A hundred years have elapsed since Salvatore Ferragamo opened his first store in Hollywood in 1923, across from Grauman’s Egyptian Theater, confirming the success that he had reached in the United States where he had emigrated in 1915. In its main hall, the Egyptian Theater hosted theatrical performances and all the Hollywood premiers, including The Ten Commandments directed by Cecil B. DeMille, who asked Ferragamo to design and make the shoes for the main characters. From that moment on, the young Italian would be known as the “Shoemaker to the Stars” and would become a major player in international fashion, and Ferragamo’s production would diversify into three lines: shoes for the movies, for the theatre and for the ballet.
To commemorate this special anniversary, the new Museo Ferragamo exhibition, Salvatore Ferragamo 1898-1960, recounts the illustrious artisan’s story, like the first Salvatore Ferragamo retrospective held in 1985 at Palazzo Strozzi, which then travelled to other prestigious venues, such as the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, the Museum Bellerive in Zurich, the Los Angeles County Museum in California, the Sogetsu Kai Foundation in Tokyo and the Museo des Bellas Artes in Mexico City. The earlier Ferragamo exhibition ushered in a new way of seeing fashion as a conduit for a cultural message brimming with value and meaning. While Salvatore Ferragamo 1898-1960 covers the same time period as the previous exhibition – from 1898, when Ferragamo was born, to his premature death in the summer of 1960 – the two exhibitions offer different perspectives and content.
In the previous exhibition, the shoes made by Ferragamo were displayed chronologically as artworks, with very little reference to the creative and social context in which they had been designed. Today, these creations are presented not only to highlight their aesthetic value but also as artifacts attesting to their creator’s skills as an entrepreneur and innovator, his passion for colour, knowledge of the anatomy of the human skeleton and specifically the foot, fine craftsmanship, exploration of new materials and many sources of inspiration from the art world and ancient and contemporary culture, all of which distinguished Salvatore Ferragamo’s work and life.
That first exhibition in 1985 led to the Ferragamo Archive, a home for the products and documents that bear witness to the Ferragamo company’s journey and the people who have played a prominent part in its story. In 1995, it led to Museo Ferragamo, a museum that conserves and promotes the story of the brand and its founder through meetings, publications, workshops and exhibitions meant to convey the experience and testimony of the past in the present, sparking and influencing conversations and reflections on contemporary issues.
This project is the culmination of a study that not only traces back over the life and work of Salvatore Ferragamo but also examines the role of the corporate museum and the curating that accompanies it. It touches on intersections that, on one hand, highlight Ferragamo’s contribution to the rebirth of craftsmanship and the emergence of a Made in Italy movement in the post-war period and, on the other, emphasize how Italian design, expressed through, inter alia, Ferragamo shoes, owes its success to the masterful union of decorative and artisanal tradition, functionality and technological innovation.
The study of Salvatore Ferragamo’s personal library has fuelled new reflections. The publications in his collection reveal an undeniable and innate ability to perceive society’s more progressive messages, along with a philosophy of life and work that underscore a deep, broad understanding of the world governed by a unique and universal divine knowledge.
In this way, Museo Ferragamo, as an institution in the fashion world - a complex and versatile system in and of itself - has conveyed its mission of preserving the vital, dynamic dialogue between the company and its public. This project is a summary of these steps, juxtaposing the objects, documents, thoughts and inspiration with the original exhibition that first generated all these materials and, consequently, inspired reflection.
Salvatore Ferragamo 1898-1960 is therefore much more than an exhibition. It is a film reel of our past, a step back to explore the role of a museum and the curating that accompanies it.