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 a young age Salvatore Ferragamo 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 9 years old he created, in only one night, his first pair of shoes for his sister’s communion, and he managed to convince his family that the shoemaker career was the best choice for him.
Later he was an apprentice in Luigi Festa’s workshop and once he finished this experience he moved to Naples to learn something new and try in a real way his abilities. After he returned to Bonito, by the age of 13, he had his own shop where he began to create shoes.
Immigration to the U.S.
Then, in 1915, he immigrated, via the ship Stampalia, to the United States to join his brothers who were already there. But in Boston, his brother-in-law, 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.
As told in his autobiography, Il calzolaio dei sogni (The Shoemaker of Dreams, Skira), 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.” Salvatore and his brothers Girolamo, Seconding, and Alfonso opened their first shop in the center of Santa Barbara.
This is the beginning of a good relationship between Ferragamo and the Film industry, which will go on even after the American experience.
Shoemaker of the Stars
At this time in Hollywood 1923, the future of the movement was beginning. The biggest stars visited his boutique, including Mary and Lottie Pickford. He created the original Ferragamo model for her in brown kidskin, “with two ears standing up in front.”
When the Film industry moved from Santa Barbara to Hollywood, Salvatore Ferragamo decided to take a risk and follow the studios in order to find new possibilities of expansion.
In 1923 he opened his new shop “Hollywood Boot Shop”, and the Hollywood stars would only feel famous if they wore Ferragamo’s shoes. Salvatore Ferragamo soon became known as the “shoemaker to the stars.”
He created pale lavender sandals for Jean Harlow, cork-shaped heels for Gloria Swanson with a lot of pearls, and slippers in multicolored satin for Lillian Gish. Also, men’s shoes for clients like Douglas Fairbanks and Rodolfo Valentino.
Also, while in California Salvatore Ferragamo studied the anatomy of the foot. After his research he came out with a revolutionary component to sustain the arch of the shoe by putting thin layers of steel in the sole in order to provide arch support, when most shoemakers only used cardboard. This piece is called cambinone. In the late 1920’s he patented this invention.
His success was due to the comfort of his shoes. After the success of this invention he went on with his studies of shoes and invented an original way to wear the shoes, which made it easier on his production.
Return to Italy
In 1927, he returned to Florence, Italy a city that represents the beauty and culture of Italy and world wide recognized as the base of craftsmanship. The same year he opened his first workshop with other artisans for the Italian production of his shoes.
Then, in 1929, during the world wide economic crisis, he faced bankruptcy and failure. 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 period, he acquired the Michelangelo style villa Il Palagio in Fiesole.
The Wedge Shoe
Salvatore Ferragamo invented the wedge shoe in cork to solve the problem of functionality during the autarchy period. To fix the problem he substituted the steel layer inside the shoe.
Ferragamo bought the perfect steel from Germany, but because of the Italian economic situation, he wasn’t able to buy it anymore, so she couldn’t make his shoes.
Ferragamo says “I started working with pieces of Sardinian cork,” Ferragamo writes, “pressing, gluing and finishing until the space between the sole and the heel was filled.”
So, the wedge was born and it became one of the most famous shoe between the 30s and 40s. Ferragamo created a lot of variations including platform heels and sculptured heels. The heels were made with various colors, or little mirrors placed like mosaics, also with brass grilles and floral motifs and studded with stones. These shoes were worn by the most famous customers.
Salvatore Ferragamo has always been focused on the use of material, even today the maison is still very particular about materials.
The beauty, comfort and longevity of a shoe depends on materials, shapes and production. Salvatore Ferragamo became famous for being able to consider all of these aspects without loosing his design.
He did not only work with luxury leathers, but also with unusual materials.
The traditional Florentine lace, paper, bark, raffia, hemp, skin of fish, and cellophane replaced, before and during World War II the more precious materials like goats, calves, and exotic crocodile. Immediately after the war, nylon and synthetic raffia appeared, and for evening wear, refined embroideries in rhinestones and glass beads offered unique solutions.
