Shoemaker of Dreams - Salvatore Ferragamo

Salvatore Ferragamo was born into a modest family in Bonito, Italy in 1898. The youngest of fourteen children, Ferragamo served as an apprentice under shoemaker Luigi Festa at a very young age before emigrating to the United States when he was 14. In the early 1920s he set up his own business making and repairing shoes in California and began working in the film industry during this time. In 1923 he opened the Hollywood Boot Shop in Los Angeles, where he made shoes for some of the most famous film stars of the time such as Douglas Fairbanks, Joan Crawford, Gloria Swanson and Pola Negri.

In 1927 Ferragamo returned to Italy and opened an atelier making bespoke shoes in Florence. He reached the height of his fame in the late 1930s thanks to his design of an orthopaedic shoe with a cork sole. The first client he showed this design to, the Duchess Visconti di Mondrone, was horrified but Ferragamo insisted that he make a pair for her, telling her to "....wear them once. If you are not complimented on them bring them back, and we will forget all about it." The Duchess wore the shoes to Mass and within weeks the wedge had become his most popular style.

Another iconic design dating from this period was the 'invisible' sandal with a transparent upper, which won Ferragamo a Neiman Marcus Fashion Award in 1947.

When Ferragamo died in 1960, he left his wife Wanda and eldest daughter, Fiamma Ferragamo, in charge of the company. Fiamma was responsible for the design, production and sales of women's shoes as well as the company's leather accessories up until the year of her death. In the early 1960s the birth of ready-to-wear, together with rising labour costs, meant that bespoke products fell from favour and consequently the company began to substitute manual labour with mechanical processes and diversify its product range to include accessories and clothing. In 1967 Fiamma won the Neiman Marcus Fashion Award, exactly twenty years after her father.

In 1978 Fiamma created the classic 'Vara' shoe with its distinctive grosgrain bow and she also came up with the idea for the famous metal clasp that is used as decoration on Ferragamo shoes, bags and clothing.

The Vara shoe is extremley popular in the vintage scene and whilst not strictly 60s, this shoe works so well with the mid sixties style. I have quite a few pairs myself (ahem, 4) and find them so comfortable to wear and extremely well made. They come in a range of widths which is perfect for me as I have very narrow feet and find it hard to get pumps that actually stay on. They are expensive but, for me, they are worth paying out for. As Marlene Ditriech once said, "shoes are more important than suits and dresses. Good shoes give elegance to your entire apperance. Buy one pair of good shoes instead of three pairs of bad quality ."

If you ever find yourself in Florence, there is a Ferragamo museum which opened at the Palazzo Spini Feroni in 1995. It contains an archive of over 10,000 footwear designs and a small collection of eighteenth and nineteenth century shoes as well as clothing and accessories.


Source: The Origins of Italian Fashion 1900 - 1945 - Sofia Gnoli

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  1. I just bought my first pair of these iconic shoes (nude Varas) to wear with my wedding dress (which I'm making from a 1963 pattern). They are so beautiful and comfortable and have that little bit of lift. Before doing a bit of research, I actually assumed the style dated back to the sixties as i know the company is old and they really do have that mid-60s look!

    What colors do you have? I'm jealous of your collection :)

    1. The Vara's are gorgeous aren't they, I love that you're making your own wedding dress - I'm sure the shoes will look great with it!

      I have black, navy and deep taupe in the calf and a patent nude pair. The nude ones aren't strictly a Vara though, they're just a block heeled flat from one of their seasonal collections. My navy ones get the most wear, I've worn them pretty much every week since I got them over a year ago.

  2. Ooh I just swoon over these shoes! Lovely to read up on the history and I thought it was great reading about the cork wedges!

  3. Oh i dream of the day i find a pair of Vara shoes in the Opp shop. so many bloggy people seem to have done so! Such a clever and talented man! thanks for the post!


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