Words: Srishti Hemmady
Image Courtesy: Salvatore Ferragamo

‘Ferragamo was a true testament to what happens when you take charge of your life and chase your dreams with vigour’


All the well-seasoned actors and actresses of acclaimed fame sprint around in sheer merriment. They are on set with their feet adorned in couture footwear that usually ends up going home with them. The roaring 30’s in the Hollywood industry was revolutionized by one man who owned a quaint little repairing and made-to-measure shoe shop. More than 350 plus patents later, several ateliers, a grand museum to his name and some of the most groundbreaking inventions that won him the prestigious Neiman Marcus Award, his empire kick-started a journey where there was no stopping his sky-high ambitions and his prowess. Salvatore Ferragamo came from a humble background, born and raised in the tucked-away town of Bonito, Campania in Italy. Being the eleventh amongst fourteen of his siblings, everyone around him worked closely with several types of art and crafts. Italy was at that time, brimming with upcoming designers and shoemakers who created quality products, catapulting Italy into the spotlight for their pure and high-end craftsmanship.

His first brush with making shoes was when his sister needed an elegant pair for her confirmation. Working on his first ever pair tirelessly, making detailed patterns and designs, it resulted in an experience no other nine year old would usually have. Ferragamo had an innate sense of creating things that had never been seen before and he seemed to know instinctively how to channel his passion and went full throttle. Ferragamo set his heart on making shoes for a lifetime. His family encouraged him to make an account of all his sketches, designs and what would be today, defined as true blueprints of inventions. Delving into the business right away, one out of the two brothers of Ferragamo, who was working in Boston at a cowboy boot factory, helped him get a stint at the ‘Queen Quality Shoes Company’ in the year 1914. Ferragamo, young and hungry to learn, grabbed the opportunity and thought he was lucky to have this chance. Resulting in a total let down, the experience made him realize that the mass-produced shoes from America were no good.

Ferragamo at his first atelier at Palazzo Spini Feroni, Italy
3D wooden foot structures of the celebrity clientele in the Ferragamo Museuem

The footwear wasn’t well made and he wanted to be the change. Ferragamo early on understood the flaws that existed at that time in the process of shoemaking and swiftly decided to take matters into his own hands. Next stop for Ferragamo was starting his own modest boot shop, and what better place than being next to a set where several films were being shot day in and out. Convincing his elder brothers, he made a shift with them across the city because he had found his calling and wanted to get up and get going. Before one even knew, Ferragamo was a phenomenon in California. His boot shop helped people create a one of a kind, personalized and a made-to-measure pair of footwear. They didn’t stop at only creating but also helped mend and repair shoes. Some actors and actresses were quick to take note from their sets. As the orders poured in, Ferragamo started catering to men’s footwear too. Soon, he became a part of the ‘American Film Company’.

Shoes made at the Ferragamo Factory.
Handcrafted made-to-measure footwear from the brand.

A ‘Shoemaker to the Stars’ was born as he is fondly called even today. But he decided to head back to his hometown for a while, shifting his base workshop to Florence. He spent a lot of his focus on building, structuring and engineering patterns. Ferragamo went on to study human anatomy, mathematics, and chemical engineering in depth to understand the subtle nuances in shoemaking. The World War II proved to be a tough time for Ferragamo. Running out of resources and materials, he didn’t let this deter him. Using what he could avail easily, he kept going at the same pace and tried selling shoes nonetheless. In the year 1938, he bought the Palazzo Spini Feroni to hire more than 700 artisans to work full-time on creating exquisitely handcrafted footwear. His inventions, a ‘Cork Wedge Heel’ and ‘Invisible Sandal’ won him accolades and a Neiman Marcus Award Ferragamo was soaring high, and who better to narrate his share of struggles and successes other than himself. In 1975, he penned an autobiography ‘Shoemaker of Dreams’ describing his artisanship and his love for handmade footwear. Shoes were being produced at double the rate and the entire family came together to help him extend his line of work.

The eponymous brand started creating silk scarves with Italian inspirations as motifs. Oxfords, monk straps, moccasins, and loafers were some of the signature shoes that were created for men. Right from engraved belts to a full-blown fashion collection, ‘Ferragamo for Men’ flourished. Their unique ‘switch belt’ was the perfect addition to a man’s wardrobe. Modern-day celebrities like Michael Jordan, James Franco, Ben Affleck and Robert Downey Jr have been known to don Ferragamo footwear and clothing. Salvatore Ferragamo soon bid farewell after having witnessed all the success the brand could possibly receive.

Ferruccio Ferragamo, the eldest son, now runs the company alongside his mother, Wanda Ferragamo.

Today, the ‘Salvatore Ferragamo Museum’ in Italy stands tall and proud showcasing its Italian culture that Ferragamo inculcated in his designs. All the archives, sketches, and patterns have been documented impeccably. Wanda Ferragamo took over the business along with her son and daughter Fiamma di San Giuliano Ferragamo, who went on to win a Neiman Marcus Award like her father did, for an original ‘Vara’ design which still happens to be the best selling product. The design house today has smoothly streamlined its products but it still remembers its Godfather whose brilliance was compared to none, and who built shoes like no other.