Meet the fer­rag­amos

A me­dieval vil­lage in Tus­cany pro­vides the pri­vate time that nur­tures the bonds be­tween four gen­er­a­tions of the fa­mous fash­ion fam­ily. Eana Maniebo vis­its Il Borro and finds out why it’s so im­por­tant to them

Hong Kong Tatler - - December -

A me­dieval vil­lage in Tus­cany pro­vides the pri­vate time that nur­tures the bonds be­tween four gen­er­a­tions of the fa­mous fash­ion fam­ily

It rains, then it shines, the weather play­ing a fan­ci­ful game in the pic­turesque Tus­can coun­try­side as the wan­ing sum­mer slides re­luc­tantly to­wards au­tumn. The un­pre­dictable at­mo­spher­ics only en­hance the charm of Il Borro, a vil­lage dat­ing back to 1039, as an im­pec­ca­bly dressed Fer­ruc­cio Fer­rag­amo and his equally dap­per son Sal­va­tore greet me. The fa­mous fam­ily founded by Sal­va­tore’s epony­mous grand­fa­ther owns this gor­geous me­dieval ham­let, set in a pic­turesque flood­plain carved by the Arno River and bor­dered by the Prato­magno ridge, the Apen­nines and the hills of Chi­anti.

Fer­ruc­cio, the el­dest son of the hum­ble shoe­maker who started the fam­ily busi­ness, dis­cov­ered Il Borro dur­ing a hunt­ing trip in 1985, but it was a bro­ken, derelict ver­sion of what ex­ists to­day and its hard­scrab­ble in­hab­i­tants were strug­gling to make ends meet. Fer­ruc­cio, how­ever, recog­nised the po­ten­tial of the build­ings and their lovely set­ting. He re­turned in 1993 to buy the ham­let, along with the ad­ja­cent grand villa, which was half-de­stroyed dur­ing World War II, and the 700 hectares of fer­tile coun­try­side on which they lie.

A decade of ex­ten­sive ren­o­va­tion brought Il Borro back to life, its me­dieval charm metic­u­lously pre­served and com­ple­mented with all the comforts of mod­ern liv­ing, and the vil­lage is now a much-loved re­treat for the ex­tended Fer­rag­amo fam­ily. Sal­va­tore, Fer­ruc­cio’s right-hand man on the ren­o­va­tion project and a great fan of good wine, also estab­lished a win­ery, which now turns out the sought-af­ter Il Borro, Pian di Nova, Lamelle and Polis­sena wines. The re­stored vil­lage, vil­las and farm­houses are sur­rounded by vine­yards, and with eight ar­ti­san shops, a church, an art gallery, or­ganic gardens, a re­sort and spa, and two

restau­rants, Il Borro has be­come a wor­thy lux­ury des­ti­na­tion for dis­cern­ing trav­ellers un­der the Tus­can sun. The vil­lage, one of Italy’s pret­ti­est, is linked to the cy­press-lined main es­tate by a stone bridge re­stored by lo­cal crafts­men piece by piece.

Il Borro is a spe­cial place for the Fer­rag­amo fam­ily not so much for the time, ef­fort and money poured into it, but for the joy the vil­lage gives them as a pri­vate paradise where they are able to gather reg­u­larly as a fam­ily. “Il Borro, to me, has been in­stru­men­tal in keep­ing my fam­ily to­gether,” says Fer­ruc­cio, who is chair­man of the com­pany. It’s a sen­ti­ment echoed by his son. “We are in­cred­i­bly for­tu­nate be­cause we have this place which can ac­com­mo­date and en­ter­tain our fam­ily,” says Sal­va­tore. “There are ac­tiv­i­ties for ev­ery­body—the spa, soc­cer, shoot­ing, hunt­ing, bik­ing, horse rid­ing and more. We are never bored here.”

