Salvatore Ferrragamo = shoes. The crazy, fabulous kind.

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There’s a rather unique small museum in Florence in the Palazzo Spini Feroni in piazza Santa Trinita dedicated to the masterpieces of shoewear designed by Salvatore Ferragamo. It’s the only museum of its kind of which I am aware. And where better to house a museum dedicated to the fine art of shoe design than in Florence?

Exactly.

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If you know the name, you know his shoes.

And, If you’ve lived a particularly lucky life, then maybe you’ve worn and/or perhaps even owned some of his shoes.  If you do, please treat them with the tender loving care they deserve, I beg you! Each shoe is a small masterpiece.

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The museum is located in the basement of the Palazzo, which is the grandest extant medieval palazzo in Florence in private hands and which serves as Ferragamo’s flagship-store. Ferragamo himself purchased this building in the 1930s.

If you are in Florence and you need a break from all the high culture, need a more common touch as a contrast from stludying some of the grandest achievements in the fine arts of painting, sculpture, architecture, etc., then this museum dedicated to modern era shoes is a nice place to refresh your mind from the Stendhal syndrome.

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Ferragamo led an interesting life that included a bit of the American dream, believe it or not. He was born in 1898 in the south of Italy, traditionally the poorest part of the county. He was the 11th of 14 children.  Legend has it that he made his first pair of shoes for his sister to wear at her confirmation. Even though he was only 9 years old, young Salvatore felt he had found his calling.

Salvatore studied shoe making in Naples for a year and then opened a small shoe store out of his parent’s house. He realized he could get better instruction, as well as greater opportunities, if he were to move to the United States. He was very young, very ambitious, and he emigrated to Boston in 1914 at the age of 16.

Fortunately, one of his older brothers had already moved to Boston, so young Salvatore had family and a place to live on the foreign shores. Ferragamo was a quick study and after a relatively short stint at the boot factory where his brother was employed, he convinced that brother and another one or two to move to California, the land of milk and honey and soon, thanks to the Ferragamo brothers, luxury made-to-measure shoes.

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The Ferragamo brothers set up a store first in Santa Barbara, but soon realized that Hollywood was a better location for their specific clientele. Ferragamo achieved astounding success by catering for the burgeoning film industry. Cinema supplied a natural market place for Ferragamo’s beautiful luxury goods, shoes made-to-measure. Wearing a pair of custom made Ferragamo shoes was a premier fashion statement, in part announcing that the wearer was “somebody.” His fine leather creations became prized items among the celebrities of the day.
With his thriving reputation as “shoemaker to the stars,” Ferragamo was not completely fulfilled.  He knew that his shoes were aesthetically beautiful but apparently his customers complained that some of the shoes were not comfortable to wear. Ferragamo decided that the only way he could solve the problem of providing comfort to the wearer of his shoes would be a detailed study of anatomy at the University of Southern California. Presumably, his knowledge of the anatomy of the foot allowed him to create better comfort for his customers.***  At least that is what the museum in Florence is at pains to explain to the viewer!

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In all, Ferragamo spent 13 years in the United States, returning to Italy in 1927 and he chose to settle in Florence. He was a brilliant shoe-designer as well as a brilliant businessman (although he did file for bankruptcy in 1933 from economic pressures brought on by the international depression) and he spent the next decades fashioning high-end shoes for the elite patron, many of whom traveled to Florence specifically to be fitted by the master.

His customers over the next decades included Eva Peron, Maharani of Cooch Behar, and starlets such as Audrey Hepburn and Marilyn Monroe.During these halcyon years for the Ferragamo brand, Salvatore opened a workshop on Via Mannelli and concentrated his effots in experiemtning with design, applying for patents for ornamental and utliity models and some other inventions.In the 1950s, his workshop hummed.  He had a force of around 700 expert artisans and they produced 350 pairs of handmade shoes a day.

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Ferragamo died in 1960 at the age of 62, but his name lives on as an international company, which has expanded its operations to include luxury shoes, bags, eyewear, silk accessories, watches, perfumes and a ready-to-wear clothing line. At his death his wife and later their six children ran the company. Ferragamo was always recognized as a visionary, and his designs ranged from the strikingly bizarre objet d’art to the traditionally elegant, often serving as the main source of inspiration to other footwear designers of his time and beyond.

I took the following photos a couple weeks back in the Ferragamo museum.  Please feast your eyes!

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*** I’ve been lucky enough to have several pairs of Ferragamo shoes and I have loved them all.  However, despite the fact that Ferragamo himself, and certainly the signage in his museum, believed the master had overcome the issue of achieving a high factor of comfort in some of his beautiful creations, I beg to differ.  I still have one pair of shoes that I’ve had for more than 30 years and they are almost in pristine condition because I have never been able to wear them for more than an hour at a time.  They are not extremely high heeled, but they are not truly supportive and my own arch is what keeps the shoes operational.  So, as much as I love Ferragamo and want to believe the hype about his study of anatomy and solving comfort issues, I must be honest and say, not so much.  But, I still love his shoes! and would buy another pair tomorrow if I had the need for some crazily fabulous shoes!!

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