Wanda Miletti Ferragamo from August 1960 until her death on 19 October 2018, at the age of 97, was the intelligent and steadfast leader of the Salvatore Ferragamo company.

Wanda was born on 18 December 1921 in the small town of Bonito in the Irpinia region of Italy, which was also Salvatore’s birthplace. Her father Fulvio was a doctor. A stern man devoted to the Secular Franciscan Order, he shaped Wanda’s upbringing, and she would frame her life around her father’s principles of moral integrity, modesty, balance and religious faith. Her mother, Giovanna Pellegrino, came from a family of merchants and landowners in Ariano di Puglia. She was fond of music, an excellent administrator of the family’s assets and a talented cook who passed on her love of cooking, shared by many women in Southern Italy, to her daughter.

Wanda suffered two life-altering losses as a teenager. During a football match her brother fell into a well and died. Her grief-stricken mother died soon after. This is why, of her life in Bonito, Wanda preferred to remember only the summer of 1940 when she met Salvatore Ferragamo, who had come to pay a visit to her father. The shoemaker was a celebrity and the young woman, as she greeted him, commended him for his contribution to feminine elegance. Salvatore was struck by her words and decided then and there that she would be his wife, despite the difference in their ages. Wanda was not yet 19; Salvatore was 42. On 9 November 1940, the two were married at the Santa Lucia church in Naples and travelled to their home in the Florentine hills after their honeymoon.


The births of their two daughters, Fiamma and Giovanna, filled their home with joy, although the war created uncertainty about the future. The couple’s first son, Ferruccio, was born on 8 September 1945. The years of post-war reconstruction were a time of growth for both the city of Florence and the Ferragamo family. Borders reopened and international trade resumed. Three more children were born, Fulvia, Leonardo and Massimo. The family grew, as did Salvatore’s business commitments and travel. Wanda experienced the life of the company through her husband’s stories and special occasions, such as when Audrey Hepburn came to Florence in 1954 to order a few pairs of shoes from the famous shoemaker.

In 1958, after returning home from a trip to Australia, Salvatore began showing symptoms of a serious illness. Fiamma, his eldest daughter, gave up her studies of the Classics to join him in the business, learning everything she needed to know about shoes by her father’s side. Giovanna also left high school to take a course in fashion at the Lucrezia Tornabuoni School in Florence. In 1959, she would design her first clothing collection and present it at the Plaza Hotel in New York City.

Salvatore died in Forte dei Marmi on 7 August 1960. Wanda was devastated and worried about the future, although the workers at the funeral tried to reassure her, “We can do it, you’ll see. We’ll help you.” She had never worked outside the home, and years later people would ask her how she did it. “I don’t know,” she answered. “Women are, in a way, the keepers of the affection that sustains the relationship. Gradually I found the energy I needed to move forward. I had only ever taken care of my family and suddenly I had to see to everything. Management, restocking, technical issues, tracking expenditure. I believe that all of us women, or nearly all of us, could easily run a company if we’re already able to judiciously run a household.”

Salvatore left many ideas unfinished and they had to be developed, like adapting his production and fit systems, rigorously based on a handcrafting process, to meet growing market demand, which required the use of machines. Jerry, Salvatore’s nephew and the one Salvatore had taught all the technical aspects of shoemaking, was responsible for bringing Ferragamo shoes into the era of industrial production.


Wanda Miletti Ferragamo, with her husband Salvatore, at the piano in villa Il Palagio, Fiesole, 1951


The Ferragamo family on the roof of palazzo Spini Feroni, 1983. in front: Fiamma, Wanda, and Fulvia; behind: Giovanna, Leonardo, Ferruccio, and a mannequin

With the support of her daughters and a few employees, Wanda intensified the development plan her husband had begun. In 1961, she finalised Gilio, the first Ferragamo perfume, and had the first silk scarf printed in Como. The scarf had been designed by Salvatore with the artist Alvaro Monnini and marked the start of the company’s silk accessory production, which would grow into its own when the Ferragamos’ third daughter, Fulvia, decided to join her mother in the business in 1971. Expansion into new product divisions led to the transformation of production, communication and investment strategies, and Wanda was always at the helm. She relied on her intuition to find the best location for a new store, analyse the local clientele and competition, study the product offer and design training for salespeople, deciding how they should present themselves and even how the merchandise should be arranged in the displays.

In 1963, Ferruccio joined the family business with a training program that entailed working in the various divisions, from logistics to shoe production to retail operations until 1970 when he became general manager, before being named managing director in 1984. New production lines were rolled out for small leather goods and bags in 1965 under Fiamma’s direction and, over the course of the 1970s, the Ferragamo brand consolidated its position, building up its image by expanding production further with the arrival of Fulvia and Leonardo, respectively responsible for the new silk accessories and menswear divisions.

The 1980s were an extremely successful decade for Made-in-Italy fashion, which Ferragamo epitomises through its history, the distinctive style of its products and its artisanal tradition. International sales grew sharply, especially on the US and Asian markets. The growth in US sales was also driven by the work of Massimo, Wanda and Salvatore’s youngest son, who in 1982 moved to New York to work for the family’s commercial company, Moda Imports, whose mission was to expand the Ferragamo brand on the US market. Ferragamo Hong Kong was established four years later to promote the brand’s vast range of products in Hong Kong and China. By the end of the decade, Ferragamo was a well-established brand with managers recruited from outside the family and a strategy geared towards strengthening its market position and image. This was the prelude to Ferragamo’s stock market listing and the arrival of a managing director from outside the family in the decades that followed.

