Jan 10, 2014 | by Becky Oeltjenbruns
Our love affair with the shoe has long been documented in history – from ancient times to our post-Sex and the City world. Perhaps no other designer captured our love and appreciation for fantastic footwear better than Salvatore Ferragamo, a designer whose innovations (he held over 400 patents) made our lives more joyful. Read on as we provide a humble homage to this incredibly creative mind.
Salvatore Ferragamo was born in 1898 in Italy, received his early training in Naples, and passed away in 1960. Throughout his life and career, he made tremendous strides in shoe technology and won awards for his designs. His work really took off in 1914 when he immigrated to America, for the primary reason of studying industrial shoe-making techniques (something that the U.S. was particularly excelling in at the time and which he learned about at Queen Quality factory in Boston).
Ferragamo carried this knowledge with him to California where he worked in Santa Barbara, the original birthplace of the American film business. Positioning himself as a designer of comfort and style, he found success and obtained many commissions – even opening a Hollywood store after the industry relocated. He fashioned shoes for many stars, but Mary Pickford is often cited as his favorite foot to work with. Designs by Salvatore Ferragamo can be seen in many films such as “The Ten Commandments” of 1923 and “The Thief of Bagdad” of 1924.
In 1927, finding a lack of qualified American workers, he made his grand return to Italy. With an experienced team behind him, he was able to expand his company to Rome and London. Ferragamo continued to find inspiration from his surroundings. Material rations came in war time and he did not miss a beat, showing us that high quality use of average materials can still convey luxury. His use of cork, wood, raffia, and new plastics let him free his imagination during a time of general despair. Adding to this air of creativity, he hired Lucio Venna (a Futurist artist) to design his logo and subsequent ad campaigns.
After the second World War, everyone was looking for a fresh start and the fashion industry channeled that energy into new creations. Salvatore Ferragamo partnered with Christian Dior as they debuted their infamous “New Look” campaign in 1947. His “invisible sandals” earned him rave reviews, a Neiman Marcus Award, and embodied his constant quest for lightness in footwear. This breath of fresh air was followed by the stiletto in the 1950s, the result of a partnership with fellow shoe designer Roger Vivier. The Ferragamo family has carried his unique vision in to modern time, cementing his place in footwear history.
What is Salvatore Ferragamo famous for?
1942 – the cork wedge debuted after its 1937 patent, marrying stability with height
1946 – he patented a sole for children, credited as the earliest non-slip design
1947 – the invisible sandal created for the Christian Dior “New Look” campaign
1950s – Ferragamo worked with Roger Vivier to create the stiletto. Before heels were made of wood or leather pieces stacked, but progress in metal working took it to new heights and silhouettes
1951 – the Kimo sandal made new waves, with its interchangeable leather or satin stocking it was a shoe that could go with any dress
1954 – he created a now iconic suede ballerina shoe, with strap, for Audrey Hepburn
How do you identify vintage Salvatore Ferragamo shoes?
The first step is obvious: look for high quality craftsmanship. Feel the shoe, use your senses, and verify the label (found within the shoe). Secondly, compare it with his stylistic eras. The 1920s are characterized by decoration on the uppers, rich colors, color and material combinations (usually fabric with leather). His work in the 1930s had curved uppers and drew inspiration from the art deco artistic movements of the day. Naturally, during WWI his firm saw decreased production. His designs after the 1930s focus on symmetry and balance.
Cause A Frockus would like to thank their tremendous resources: the Ferragamo website, Voguepedia, Wikipedia, the lovely people who post their images without restriction, “Shoes: A History from Sandals to Sneakers” edited by Giorgio Riello and Peter McNeil, “Shoes A-Z: Designers, Brands, Manufacturers, and Retailers” by Jonathan Walford, and “Footwear Design” by Aki Choklat.
For our readers: Do you own a pair of vintage Ferragamo’s? What do you love about them and how do you feel pairing them with your favorite outfits?