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The founder and his legend
The founder and his legend

Salvatore Ferragamo’s life story, which he recounts in the autobiographical Shoemaker of Dreams, published in English in 1957 and in Italian in 1971, 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.

Chiudi

The founder and his legend

The 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.
Then came the great crisis of 1929, which abruptly brought business with the US market to a standstill and forced the company to close. However, Ferragamo did not lose heart. Instead, he turned his focus to the domestic market. Within a few years, his business was performing so well that in 1936 he rented two workshops and a shop in Palazzo Spini Feroni, via Tornabuoni, Florence. Despite the economic sanctions against Mussolini’s Italy, it was during this time that Ferragamo turned out some of his most popular and widely-imitated creations, like his strong, yet light cork ‘wedges’. In 1938 these successful creations enabled him to pay the first instalment for the purchase of all of Palazzo Spini Feroni, which has been the company’s headquarters ever since. In 1940 he married the young daughter of the local doctor in Bonito, Wanda Miletti, who joined him in Florence and would bear him six children: three sons (Ferruccio, Leonardo and Massimo) and three daughters (Fiamma, Giovanna and Fulvia). 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).
When Salvatore Ferragamo died in 1960 he had achieved his lifelong dream: he had designed and made the most beautiful shoes in the world. He left it to his family to carry on and fulfil another dream that he had nurtured in his final years: transforming Ferragamo into a great fashion brand.

White Shoe, USA, 2013.
Animated short film inspired by the life and work of Salvatore Ferragamo,
in association with Fotocomic Productions.
Directed by Mauro Borrelli.

Bonito at the beginning
of the XX century.

Salvatore Ferragamo’s
workshop
in Palazzo Spini Feroni, 1937.
Archivi Alinari, Florence.

Lucio Venna,
Advertisement sketches
for Ferragamo, 1930.

Salvatore Ferragamo
with the wooden lasts of his famous
clients, 1955.
© Archivio Foto Locchi Firenze.

Salvatore Ferragamo
with Christian Dior and Irene of Hollywood
receiving the Neiman Marcus Award,
the Oscar of Fashion, 1947.

Pietro Annigoni,
Portrait of Salvatore Ferragamo,
oil on canvas, 1949.
© Archivio Foto Locchi Firenze.

Salvatore Ferragamo
presents his creation:
‘kimo’, a sandal with a coloured
leather sock.
Photograph by David Lees, 1951.

Salvatore Ferragamo
in his workshop in Palazzo Spini Feroni.
Photograph by David Lees, 1937-1938.