- The Life of Salvatore Ferragamo
- Brand Expansion From 1970s to early 2000s
- World-Wide Expansion
- World-Wide Expansion Continued
- Recent Years
- Financial Evolution
- Current Scenario
Salvatore Ferragamo (1898-1960). Famous Italian shoemaker. The 11th, out of 14 children, born in Bonito. A small village about 160 miles from Naples, from which emigration to America was often a necessity. At the age of 9 Salvatore, who left school in the third grade, created his first pair of shoes out of white cardboard for his sister’s first Holy Communion. From a young age he had clear ideas and wanted to become a shoemaker. Although, in southern Italy a shoemaker is one of the humblest professions, his parents, despite their poverty, were not happy with his choice.
At age 11 he was an apprentice in Luigi Festa’s workshop in Bonito, and by the age of 13 he had his own shop where he began to create women’s shoes. His workshop was located at home in a space between the front door and the kitchen, with the shop window facing a church. With five workers, of whom the oldest, was 18.
Then, in 1914, at age 16, he immigrated, via the ship Stampalia, to the United States to join his brothers who were already there. Girolamo was a tailor, Secondino a carpenter, and Alfonso ironed clothes in the tailor’s shop of the American Film Company in Santa Barbara. But in Boston, his brother-in-law Joseph Covelli, had already found him a job at the Queen Quality Shoes Company. They produced thousands of shoes a day, soles and heels in half a second, and one minute for sewing. Anyone would have been thankful for such a job, but not the young Salvatore. He had a more noble idea of the shoemaker’s profession. He couldn’t stand those machines. He exclaimed, “They made shoes that were heavy, clumsy, and squat, with a toe shaped like a potato and a leaden heel.” He left the factory, joined his brothers in Santa Barbara, and convinced them to combine their small savings and invest in a shoe repair shop. As told in his autobiography, Il calzolaio dei sogni (The Shoemaker of Dreams), Salvatore immediately understood that California, with its fast-growing film industry, would be the Promise Land.
It all started when the property manager at the American Film Company complained about the boots worn in the western movies. He believed, if they were easy to wear, the styling was no good, if the style was attractive, they hurt the feet of the actors. Ferragamo offered his services and produced boots for the manager. This was a success and the director Cecil B. De Mille said, “We would have won the West sooner if we had had your boots.” It was the start of Ferragamo’s career.
At this time in Hollywood 1923, the future of the “Made in Italy” movement was beginning. The biggest stars visited his boutique, including Mary Pickford. He created the original Ferragamo model for her in brown kidskin, “with two ears standing up in front.” Suddenly, stars of cinema in California, would only feel like stars if they were wearing shoes made by the “Italian shoemaker.” So, he soon became known as the “shoemaker to the stars.” He created pale lavender sandals for Jean Harlow, cork-shaped heels for Gloria Swanson, and slippers in multicolored satin for Lillian Gish. Also, loafers for both Douglas Fairbanks and Rudolf Valentino.
During the time of WWII there was a scarcity of materials, which fed his talents for new inventions. He used the strangest materials, including crystal, embroidery, feathers, kangaroo, antelope, sea leopard, and fish skins. This set him apart from other designers. Also, while in California he studied the anatomy of the foot and patented a system of putting thin layers of steel in the sole of the shoe in order to provide arch support. His success was due to the comfort of his shoes.
Later, he returned to Florence, Italy in search of good artisans and opened his first workshop in 1927 with 60 workers. Then, in 1929, during the Great Depression, he faced bankruptcy. Ferragamo didn’t despair, and soon made a comeback. By 1938 he was able to acquire the Palazzo Spini Feroni on via Tornabuoni, which is today still the headquarters of the company. In that same year, he acquired the Michelangelo style villa Il Palagio in Fiesole.
Salvatore Ferragamos popularity continued. Maria José walked to the altar wearing his shoes. Mussolini, who suffered from corns and chilblains, wore his boots. The Maharani of Cooch Behar came and ordered 100 pair. From New York, Paris, and London came the ladies who wear Chanel and Schiaparelli. For evening sandals, he invented an upper in transparent paper. At this time, using steel for arch support was poor quality. So, he created the most iconic shoe of the century. It was an orthopedic model of a platform shoe, and people called it the wedge. It was made with a cork heel, that filled in the entire space formed by the arch of the foot. The model was a success, it sold everywhere. It marked a new era and immediately became a symbol of style at this time.
Then, in 1940 he married Wanda Miletti, a 18-year-old girl from his hometown who was the daughter of the local doctor and mayor. She would be the mother of his six children: Fiamma (died in 1998), Ferruccio, Giovanna, Fulvia, Leonardo, and Massimo. All worked in important positions within the company after the premature death of their father in 1960. After his death, Wanda, his wife, took over the company.
