Discover Salvatore Ferragamo’s most desirable shoes, style and scents
at the age of nine, a boy from the small Italian village of Bonito, worked secretly through the night, making shoes for his sisters’ communion; his parents were too poor to buy any.
One of a family of 14 children, he longed to be a shoemaker, a career considered to be the lowliest in the community. But by 15, he was running his own business and employing six adults as his assistants.
This was the boy who became the man sought out by the Hollywood stars and royalty of the 1920s: Salvatore Ferragamo.
The list of Salvatore Ferragamo clients reads like a round-up of Oscar winners, screen luminaries and political powerhouses: Marlene Dietrich, Greta Garbo, Audrey Hepburn, Sophia Loren, Marilyn Monroe, Eva Perón, Judy Garland, Joan Crawford and more. All coveted Salvatore designs for the many ways in which they differed from the rest – he was creative and artistic, yes, but more importantly, he truly cared about feet.
Salvatore was still a teen when he left Italy to join some of his brothers in the US. Already an experienced shoemaker, he worked at a shoe factory to learn more about the trade. The biggest lesson he took from the experience: a total resistance to machine-made shoes. This credo, which he held for decades, was based on his belief that factory-produced shoes ruined feet – as proven by the women who consulted him.
When it came to clients, Salvatore took as many measurements as he could. He also studied anatomy: how did feet move and carry weight, how did the body balance on those feet, and what role did shoes play in healing or harming? Then there were questions of height and proportion, including the belief that the more petite the wearer, the shorter the heel should be.
Salvatore was intelligent, driven and clear about his path, and he wanted his shoes to be sold around the world. But there were so many obstacles.
The first? His own family. When he was a child, his parents had been embarrassed about his calling. Then, when he moved to the US, his brothers couldn’t understand his desire to expand their already successful shoe repair business. Their discouragement led to a parting of ways, leaving Salvatore on his own, trying to follow his dream.
The next obstacle? His aversion to machines, a resistance so strong that he eventually abandoned any attempt
at working with factories in the US and decided to return home to hire Italians capable of handmaking his designs. To his surprise, however, even Italian craftsmen were unable to comprehend his aims. Never one to give up, he simply moved to Florence, and set the skills he needed to workers there. (This eventually led to the establishment of a training academy, which provided a constant stream of talented people.)
World War II changed everything. Suddenly unable to export to the UK, US and the rest of Europe, Salvatore declared bankruptcy. Raw materials were difficult to find, too, meaning new ways to craft shoes were needed. As with all obstacles, Salvatore had a choice: be stopped or be driven. Typically, he treated the challenge as incentive to experiment, toying with fish skin, fishing gut, feathers and cork. The results included the world’s first wedge and platform heels. Women everywhere were thrilled.
Salvatore realised his shoes would always be exclusive, only available to those who could afford handmade. Before his death in 1960, he finally acknowledged that it was time to come to terms with mass production while maintaining quality. His solution was to have some parts made by machine and others by hand.
Today, the Salvatore Ferragamo brand includes luxury leather, clothes and, of course, shoes. Ferragamo is still worn by Hollywood’s finest, and there are 685 stores around the world.
And that poor Italian boy? Every step he took towards his dream of caring and creating for feet came true.
Salvatore Ferragamo with his shoe prototypes.
e o r n o M n ly ri a M
from left to right Ready-to-wear designs and handbags on Karolína Kurková, Olivia Palermo and Olivia Culpo.
"he worked at a shoe factory to learn more about the trade. The biggest lesson he took from the experience: a total resistance to machine-made shoes."
Sophia Loren and Salvatore Ferragamo.