There is no limit to beauty, no saturation point in design, no end to the material.
Shoes = Scarpe; footwear in general = calzature
Second only to the Catholic Church and probably tied with la mamma and spaghetti in national importance, shoes are to Italian cultural identity what designer jeans are to the Americans.
It’s not just the fashion statement a shoe makes, however ... it’s how the shoe fits that makes Italian shoes the gold standard in footwear. We have no doubt Cinderella’s glass slipper was “Made in Italy.”
After Rome’s sandal manufacturing business—for gladiators, senators, et al—tapered off, Florence rose to power as the shoe design capital of Europe. Generations of fine shoemakers have kept the fashion renaissance current and the styles in demand around the world. If one name stands out in recent history, it has to be Salvatore Ferragamo, creator of the cork wedge and purveyor of gorgeous footwear to Hollywood’s leading ladies of the 1930s, 40s, and 50s, Greta Garbo, Audrey Hepburn , and Marilyn Monroe among them.
Salvatore’s interest in ladies shoes started as a young lad in Naples, where he apprenticed to a shoemaker at the age of 11. Two years later he had his own shop in nearby Bonito, and at 14 he set sail for America, joining his brother at a footwear company in Boston. Right away he saw that the modern, mass-producing machinery had its limitations and he moved to Santa Barbara, California to join another brother. With the rise of Hollywood and cinema, Salvatore began to design shoes for the industry while attending the university in Los Angeles and studying human anatomy and mathematics. His goal was to design a “shoe which fits perfectly.” In 1923 he opened the Hollywood Boot Shop and began “building” his made-to-measure shoes for individual movie stars. It launched him as an unparalleled designer. When the demand was so high that he couldn’t keep up, he returned to Italy, to Florence, where making shoes by hand was the tradition. From here, he exported his shoes to the U.S., personally supervising the handiwork of his skilled employees. The rest, of course, follows the heels of history, and even now, more than 50 years after his death, the Ferragamo shoe is legend.
The Palazzo Spini Feroni, which faces the Arno River on Via Tornabuoni, was built in 1289 by Geri Spini, a merchant and banker to Pope Boniface VIII. Ferragamo purchased the building in 1938, establishing company headquarters and his workshop here. The Italian flagship store, for both footwear and fashion, is also located in the palazzo. In 1995 the Ferragamo family opened the Museo Ferragamo, located on the basement level, to the public. The collection on display encompasses Salvatore’s designs from 1927, when he returned to Italy, until his death in 1960. Lovers of footwear and fashion in general—in fact, even all-occasion, no-nonsense athletic shoe wearers— are in for a real treat.
Salvatore’s technical achievements in the business and his dedication to fitting the foot properly are exemplary, not to mention the attention to fabrics and materials chosen for the aesthetic component: silver, gold, and bejeweled leather straps; brilliantly colored, embroidered silks; studded heels; and the famous cork wedge, which made yet another return to international foot fashion just this past year. There are the practical styles, or, in the case of Salvatore, the stylishly practical ... the flamboyant, which seem more appropriate to characters from far-eastern folktales ... and there are even shoes made from candy wrapper paper during material shortages during World War II. The exhibits rotate and draw from the 10,000-plus models housed in the archives.
There is almost always something special going on at Museo Ferragamo, too. Now through January 28, 2013, a major exhibition titled simply, “Marilyn,” pays tribute to the diva 50 years after her death. A series of iconic portraits, taken by numerous famous photographers, are juxtaposed to famous works of art—where Marilyn's poses and expressions reflect those such as Botticelli’s Venus, for example.
Palazzo Spini Feroni, Florence
(Entrance at 5 Piazza Santa Trinita)
Hours: Wednesday through Mondays 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Closed Tuesdays and December 25, January 1, May 1, and August 15.
5 €. All Museum admission proceeds are donated annually to finance scholarships for young footwear designers.
Planning a vacation in Florence?
Parker Villas' "Casa della Santa" apartment, located in the historic heart of Florence, is perfect for one couple, and comfortably cozy for two. Save on your stay by sharing and treat yourself to some fabulous shopping (located right around the corner)!