Salvatore left behind a company which was the symbol of the creativity and productivity in Italy. With 20,000 models and 350 patents. An infinite number of models marked different epochs, times, and fashions. Through the 50s Greta Garbo, Audrey Hepburn, Marilyn Monroe, Judy Garland were considered the “It Girls” of Ferragamo. These women represented the beginning of the brands icon, which are still used today. The brand continues to use the “It Girl” in their brand language to communicate with the customer, and build brand image.
Ferragamo was famous for the creation of the wedge heel, French toe, platform heel, stage toe, the Roman sandal, the shell shaped sole, invisible nylon model, and the sculpted heel, shaped like the prow of a battleship. Also, you can’t forget the gloved arch shoe created for Maharani of Cooch Behar in 1938. Salvatore left a business that his heirs have carried forward, always remaining faithful to his professional standards and not just defending the status quo.
During the 1970s, thanks to the initiative and preparation of Wanda, president of the company, the brand expanded and started offering total look collections. With fashion collections, men’s lines, perfumes, and eyeglasses, all of which gradually conquered the market. In 1978 his daughter, Fiamma, designed the Vara ballet shoe which became a best seller. Today, the Vara style ballet shoe is considered a Ferragamo iconic element.
In July 1996, Ferragamo acquired Emanuel Ungaro, a luxury menswear line. Two years later the company turnover reached 850 billion liras, most of which came from Europe, U.S., the Far East, Africa, and Oceania. The company had 40 privately owned boutiques, plus several exclusive points-of-sale. Also, several of Salvatore’s grandchildren worked in the company. Following the birth of the Salvatore Ferragamo Museum, in Palazzo Spini Feroni, the company has committed itself to art exhibits and cultural activities, not just as a sponsor or patron. In 1999 the French designer Marc Audibet creates the new Autumn-Winter 2000-2001 collection. During this time, they appointed a new creative director of the menswear line, Massimiliano Giornetti.
In 2001 the company introduced its world-wide expansion plans, created by architect Michael Gabellini, to renovate, or open, a total of 100 boutiques. The renovations were to gain a more sophisticated architectural style. A new store opens in Korea, in a prestigious commercial area of Seoul. The store occupies a four-storey building with a garden-terrace on the roof. And by 2003 new stores will open in New York, Tokyo, and London. They ended 2001 with €641 million in consolidated revenues, 46% coming from the Far East.
In May 2001 Leonardo Ferragamo becomes president of Altagamma, an association founded in 1992 with 43 prestigious Italian companies as members.
The year of 2002 was full of good news and satisfaction. The company was acknowledged as the best brand of the year in China, where the label sells the most product. Then, beginning in June, Ferragamo starts a joint venture with Ermenegildo Zegna for the launch of the new brand Zefer, which ended later in 2013.
Later in October Wanda Ferragamo, the president of the company, is named “Woman Entrepreneur of the Year” by the “Committee of 200,” an organization that each year recognizes the top women managers and entrepreneurs all over the world. The ceremony took place in New York. The citation: “For success in the transformation of a shoe factory into an international luxury concern, in which the family maintains total control of its own flourishing business…”
At this time, Graeme Black became the new creative director of womenswear. The collection for Winter 2003-2004 experiments with shapes, volumes, and combinations. It interprets with common sense colors and references inspired by the Russia of St. Petersburg. Recalling Constructivist art and a certain nostalgia for decadent opulence and taste reinterpreted in a very modern way. There were precious fabrics and ornaments, brocades, inlays with strong visual impact, and irreverent combinations such as a crocodile jacket with jeans. The accessories included cartoon-like floral and mother-of-pearl-covered platform shoes, that even would have pleased Salvatore, the founder. As well as incredible bags made of snake-skin decorated with small silver coins.
Since 2002 the worldwide expansion plan is well under way. The distribution network had 16 new points-of-sale, including the important new boutiques in Osaka, Hong Kong (Pacific Place), Tokyo (Ginza Chou Dori), Amsterdam, and the historic center of Vienna, near the Hofburg castle. Also, stores in Shanghai Center (China), Paris (Avenue Montaigne), and Milan (via Montenapoleone) are re-opened after renovations.
In May of 2003 Ferragamo’s releases its very latest sunglasses, called the Maharani. These are special because they are inspired by the celebrated jeweled-sandal created in far off 1938 for the Maharani of Cooch Behar.
