When it comes to luxury shoes, leather goods, and ready-to-wear for men and women, among the first brands that come to mind is Ferragamo, the iconic Italian house of fashion, founded almost a century back by Salvatore Ferragamo.
Salvatore Ferragamo was born near Naples, Italy, in 1898 as the eleventh of fourteen children. At the age of nine he made his first shoe for his sister to wear for her communion. He found that he had a passion for making shoes and decided that shoemaking was his calling in life. He studied the art of shoemaking for a year in Naples and at the age of fourteen he opened his first shoe workshop in his parent’s house. In 1914 he shifted base to Boston, USA to join his brothers.
After a brief stint in a cowboy boot factory, he moved to California, where he opened a shoe shop and, in a short span, his expertise in shoe making became famous in Hollywood and he started making shoes for the American Film Company.
He spent 13 years in the United States of America and returned to Italy to set up shop in Florence. He was always insistent on the fact that all the company’s products should only be made in Italy to ensure quality was not compromised. His unmatched designing skills won him the Nieman Marcus Prize, considered the ‘Oscar’ of the fashion world, in 1947.
Ferragamo shoes became prized possessions among celebrities of the yesteryears and he became known as the ‘Shoemaker to the Stars.’ His shoes caught the fancy of many a Hollywood actress from the likes of Audrey Hepburn, Marilyn Monroe, Greta Garbo to Sophia Loren, naming just a few. It is rumoured that Greta Garbo bought 70 pairs of Ferragamo shoes in one visit to the shop in Florence.
Salvatore’s constant pursuit to make stylish and comfortable footwear led him to study anatomy at the University of Southern California. With his newfound scientific approach to designing shoes he designed the steel arch, which would give better support to the feet and the body. At a time when there was a shortage of raw materials he became innovative and made use of leather substitutes like corks of wine bottles and stitched them up together to create heels and this became his famous cork wedge. Among his other famous designs were the cage heels, the invisible shoes – made by nylon straps wound around the sole – and the stiletto heel, which was made iconic by Marilyn Monroe.
Among his most celebrated shoes were the Ruby pumps worn by Judy Garland in the iconic 1939 movie ‘The Wizard of Oz.’ Experts believe that seven pairs of pumps were made for the movie, out of which only three of the original seven are still known to exist. Three pairs have gone missing; one was stolen from the Judy Garland Museum in 2005. One pair was sold at USD 666,000 by Christie’s at an auction; Lady Gaga apparently procured a pair of the Ruby pumps for her 25th birthday; and the last pair is at the Smithsonian Museum in the USA. These shoes were actually white silk pumps, which were customised with glass jewels, bugle beads and glass rhinestones.
Though the company had to file for bankruptcy in 1933 because of bad management and economic pressures, Ferragamo bounced right back up and, by 1950, had about 700 expert artisans, who were capable of producing about 350 pairs of hand-made shoes a day. When Salvatore Ferragamo passed away in 1960 at the age of 62, his wife Wanda took over the reins of the company. She further expanded the business into a global concern and included designer glasses, perfume, belts and scarves.
A Ferragamo has a timeless element to it according to fashion experts. As they say, “Whatever circle you are in, if you look down and see a pair of Ferragamos you know a bit about them.”