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Designer Index

Salvatore Ferragamo

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It’s 1907 in Bonito, Italy.  You’re nine years old.  What do you with your free time?  Most children, one would guess, would play street ball with their friends or perhaps tag along with their older brothers and chase girls.

Not Salvatore Ferragamo.  At age 9, he made his first pair of shoes for his sisters to wear to their Christian confirmation ceremony.  Most brothers wouldn’t want to be dragged to a ceremony, never mind make shoes for their sisters!

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And so, in the mind of a precocious 9 year-old boy, a passion for footwear was Ferragamo worked and learned everything from the ground up.  Possessing the inherent knowledge that he must know everything that goes into footwear beyond purely the artistic elements, he studied shoemaking in Naples and eventually opened his first store based out of his parent’s home.

Starting at a cowboy boot factory in Boston (who knew Boston was known for such things!) to Hollywood, Salvatore Ferragamo convinced his brothers that true success would lie in the land of Hollywood.

Success came from a mix all of Ferragamo’s own.   Basic repair matched with custom-measured shoes made the Ferragamo family designs an instant hit and at once they were on the Hollywood hot-list and in constant demand.

Audrey Hepburn and Ferragamo

Audrey Hepburn and Ferragamo

Constant demand did not satisfy this “Shoemaker to the Stars”. His shoes were beautiful creations, but were sometimes painful to wear. What he found was that there was a clash of his creative vision with the reality of foot mechanics.

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Salvatore was not content with slight modifications to his designs. Instead, he pursued the study of anatomy at the University of Southern California (source).  The artistic mind required to design footwear at a couture level is an outstanding accomplishment in and of itself.  However, the drive and intellect to want to study and to be able to understand the intricacies of the anatomy of the human foot is a level unparalleled by most other designers.

Taking this new level of understanding back to Florence in 1927, the powerful vision and bold designs caught the attention of women beyond Hollywood, even beyond Marilyn Monroe! He even designed the infamous red glittery shoes that clicked Dorothy home in the Wizard of Oz. 

Powerful international women like Eva Peron and the Maharani of Cooch Behar sought after these unique and beautiful shoes.

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So what drove these women of international acclaim to this one particular designer?

Common across all designers at the couture level is the ability to use unusual fabrics in spectacular ways.  However, unique to Salvatore Ferragamo was the shortage of traditional materials most designers take for granted, such as leather and quality skins (source).  Unconventional alternatives became a normal course of design. Crocheted cellophane, fish skins and hemp helped to create the many outrageous and unique styles that became a trademark of Ferragamo.

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Fabrics were not the only breakthrough for this designer.  The 1930’s and 40’s brought new styling’s such as the platform shoe and clear nylon and black suede heels.  Also credited with the cage heel, a new structure that offered a completely different view of an often forgotten aspect of the shoe.  A dramatic shift in styling, shapes and fabrics were not enough, Salvatore Ferragamo went one step further and broke the mold of color-in every sense of the word.  Accompanied by new dyeing techniques, Salvatore went far beyond the basic browns and black and into the vivid richness available from tropical plumage around the world.

Although the company endured financial difficulties in the 1930’s, Ferragamo managed to employ over 700 craftsmen that would turn out hundreds of handmade shoes a day.

Since his death in 1960, the Ferragamo brand has branched out to accessories like handbags, apparel, ready-to-wear clothing as well as the international expansion of the Ferragamo brand.

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Ambition, ingenuity and dare I say it, ‘pluck’ in the face of adverse creative and economic conditions delivered to the world one of the most unique and beloved designers of this century.  Through his family, the focus is on the legendary shoes, but the world is forever Ferragamo.

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