The history of Salvatore Ferragamo is, rather curiously for an Italian leather goods brand, inexorably intertwined with the Golden Age of Hollywood; having left Naples aged just 17 years old, the shoe designer set up shop on Hollywood Boulevard just as the film industry relocated there. So enchanted were the leading ladies of the era by his combined craftsmanship and Italian charm that, as he recalls in his autobiography, “I captured virtually the entire theatrical trade, and my shoes were on the feet of the most fabulous movie stars in the world, on the feet of dancers, on the feet of dancers, showgirls, bit-players, directors, and producers….”
Among the likes of Clara Bow, Rita Hayworth and Ava Gardner, three of the women who proved most influential to establishing his young business were Gloria Swanson, Joan Crawford and Mary Pickford, each of whom commissioned him to create custom shoes for them, wore his designs on screen, and subsequently thrust his name into the spotlight. Now, in conjunction with a new exhibition about Ferragamo’s relationship with the period opening at Museo Salvatore Ferragamo, three of the original 1920s styles they loved are being reissued: here Vogue takes a look at the story behind each.
“Early on in his career, the director D.W. Griffith suggested that Salvatore Ferragamo run a beauty competition for the best feet, ankles and legs in Hollywood,” explains Stefania Ricci, the head of the Ferragamo archive who has been responsible for excavating styles and stories to display at the msueum. “The first prize was a six month film contract with Griffith and the second and third prize would be shoes from Ferragamo.”
According to Ricci, Gloria Swanson “was one of the most important clients for Salvatore Ferragamo… [he] created the corkscrew heels studded with imitation pearls especially for her.” The Bella style – a black brushed calfskin pump with a co-ordinating ankle strap, and decorated with a Nappa leather bow – was worn by Swanson in Raoul Walsh’s 1928 film, Sadie Thompson, which was critically acclaimed despite its controversial subject matter (Swanson plays a jazz-loving “fallen woman”).
A closed-toe suede shoe with a toe-cap and double calfskin straps, the Assoluta appeared in assorted different incarnations throughout Ferragamo’s career – but this particular style appeared in a 1929 photograph of silent film star Mary Pickford with her husband Douglas Fairbanks.
Besides offering long-standing fashion inspiration, what the image proves is that Ferragamo’s designs were made to be worn: his various styles related to women’s needs and were crafted with comfort at their core (an unusual approach for the time). “I constructed my revolutionary lasts which, by supporting the arch, make the foot act like an inverted pendulum,” he wrote in his autobiography. Thank you, Salvatore.
Salvatore Ferragamo’s capsule collection is released in line with Italy in Hollywood, on until 10th March 2019 at Museo Ferragamo.