History, they say, is the story of past events in life, past achievements, challenges, and failures, a retrospect. Whatever it may be, it is usually intriguing and exciting to hear or read.
The Ferragamo history is eventful, rich, and interesting. It tells the story of how the ideas and dreams of a young boy evolved into a business empire and legacy—a story of discipline, faith, consistency, and hard work.
Today, the Ferragamo brand is famous for its unique, exquisite, and luxurious fashion items. Ranging from women’s and men’s footwear to Swiss-made watches to silk scarves and accessories.
This article will look at Ferragamo’s history and how it grew to become a leading company in the fashion industry.
The Beginning of the Ferragamo History
To begin this story, we have to journey back to the very beginning where it all started— Bonito, Italy.
Salvatore Ferragamo, the founder of the Ferragamo brand, was born in 1898 in the small town of Bonito in Avellino, south of Italy. He was the eleventh child of fourteen children in a poor agricultural family.
Due to poverty and limited resources, Ferragamo’s family, like most Italian families at the time, had to make their shoes themselves. This made Ferragamo fall in love with the craft of shoemaking from a very young age. However, his decision to become a shoemaker was after he made his first pair of shoes—a pair of high heels, for his sisters to wear on their confirmation.
The Move to the United States
Ferragamo went to study shoemaking for a year in Naples, and upon his return, opened a shop in his parents’ house. To further broaden his knowledge and hone his skills, he moved to Boston in the United States of America in 1914, where he worked with one of his older brothers in a cowboy shoe factory—the Queen Quality Shoe Company.
After a brief stay at the factory, Ferragamo and his brothers relocated to San Barbara and Hollywood, California. However, in Hollywood, he achieved his first success with opening a shop where he repaired and designed handmade custom shoes. These shoes soon became famous among the film stars and socialites of the era.
He also went on to study anatomy at the University of Southern California to understand how to create and design more comfortable and yet beautiful shoes.
In 1927, after spending thirteen years in the United States, Ferragamo returned to Italy, settling in Florence, where he established his workshop. This was the birth of the Ferragamo brand. In this workshop, he designed and produced handmade shoes with his focus on women’s footwear. He soon started employing the skills and expertise of the local craftsmen as they were readily available.
The rationing of manufacturing materials caused by the World War 2 saw Ferragamo experiment with readily available and new materials which were not rationed. This led him to create and design unique and iconic footwear. Ferragamo also started applying for patents for his futuristic and visionary designs.
In 1933, due to the Great Depression and the collapse of the American stock market, Ferragamo declared bankruptcy. This, however, did not stop him as he continued to grow and expand his business. By the 1950s, Ferragamo had employed over 700 artisans with over 300 handmade shoes daily production volume.
In 1937, Ferragamo could reestablish himself, purchasing the Palazzo Spini-Feroni and transforming it into a workshop. To date, the parent Ferragamo house, Salvatore Ferragamo S.p.A still operates from this building. In 1938, the first Ferragamo single-brand directly-operated stores (DOS) opened in Florence, Rome, and London.
His return to Italy did not see him lose his Hollywood clients as he continued to design and create shoes for film stars and even royalty. He made footwear for celebrities like Marilyn Monroe, Gloria Swanson, Audrey Hepburn, and Greta Carbo.
Innovations of Ferragamo
Ferragamo designed and created a lot of unique and iconic footwear. One of these was “The Rainbow,” which he designed for American actress and singer Judy Garland for her song “Over the Rainbow” in 1938. They made the heel and platform from slab-shaped corks covered in suede and the straps from gold kidskin.
Another iconic innovation by Ferragamo was “The Invisible Shoe” in 1947. Ferragamo won a Neiman Marcus award for its design. The shoe had a wedge F-shaped heel with straps made from clear filament wire or water-coloured nylon wires, making them look invisible hence the name.
Though the “Rainbow” and the “Invisible” shoes were iconic, Ferragamo’s most iconic design was, however, the “Cage heel” shoe which he designed in 1955. This shoe earned its name from the cage-like hollow heel, which, though light-weighted, was strong and durable.
In 1978, Fiamma, Ferragamo’s eldest daughter, invented the famous “Vara” ballet pumps.