Fer­ruc­cio lives an hour’s drive away in Florence but vis­its Il Borro on Wed­nes­days for busi­ness and on week­ends for fam­ily. All his chil­dren have their own houses in the vil­lage, and ev­ery week­end they and their fam­i­lies head over to their fa­ther’s es­tate for lunch. The fam­ily lunch is also a tra­di­tion dur­ing hol­i­days and on spe­cial oc­ca­sions, such as to­day, when 16 mem­bers rep­re­sent­ing three gen­er­a­tions of Fer­rag­amos gather for our photo shoot, with Fer­ruc­cio’s fi­ancée, Teresa Bür­gisser Cristo­foro, ably as­sist­ing with styling.

“My fa­ther is so gen­er­ous and in­vites us all the time to have lunch with him,” says Sal­va­tore’s twin brother, James, who is di­rec­tor of women’s and men’s shoes and leather goods. “Our kids love spend­ing time with their cousins as well. The im­por­tance of fam­ily is cru­cial for us. It’s at the heart of ev­ery­thing we do. Keep­ing ev­ery­body to­gether is re­ally at the core of the Fer­rag­amos.”

The twins are very close. James de­scribes Sal­va­tore, his senior by sev­eral min­utes, as “the best com­pan­ion I could ever have. We com­pete in al­most ev­ery sport, but he’s my best friend for sure. I can re­ally say any­thing to my brother; we have grown re­ally close.” The twins are also close to their sis­ter Vivia, who is two years younger, and tell of a happy child­hood. “We were very for­tu­nate grow­ing up but, I don’t know, maybe for my sis­ter it’s less for­tu­nate be­cause peo­ple had to be friends with us to be friends with our sis­ter,” quips the pro­tec­tive Sal­va­tore.

The dy­nasty founded by the late Sal­va­tore and his wife, Wanda Miletti, now numbers nearly 100 mem­bers across four gen­er­a­tions. The cou­ple had six chil­dren: Fi­amma (the cre­ator of the clas­sic Vara pump, who died in 1998), Gio­vanna, Ful­via, Fer­ruc­cio, Mas­simo and Leonardo. The third gen­er­a­tion, which in­cludes the twins, numbers 23, and the fourth around 40. And that’s not count­ing the English rel­a­tives on the ma­tri­arch’s side.

Like Il Borro, Wanda holds the fam­ily to­gether. Wi­d­owed at just 38 when Sal­va­tore died in 1960, she found the strength to raise her chil­dren and en­sure the sur­vival of her hus­band’s com­pany. “My mother took over, but she could not take my fa­ther’s place in the busi­ness sense be­cause she didn’t know how to make shoes. She didn’t have the cre­ativ­ity my fa­ther had,” Fer­ruc­cio says. How­ever, she had a cru­cial skill in her abil­ity to choose the right peo­ple. “She sur­rounded her­self with bright and ef­fi­cient staff, bringing the com­pany to a global level,” Fer­ruc­cio says proudly. The bond be­tween mother and son is strong, and to­day, af­ter our shoot and in­ter­views, Fer­ruc­cio will be rush­ing off with Sal­va­tore and an­other son, Francesco, to dine with Wanda in Florence.

While she’s al­most 95, Wanda still goes to work ev­ery day. She is hon­orary chair­man of Sal­va­tore Fer­rag­amo, but she never lets her corporate sched­ule in­ter­fere with her role as grand­mother. “She’s an amaz­ing woman,” says James, “a ter­rific great-grand­mother to my kids and a grand­mother to me. She keeps things sim­ple. She has cre­ated this clear ob­jec­tive of in­cul­cat­ing in ev­ery gen­er­a­tion val­ues to keep the Fer­rag­amo dream alive. She did that with her sons, and like­wise with her grand­sons.”

