allowed countless women to do just that...

There is something effortless about wearing Ferragamo.  In his autobiography, he wrote that a woman in his shoes became a princess, and a princess became a queen.  That's the kind of real world Cinderella story I can get behind.  Or, perhaps, step into...
Ferragamo from 1925 -- which would look great now

Born 11th of 14 children to a poor family in Bonito, Italy, Salvatore Ferragamo made his first pair of shoes to give to one of his sisters for her confirmation.  He studied shoemaking in Naples, ran a small store in his parents' home and eventually moved to California where he opened a repair and made-to-measure shoe store in Hollywood.  It wasn't long before his designs became the favorites of stars like Greta Garbo and Gloria Swanson. Later, his client list expanded to people like Audrey Hepburn, Princess Di and Andy Warhol.  He even made Margaret Thatcher's handbags.

When you look at his designs -- going all the way back to the 1920s -- they don't seem dated or archaic.  They're just gorgeous.  They're shoes we'd wear today.

Ferragamo was known for using unusual materials in addition to leather.  When World War 2 created a leather shortage he didn't let it impede his creative process.  He simply turned to things like cork and cellophane.  He created metal-reinforced stilettos (Marilyn Monroe's favorite) and award-winning "invisible" shoes.  When you put on your favorite pair of wedges, you can thank Ferragamo.  Yes, he invented the wedge, too.   (Curating Fashion has a great post about his many innovations and inventions here.)

Original Ferragamo shoe castings for famous clients
While today's Ferragamo shoes weren't born from the drawing board of Salvatore himself, they build upon his original designs and deservedly bear his name.  His family has carried on his tradition of expert, handcrafted shoemaking since his death in 1960.  His eldest daughter Fiamma, who died in 1998, was the inventor of the original boxy-heeled Vara pumps.  (They look an awful lot like the block heel shoes blowing up the runways right now.)

I recently found a pair of classic Ferragamo kitten heel mules at Tradesy.  They are pristine.  They look like they might have been worn once -- by a woman who felt as good as she looked.   They have the adorable little Ferragamo bows and big stitches and attention to detail that comes from a brand with a legacy of handmade shoes.  The seller couldn't tell me when they were made, but it doesn't matter because whether it was last year or 30 years ago, they're Ferragamo.  Classic, timeless, feminine ... and comfortable.

Mine mine mine!!!

A few years ago, the house of Ferragamo partnered with animator and cartoonist Frank Espinosa to create a graphic novel entitled Making of a Dream, based on the life of Salvatore Ferragamo. The Museo Salvatore Ferragamo in Florence hosted an exhibition called "The Amazing Shoemaker: Fairy Tales about Shoes and Shoemakers" featuring archived shoes and accessories accompanied by original Espinosa works.  Visitors were also treated to an enchanting short film, The White Shoe, based on Salvatore's early life.  Watch the film in its entirety below:

Watch The White Shoe: a Fairy Tale based on Salvatore Ferragamo

Make sure to watch the tour of the Museo Salvatore Ferragamo in the video at the top of this post.  (You really need to see the Over the Rainbow platforms he created for Judy Garland.)

Ferragamo's autobiography is out of print, but you can still find used copies.  It's a fascinating read of a brilliant artist:

Want to share your thoughts on Ferragamo?  Head over to the Chic Contraire Community Forum and start a conversation!

Museum video by Video Fashion
Vintage Ferragamo photographs via Getty Images
The White Shoe film by Salvatore Ferragamo