Salvatore Ferragamo’s life could easily be the plot of a film in which the main character embodies the very values and qualities that enable him to achieve his lifelong dream. Explore Ferragamo Museum in central Florence and discover more about the Italian Shoemaker of Dreams.
Visit: Museo Salvatore Ferragamo, Florence, TuscanyThe eleventh of fourteen children, Salvatore Ferragamo was born in 1898 in Bonito, a small village 100 kilometres from Naples. Even as a child, Salvatore showed a great passion for shoes: at the age of 11 he was apprenticed to a shoemaker in Naples and at 13 he opened his own shop in Bonito. When he was 16, he travelled to America to join one of his brothers who was working for a large shoe factory in Boston. Salvatore was fascinated by the modern machinery and production processes but he also saw how they could limit product quality. In the early Twenties he moved to Santa Barbara, California, where he opened a shoemaking and repair shop. California was an exciting place to be at that time with the new film industry booming. Salvatore began designing and making shoes for the movies. Meanwhile, in his ongoing search for shoes with the perfect fit, he studied human anatomy, chemical engineering and mathematics at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. When the movie industry moved to Hollywood, Salvatore Ferragamo went with it. In 1923 he opened the ‘Hollywood Boot Shop’, which marked the start of his career as ‘shoemaker to the stars’, as he was defined by the local press. In 1927 Ferragamo decided to return to his native Italy and chose to settle in Florence, a city known for its many skilled craftsmen. From his Florentine workshop – in which he adapted the assembly line system to his workers’ highly specialised and strictly manual work – Salvatore launched a constant flow of exports to the United States. After the war, Salvatore Ferragamo’s shoes came to be known around the world as a symbol of Italy’s return to life, design and production. The years that followed saw many memorable inventions: the stiletto heels with metal reinforcement made famous by Marilyn Monroe, the gold sandals and the invisible sandals with nylon thread uppers (for which Ferragamo won the prestigious ‘Neiman Marcus Award’ in 1947, the fashion world’s equivalent of the Oscar, marking the first time it was bestowed on a shoe designer).