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Ferragamo, Salvatore

shoes shoe family italy

B. 1898

D. August 7, 1960

Birthplace: Bonito, Italy

Awards: Neiman Marcus Award, 1947
           Salvatore Ferragamo Retrospective, Florence, Italy, 1985
           Footwear News Hall of Fame Award, 1988
           The Art of the Shoe Retrospective, Los Angeles, 1992

In 1998 the Ferragamo family celebrated the 100th anniversary of its founder’s birth, delighted at the fact that the Ferragamo company of today is a fully diversified luxury fashion house, producing everything from handsome ties and scarves to elegant coats and handbags. But as family members proudly admit, it was the shoemaking skill, amazing creativity, and tremendous determination of founder Salvatore Ferragamo that built the dynasty which exists today.

As the story goes, nine-year-old Salvatore, not wanting his sister to suffer the shame of being without white shoes for her first communion, made the shoes himself, of cardboard and other materials borrowed from the local cobbler. The eleventh of fourteen children, born to poor farmers, he left for America when he was fifteen to make his name as a shoemaker, after having studied the craft in Naples. In the United States he studied shoemaking and mass production and became extremely knowledgeable about the technical aspects of manufacturing. He was not content simply to design shoes which were exquisite and adored; he was determined to create shoes which were comfortable as well. His enrollment at the University of Southern California in anatomy was a blessing not only to Ferragamo but to women in general—he later invented a metal arch support, which he used in every one of his shoes, to provide both beauty and function for his customers.

In 1924 Ferragamo opened a chic shoe store in Los Angeles called the Hollywood Boot Shop. When his shoes started turning up on the feet of many famous customers including Gloria Swanson, Greta Garbo, and Marlene Dietrich, both Cecil B. DeMille and D.W. Griffith commissioned him to create shoes for their silent movies. Even after his return to Italy in 1927, Hollywood kept calling. He created Carmen Miranda’s mirrored platforms in 1935, beaded satin mules for Judy Garland in 1938, and continued to receive private commissions from many celebrities and notables, as diverse as the Duchess of Windsor and Eva Perón.

Salvatore Ferragamo’s inventions include the wedge heel (1936), the platform (1938), and the “invisible” shoe (1947). Challenged by the rationing of leather during World War II, he used such unconventional fabrics as raffia, cork, braided packing string, tree bark, and nylon fishing line to create some of the wittiest, most fanciful shoes of the twentieth century, many of which are reintroduced and reinterpreted each season. At the time of his death, he had registered 350 patents and created over 20,000 shoe styles, including sandals adorned with 18 karat gold bells and chains, which sold for $1,000 in 1956. Many of his inspirations and adventures are discussed in his autobiography, Shoemaker of Dreams , first published in 1957.

Today the Ferragamo children and grandchildren continue the family tradition of innovation and perfection. Son Ferruccio is the chief executive officer of the company, and sons Leonardo and Massimo oversee operations. All aspects of production are closely controlled. Only very recently have any licenses been granted. After Ferragamo’s 1996 acquisition of Emanuel Ungaro S.A., the Luxotica Group agreed, in 1997, to the production of two new eyewear collections, under the Ferragamo and Ungaro names. In the same year Ferragamo teamed with Bulgari to form Ferragamo Perfumes and Ungaro Perfumes.

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