Salvatore Ferragamo’s Most Famous Clients
During the 50’s the most famous actress used to go to Palazzo Spini Feroni as kings and presidents did. Audrey Hepburn, Duke of Windsor, Greta Garbo, Anna Magnani, Paulette Goddard, Lauren Bascal, and Sophie Loren. Salvatore meet all his clients personally and was able to satisfy all requests, even the most extravagant.
Even Marilyn Monroe was a client of Salvatore Ferragamo, wearing his famous decollete with an eleven centimeter heel. The shoes were very high, but comfortable considering Ferragamo invited the particular heel half in wood and steel, which was strong and thin.
Marilyn Monroe owned a lot of Ferragamo shoes that she bought at the New York store. She used to have ballet shoes, but she preferred décolleté that gave her a feminine walk.
Brand after 1960
Once Salvatore Ferragamo died in 1960, his wife Wanda Miletti Ferragamo became the president of the maison and her six sons became responsible for the different sectors, from the creative direction to production, from distribution to the international markets and administration and finance.
Nowadays, Ferragamo’s family is leading the maison and because of this, it makes Ferragamo a very different family oriented Italian brand.
Brand Expansion From 1970s to early 2000s
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 shoe which became a best seller. Today, the Vara shoe is considered a Ferragamo iconic element.
In 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.
The French designer Marc Audibet creates the new Fall/Winter 2000-2001 collection. During this time, Leonardo Ferragamo became president of Altagamma, an association founded in 1992 and composed by 43 famous Italian brands.
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 still 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.
In 2002 Ferragamo opened a new shop in the historical center of Vienna, close to the Castle of Homburg. From 2003, they opened new stores in New York, Tokyo, Amsterdam and London.
The 2001 consolidated turnover was €641 million, and 46% came from the Far East.
The year of 2002 was full of good news and satisfaction. 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, 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…”
The same year, Ferragamo was recognized as the best brand in China. Asia was the continent where the brand used to sell more in 2002.
New Creative Director
In 2002 Donna Graeme Black was nominated as the creative director and she remained until 2007.
In 2003 Salvatore Ferragamo entered the watch market.
Since 2004 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). Also, stores in Shanghai Center (China), Paris (Avenue Montaigne), and Milan (via Montenapoleone) are re-opened after renovations. The Salvatore Ferragamo Group closed the year with a consolidated turnover of €549 million, an increase of 5% to the year before.
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. One year later, the company renewed the license with Luxottica for the production of glasses and sunglasses under the name Salvatore Ferragamo.
Later, in January of 2010 Massimiliano Giornetti, current chief creative director of menswear, becomes creative director for the womenswear line. His role lasted until 2015.
Ferragamo officially become a part of Milan stock exchange in 2011. At this time, profits rose around 70% to €103.3 millions.
Through 2013 Ferragamo focused on accessories, in addition to 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 stores in existing markets in Europe and the U.S. to boost profitability in its retail division.
Ferragamo reported a 81% rise in Net profits to €81 million in the first half of 2013. The revenues are outside the Italian market, which has struggled to emerge from recession.
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. The Asia Pacific region 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 continued to renovate 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, United States, as a strong dollar hits tourist flows, have weighed on several luxury goods companies in recent months. By contrast, Japan has a strong performance thanks to Chinese tourists. The Asia Pacific area, the biggest market, experienced a 2% increase in sales in the first nine months of 2014. Revenues were up 7% from a year earlier, thanks to a 8% increase in the fourth quarter of 2015.
In 2016 revenues total €1.438 billion.
Currently, Salvatore Ferragamo is going through major changes. In August 2016 Eraldo Poletto was appointed as CEO, who used to work for Furla. 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.
In October 2017 after the departure of Fulvio Rigoni, Paul Andrew is appointed Creative Director of the Women’s Collection.
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.
Ferragamo’s designs will live forever. The classic décolleté 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.