Shoemaker of Dreams

It’s a lesser-known fact that Salvatore Ferragamo became famous not in Italy but, like many dewy-eyed ingenues, in Hollywood

Photograph courtesy Ferragamo

theessentials_masa_tThink of him as the Leonardo da Vinci of shoes. The designs of Salvatore Ferragamo are considered artistically important enough to have been the subject of exhibitions at the Palazzo Strozzi in Florence, the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, the Guggenheim in New York, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. They were scientific enough to earn him more than 350 patents for revolutionary styles, such as the gravity-defying invisible shoe and the cage heel. Today many of his footwear inventions have become commonplace. The wedge heel? Ferragamo. The platform? Ferragamo. Even basics that we take for granted, like leather-lined heels (or the “gloved arch”), can be credited to him. He was the first to use fish skin, cork, and raffia.

Since 1927, the line of the Campania-born shoemaker has been stamped MADE IN ITALY, but Ferragamo came into his own on Hollywood Boulevard, where he took over a little made-to-measure boot shop in 1923. While living in L.A. he enrolled in anatomy classes at USC, applying what he learned to develop his hallmark shoes, which were as comfortable as they were fashionable. By the 1930s, Ferragamo had garnered such a following among the motion picture elite that practically every headlining actress with a studio contract commissioned a pair of his shoes. He created soft leather ballerina flats with ankle straps for Audrey Hepburn, wedge heels for Brazilian singer Carmen Miranda, and platforms for Judy Garland. To honor his Hollywood legacy, Salvatore Ferragamo S.p.A., now run by the shoemaker’s family, recently launched Red Carpet, a custom shoe project that allows women to choose a style from seven of its most popular designs and a color from 29 shades of satin. 

Illustration by Andy Friedman.