The Salvatore Ferragamo group ends the year with a consolidated turnover of €549 million, a 5% increase compared to 2003. Also, sales in Japan continue to increase. With 20% of their turnover there, a new flagship is opened in the heart of one of Tokyo’s most fashionable neighborhoods.
In 2004 Wanda Ferragamo is named Knight of the Big Cross by the president of Italy. In May of 2005, as part of the Fashion Project of the Province of Florence, with attendance by a large international public, Palazzo Strozzi hosts the fashion show in a memorable evening organized by Beppe Modenese. Then, starting in June 2005, Ferragamo Finanziaria enters a long-term agreement with the Porsche Design group to foresee the production and distribution of shoes, bags, and leather accessories.
In 2006 new shops in Via Condotti were opened in Rome and Frankfurt. In November of the same year, Michele Norsa became Ferragamo’s new CEO. His managerial mind led the company to expand more and more, exploring new markets such as India, Latin America and Thailand. A year later, after a new CEO, Cristina Ortiz, was appointed as creative director for the womenswear line from 2007 and stayed till 2010.
In 2008 Salvatore Ferragamo company celebrates their 80th anniversary with an exhibition in Shanghai. Later, in January of 2010 Massimiliano Giornetti, current chief creative director of menswear, becomes creative director for the womenswear line. So, at this time, Giornetti was holding a lot of creative power in Ferragamo being the creative director for both women’s and menswear lines.
They officially become a part of Milan stock exchange in 2011. At this time, the growth in Europe is positively driven by wealthy Asian travelers shopping in Europe and the group’s wide retail presence in China. Profits rose around 70% to €103.3 millions.
Through 2013 Ferragamo focused on accessories, rather than footwear. In early October, they began to target a younger generation by using an “innovative” digital campaign and revamping physical stores. Also, continuing to renovate older stores in existing markets in Europe and the U.S. to boost profitability in its retail division.
Ferragamo reported a 26% rise in gross operating profits (EBITDA) to €131 million in the first half of 2013. The revenues are outside the Italian market, which has struggled to emerge from recession, and sells a higher-margin of leather goods, apart from shoes. China is still a growing market for Ferragamo, but going through a tough time.
Their world-wide expansion plan are a success. As of 31 December 2014, the Salvatore Ferragamo Group has posted total revenues of €1.332 million and a 5.9% increase at current exchange rates. At this time, political tensions in Russia and Ukraine reduced the number of shoppers traveling from the region to Europe lead to decreasing number of sales in some cities through Europe. In terms of the Asia Pacific region, China is the best performer with 37.2% of sales.
Salvatore Ferragamo open new shops in less well-known cities Yantai in China, Surabaya in Indonesia, and Cartagena in Colombia. They continue to renovate older stores in Europe and U.S. including Miami and Rome. Also, they reopened in San Francisco, on the west coast of America which is a popular destination for holidaying Chinese shoppers.
Salvatore Ferragamo continues to meet challenges due to a weaker euro, lower oil prices, and economic weakness in China. Also, US. Economic growth in China has slowed more than expected, and the United States, as a strong dollar hits tourist flows, have weighed on several luxury goods companies in recent months. Hong Kong deteriorated further in the third quarter. By contrast, Japan has a strong performance thanks to Chinese tourists.
Asia Pacific, the biggest market, experienced a 5% decline in sales in the first nine months of 2015. Revenues were up 1.3% from a year earlier, thanks to a 2.1% increase in the fourth quarter.
In 2016 revenues total €1.438 billion. There are increasing number of travelers shopping in places like airports, leading to expanding stores in main locations such as Dubai, Helsinki and Quito. New shops were planned also in cities like Copenhagen, Berlin, and New York.
The situation in china is not yet get recovered because of the falling oil prices and global security threats affecting tourist spending. But sales grow particularly in the United Kingdom and the United States, and push for e-commerce in Asia.
Currently, Salvatore Ferragamo is going through major changes. In August 2016 Eraldo Poletto was appointed as CEO. Who is credited for doubling the sales at the accessibly-priced handbag maker, Furla, in the last five years. Also, 3 new creative directors have been hired after the departure of Massimiliano Giornetti. This includes Guillaume Meilland for menswear, along with Paul Andrew for Women shoes, and Fulvio Rigoni for Woman’s-Ready-to-Wear. The brand now focuses on creating unique and exciting campaigns to bring back its positioning of industry leader it once had in the WWII era. Now, the Ferragamo “It Girl” is Lily Aldridge, and appears in their 2017 campaign.
Ferragamo’s designs will live forever. The classic ballet flat is always in style and most women’s go to shoe. The brand is known as the exemplary ideal shoe for women. It strives to be excellent in terms of quality, by keeping the production, and standard of craftsmanship, exceptional.