In her later years, Wanda turned her attention outwards. She was particularly interested in young people and believed they need to be educated to understand the social and economic circumstances in which they live. This led her to found Museo Salvatore Ferragamo in 1995 and Fondazione Ferragamo in 2013, entrusting both with keeping alive the memory of a business built on the belief that moral values come before financial gain, a legacy for future generations.


Wanda Miletti Ferragamo riceve il conferimento dell'Ordine al Merito dei Cavalieri di Gran Croce dal presidente della Repubblica Italiana Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, 8 marzo 2004


Wanda Miletti Ferragamo and her daughter Fiamma meet Lady Diana at Grosvenor Room Ball in London, June 1990

Honorary degrees, main awards and recognition given to Wanda Miletti Ferragamo


Named “International Woman” of the year in Kentucky, USA, by The Committee of 200, an international association of women who have achieved success in business. Wanda was the only Italian woman to be a member of this association.


Knight’s cross of the Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice, a decoration of the Holy See, given by Pope John Paul II.

Commander, Order of Merit of the Italian Republic, awarded by the President of the Italian Republic Francesco Cossiga.

Honorary degree in Human Letters from The City University of New York for exceptional results in the field of business and in recognition of her philanthropy.

WellComm86 award as a businesswoman from the Italian federation of businesses, professionals and freelancers.


Knight of the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic, awarded by the President of the Italian Republic Francesco Cossiga for achievements in business and art and for having successfully managed the family business after the death of Salvatore Ferragamo.


Fashion Group Award from Fashion Group International for having supported the Italian Red Cross, Italian section of the World Monument Fund, the Friends of the Fiesole Music School and the Don Bosco Holiday Home for the Elderly in Tuscany.


Mary Ann Magnin Award 1992, awarded in San Francisco for her work in fashion.


Honorary Officer of the British Empire (O.B.E.), bestowed by Queen Elizabeth II in recognition of her significant contribution to the creation of cultural ties between England and Italy by supporting the British Institute of Florence.


“Fiorino d’oro” for entrepreneurship, awarded by the Mayor of Florence Mario Primicerio for her steady and intelligent commitment to creating and promoting an exemplary business of world renown, thereby providing a significant service to the city of Florence.

Honorary degree in Business Science awarded by New York University.


Premio Qualità Italia, awarded by the President of the Republic Oscar Luigi Scalfaro at the Quirinale Palace for the quality of the business results achieved by the Ferragamo company in the previous year.


Sir Harold Acton Award for Italian/American friendship, awarded by the New York University Board of Trustees and Friends of Villa La Pietra in Florence.


Sixth Annual Luminary Awards, recognition for being an “Entrepreneurial Champion” from The Committee of 200, an American association, awarding Wanda for her role as a businesswoman and for having successfully transformed a shoe company into a family-run luxury business.


Tuscan-American Award 2003 for having successfully continued and developed, with great intelligence, strong character and clear business vision, the challenging legacy left to her by her husband Salvatore Ferragamo in Italy, the USA and many other places around the world.


Knight Grand Cross, Order of Merit of the Italian Republic, awarded by the President of the Italian Republic Carlo Azeglio Ciampi at the Quirinale Palace in Rome.

Il Salomone d’Oro” awarded by the Chancellor of the University of Florence, Augusto Marinelli.


Honorary degree from FIT (Fashion Institute of Technology), State University of New York for her role in the growth of Salvatore Ferragamo, her ongoing commitment to pursuing excellence and upholding the values that celebrate the best part of the human spirit and her dedication and contribution to training in the fashion world.


Fashion Group International’s Legend Award, given in New York by Fashion Group International.


Mela d’Oro, awarded by Fondazione Belisario for her great contribution to Made-in-Italy excellence, becoming an ambassador of female talent in Italy and abroad.

Carousel-00-Patrick Fairweather

Wanda Miletti Ferragamo receives the Order of the British Empire award from Ambassador Patrick Fairweather, Rome, 7 June, 1995

Carousel-01-Gregory Peck

Wanda Miletti Ferragamo and Gregory Peck during the lunch at Palazzo Spini Feroni on the occasion of the opening of the exhibition "I protagonisti della moda: Salvatore Ferragamo 1898-1960", 4 May 1985

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The President of the Republic Sandro Pertini received by Wanda Miletti Ferragamo at the arrival at Palazzo Strozzi for visiting the exhibition "I protagonisti della moda: Salvatore Ferragamo (1898-1960)", 4 May 1985

Carousel-03-Ikko Tanaka

Wanda Miletti Ferragamo with Ikko Tanaka and Hiroko Sakomura during the press conference held on the occasion of the exhibition "A Centennial Exhibition: Salvatore Ferragamo The Art of The Shoe", Sogetsu-kai Foundation, Tokyo (14 April-14 May 1998)

Carousel-04-Francesco Cossiga

Wanda Miletti Ferragamo with the President of the Italian Republic Francesco Cossiga, when she received the insignia of the Order of the Knights of Labour, 22 October 1987


Wanda Miletti Ferragamo and Donata Wenders at villa Il Palagio during the opening dinner of the exhibition "Off Scene. Wim and Donata Wenders" organized by Museo Salvatore Ferragamo in 2004

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Wanda Miletti Ferragamo during the Gala Dinner held at the Mandarin Hotel in Hong Kong, 4 December, 1989