Sunday, March 22, 2009

Salvatore Ferragamo - Shoemaker to the Stars

1938. Cork wedge platform shoe.

I have just been viewing a recent online feature on the 'future of footwear' highlighting the new season's shoes and boots on the Paris catwalk with photos of the latest pieces by Shiatzy Chen, Karl Lagerfeld, Marc Jacobs, Alexander McQueen, Jean Paul Gaultier, Christian Lacroix, and Manish Arora et al. All these wonderful creations made me think about Salvatore, the poor Italian shoemaker, who after making his first pair of shoes, for his sister, at age nine, studied his craft in Naples at 11, emigrated to Hollywood at the age of 16, and ended up making a fortune creating hand-made shoes for the stars.

1947. The 'Invisible Sandal' made with nylon thread.

He created the French toe, the Stage Toe, Roman Sandal, the Stilleto, the sculpted heel and the wedge. His platforms shoes were around long before the seventies.

His autobiography, written in 1957, 'Shoemaker of Dreams' tells the story of his passion for shoes, his rise to fame, and the beautiful women wild about his creations ... including Mary Pickford, Barbara La Marr, Greta Garbo, and Marilyn Monroe.

'I remember some of the more exotic orders: the corkscrew heels, studded with imitation pearls, for Gloria Swanson; the multicolored satin slippers for Lilian Gish, the rainbow-colored evening shoes with ankle straps and tall gold heels for Dolores Del Rio;and the serpent shoes for Esther Ralstone. These were a pair of black and gold slippers with a spike heel. To the vamp of each shoe I glued the head of a snake and their sleek, flexible bodies, with golden scales painted as life-like as I could make them, writhed halfway up her beautiful legs.'

1955. Stiletto heeled gold brocade ankle boot.

His fantastic shoes utilised a plethora of materials including diamonds & pearls, satins & silks, feathers and snake skins, snail shells, raffia, hemp, velvet, seaweed, transparent papers and glass to name just a few.

'There is no limit to beauty, no saturation point in design, no end to the materials a shoemaker may use to decorate his creations so that every woman may be shod like a princess and a princess may be shod like a fairy queen.'

Salvatore died in 1960 but the brand he created continues. 10,000 of his wonderful creations are housed in the Ferragamo Museum Collection in Florence.

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