Death and Family Business
In 1960, Ferragamo passed away at the age of 62 after battling liver cancer. Afterwards, his wife, Wanda Ferragamo, took over the management of the company. His six children also shared the responsibility of managing the fashion house occupying various positions.
Having watched her father’s craftsmanship intently from a very young age, Fiamma Ferragamo was in charge of the design and production of the footwear as a chief shoe designer. Under her management, the company moved from the labour-intensive practice of hand-making shoes to modern technology. Because of her creativity in footwear design, Fiamma in 1967 received the Neiman Marcus award.
Expansion of Ferragamo Management
In 1959, Giovanna, Ferragamo’s second eldest child and daughter, having studied fashion design, launched the company’s ready-to-wear ladies collections. The inspiration for her designs was classic Italian art. In the ’70s, the company soon expanded further, producing ready-to-wear apparel for men and footwear. The company also launched its silk scarves and accessories collection around that same period.
In 1985, the first Salvatore Ferragamo exhibition was opened at the Palazzo Strozzi in Florence, where they produced two hundred footwear models from 1927 to 1960. In 1986, the first Ferragamo flagship stores and DOS were opened in Asia, Hong Kong, to be precise. Soon the stores in Japan, South Korea, and China followed. In 1995, the famous and acclaimed Salvatore Ferragamo Museum was inaugurated in Florence.
Subsequently, in 1998, in collaboration with Luxottica, the fashion house introduced its Ferragamo eyewear and sunglasses collection. The first Ferragamo perfumes (Salvatore Ferragamo Pour Homme), in partnership with Bulgari S.p.A, were also launched around this time. Considering the success of the fragrances, the company acquired full ownership of the Ferragamo perfume line. As a result, they created a division for its maintenance and management. The company, in 2007, also signed a contract with the Timex Group to develop Swiss-made high-end timepieces. This was launched at Baselworld in 2008.
The management and ownership of the Ferragamo fashion house sit majorly on the shoulders of the family members – wife, children, and grandchildren. Ferragamo’s wife, Wanda, created a rule that stated that no more than three family members could work at the company, excluding in-laws entirely. This has prompted fierce competition amongst family members.
Before her death in 2018, Wanda Ferragamo was the honorary chairman of the company. Currently, Ferrucio Ferragamo is the chairman of the company.
Fiamma Ferragamo di San Giuliano, before she died in 1998, was the chief shoe designer and Vice President of the company for over forty years.
Giovanna Gentile-Ferragamo is the Vice President of Salvatore Ferragamo S.p.A. Her brother, Leonardo Ferragamo, is the Director of Salvatore Ferragamo S.p.A and the Executive Vice President of the Fondazione Ferragamo.
Massimo Ferragamo, Ferragamo’s third son, is currently the Chairman of Ferragamo USA, the chief distributor in North America. Fulvia Visconti Ferragamo was, before her death in 2018, the Deputy Chairwoman of Ferragamo Finanziaria S.p.A.
Ferragamo’s grandson, James Ferragamo, is the Director of Brand Product and Communication for the company. His cousin and Giovanna’s daughter, Angelica Visconti, heads the Global Wholesale and Travel Retail department. She is also a member of the Board of Directors.
Diego di San Giuliano, Fiamma’s son, is currently the Vice Chairman o the Ferragamo Finanziaria S.p.A. In 2016 when they introduced a new structure for the company’s creative departments, a few appointments were made:
- Paul Andrew was appointed as the Design Director for the women’s footwear line
- Guillaume Meilland, as the Design Director for the Men’s RTW
- Fulvio Rigoni, as the Women’s RTW Design Director.
In 2017 when Fulvio left the company, Paul Andrew became the creative director of the Women’s collection, and subsequently, the Creative Director for all lines.
In 2020, all executive authority exercised by Ferrucio Ferragamo was transferred to Michele Norsa as the Deputy Executive Chairman of the company.
The Ferragamo history tells a story of class, style, hard work, creativity, and consistency. The Salvatore Ferragamo fashion house is today an empire famous for its high-quality, luxurious, and comfortable products and goods made with precision and accuracy. It has grown to include a variety of luxury goods for both men and women, ranging from footwear to bags, clutches, wallets, watches, and perfumes.
Salvatore Ferragamo’s dream was to dress women from head to toe. And today, the fashion house has achieved this in style. You can learn more about Ferragamo history here.