To in­spire her off­spring and, in turn, theirs, Wanda would tell sto­ries about Sal­va­tore Snr and the early days of the fam­ily em­pire. Born into a poor fam­ily, he made his first pair of shoes at the age of nine. He left Italy in 1914 and spent 13 years in the United States, where

he ended up in Hol­ly­wood and made a name for him­self as “Shoe­maker to the Stars.” But Italy never lost its power over him and he re­turned in 1927, set­ting up in Florence with a dream to cre­ate high-qual­ity hand­made shoes. The busi­ness he started even­tu­ally grew into the lux­ury goods em­pire of to­day, en­com­pass­ing bags, eye­wear, silk ac­ces­sories, watches, per­fumes and ready-to-wear cloth­ing for men and women.

James re­mem­bers most the early tales of his grand­fa­ther as a poor shoe­maker and the de­ter­mi­na­tion that drove him to suc­cess. Sal­va­tore echoes his twin’s sen­ti­ments and nom­i­nates his grand­fa­ther’s great­est qual­ity as ded­i­ca­tion to his goals. “He wanted to make shoes, so he did, not by ma­chines but by hand, and he con­cen­trated on the qual­ity of those prod­ucts. He be­lieved in his pas­sion.”

That ded­i­ca­tion was also ap­par­ent in Sal­va­tore Snr’s par­ent­ing, as son Fer­ruc­cio re­calls: “I was very naughty so he tried to dis­ci­pline me. I learnt many lessons.” Those lessons in­cluded the way his fa­ther treated the peo­ple who worked for him; ev­ery­one, from the high­est man­ager to the new­est worker, re­ceived the same de­gree of re­spect. And the pa­tri­arch taught his chil­dren an­other im­por­tant les­son: what­ever role they play in the com­pany, it’s only a small part of the process, and they there­fore owe their suc­cess to the hard work of the em­ploy­ees. Fer­ruc­cio has im­pressed this prin­ci­ple on his chil­dren and ex­pects them to do the same with theirs.

For Sal­va­tore Jnr, who has three chil­dren with his wife, Christine Maninger, a good par­ent must know the right bal­ance be­tween dis­ci­pline and in­dul­gence. “Some­times you tell them off but you don’t re­ally know if you got the point across,” he says. “You have to find a way of un­der­stand­ing and get­ting through all of that. That’s much more chal­leng­ing. I think the best thing is to be there, be present, and talk to your chil­dren.” It’s es­sen­tial not to dic­tate the path the chil­dren should take, he says, but to help them draw their own con­clu­sions and make their own de­ci­sions.

Like­wise, James and his wife, Louise Holm, are keen to in­stil good val­ues in their three chil­dren, and to place hap­pi­ness and hon­esty at the core of ev­ery­thing they do. James wants his chil­dren to nur­ture their own pas­sions, and hopes they won’t be in­flu­enced by ex­ter­nal pres­sures and ex­pec­ta­tions to fol­low a road not of their choos­ing.

As deeply em­bed­ded in their hearts as Il Borro is, Florence will al­ways hold a spe­cial place for the fam­ily as the cru­cible of the house of Fer­rag­amo and the city where Sal­va­tore and Wanda raised their chil­dren. It might not have the best air­port or soc­cer team in the coun­try, muses Fer­ruc­cio, but it more than com­pen­sates with its beauty, his­tory and art. Sal­va­tore agrees: “Florence is home and we are very for­tu­nate that we are liv­ing in one of the most beau­ti­ful cities in the world. Its in­cred­i­ble ar­chi­tec­ture, beauty and cul­ture stand out.”

The Fer­rag­amos are a glo­be­trot­ting lot, but their hearts al­ways lead them back to where their story be­gan. For al­most 90 years the house of Sal­va­tore Fer­rag­amo has flour­ished, a global busi­ness that thrives to­day across four gen­er­a­tions, one that, like his­toric Il Borro, is set to flour­ish for gen­er­a­tions to come.


am­bi­tion meets tra­di­tion Clock­wise from left: Vivia and her hus­band, Alessan­dro At­tolico, Fer­ruc­cio, his son Francesco, and Filippo and Ni­co­letta May At­tolico

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