Wanda Ferragamo's "modern" fairy tale
At the Salvatore Ferragamo Museum the exhibition "Women in Balance"
Until 18 April 2023, the Salvatore Ferragamo Museum, located inside Palazzo Spini Feroni in Florence built in 1289 by Geri Spini, banker to the pope and to the kings of France and England, hosts an original exhibition that pays homage to Wanda Miletti Ferragamo, a great woman, mother of 6, and entrepreneur.
From 1960, following the premature death of her beloved husband, Salvatore Ferragamo, Shoemaker Of Dreams as they will nickname him in Hollywood, and until her death on October 19, 2018, Mrs. Wanda was at the head of the homonymous brand, a virtuous example of balance between work and family.
As we know, history belongs to those who tell it, and this refined exhibition offers a unique opportunity to “read” the story of one of the most iconic Made in Italy brands through the eyes of Mrs. Ferragamo. Thanks to her discreet and little inclined-to-be-talked-about personality, she reveals herself in full for the first time through the various exhibition halls as an extraordinary example for the younger generations, a strong visionary and a noble and kind soul at the same time.
In addition to the basic idea (of a company), moral and cultural principles contribute to the result in order to move forward and progress, achieving notoriety and success. These principles are integrity, honesty, determination, together with professionalism, vision and passion for one’s work.(Wanda Miletti Ferragamo)
Her extraordinary vision, poetic, philosophical and managerial at the same time, can be read on display through her precious writings: the letters she used to write to her children and which today, thanks to the generosity of the family who decided to share them, can d be an inspiration to everyone.
Wanda was born in 1921 in the same small town as Salvatore Ferragamo, Bonito, in the province of Avellino, 23 years after him. In the summer of 1940, the entrepreneur returned to the village to visit his father. Salvatore is already a star, he is a friend and designs shoes for the major stars of the time, Rudolph Valentino, Gloria Swanson, Lillian Gish, Jean Harlow, Greta Garbo.
Falling in love with the shoemaker profession from an early age, Ferragamo moved to America to pursue his dreams where he gained experience in various factories, continued to study, and wanted to create the…perfect shoe. He succeeds. Thanks to anatomy classes, he invents what will be his most important patent: inside his shoes he inserts a steel plate in order to support the arch, giving the foot the possibility of moving like a pendulum achieving maximum comfort. And on this discovery, he creates his fortune.
Between Wanda and Salvatore it is love at first sight, they get married in the same year, in 1940, and despite the imminent war, a happy period begins for them, as a family, they will have six children together, and also as a company, patent after patent, success after success. Until, unfortunately, a sudden illness snatches Salvatore from the love of his family in August 1960.
Wanda is devastated, but with the support of her children, in particular Fiamma and Giovanna, the eldest, she decides not only to go ahead, but rather to transform a women’s shoe workshop into a proper fashion house, where her children could give continuity to the innovative business started by her husband Salvatore.
In particular, the exhibition recounts the period between the years ’55-’65, the fulcrum of the managerial and creative push given by Wanda to the company, but also the decade of major changes in Italy, marked by the “Economic Miracle” in which women face, often for the first time, various sectors of society. An opportunity to see some, among the many in the archive, of the cult models created by Ferragamo.
In the first room, Section 01, dedicated to some family “heirlooms”, is exhibited, for example, the Diamante suede loafer created for Diana Spencer in 1992 with a letter, written in her own hand, with which the princess personally thanks Wanda.
It is, in particular, Section 9 that offers the greatest emotions for fashion lovers. In fact, in the center of the room we find a dress created by her daughter Giovanna in 1962 in ivory satin embroidered with strings of Murano glass beads, topazes, pearls and rhinestones. All around there are sartorial creations of the time by the greatest designers such as Krizia, Roberta di Camerino, Fernanda Gattinoni, the Sorelle Fontana, Irene Galitzine.
On the wall, a dream wardrobe houses some of the Ferragamo creations designed for famous movie stars. Like the black satin décolleté with round rhinestone decoration that belonged to Marilyn Monroe, the golden ones made for the diva for the film Bus Stop or the red Swarovski rhinestones ones designed for Let’s Make Love.
Or the extremely refined sandal in kidskin and white lace embroidered in silk, glass beads and rhinestones created for Sofia Loren, the ivory laced ballerina with shell sole worn by Greta Garbo or the décolleté in kidskin and burgundy suede created for Audrey Hepburn.
…Yes, the Ferragamo boutique is, fortunately, just next door.
Salvatore Ferragamo has many patents and in his 1957 autobiography he writes: “Today in my archives I have more than 20.000 models and more than 350 patents, some of which are already in use, others will be when the world understands how wonderful these models are”. Among these, some of them have really revolutionized the world of footwear fashion such as the wedge heel, the one with the upper made from transparent threads, or in real 18-karat gold.