Samuel Webster

October 10, 2012 Salvatore Ferragamo: Necessity is the Mother of Invention Posted In: Writing

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Video and Article produced as part of Bella Toscana

Salvatore Ferragamo’s first pair of shoes probably weren’t actually his. With thirteen siblings, it’s likely Salvatore would have been gifted a pair from another now too grown to fit them. Such necessities must be provided, but not always to the point of luxury. If it weren’t for a passion now well proven, we might even speculate it was this same necessity which found the first pair of Ferragamo designed shoes worn by his sisters to their confirmations. He was nine years old at the time.

Necessity isn’t the only driving force for great art, and a look over the centuries reveals it again and again. Another classic trait of the great artists is the age of their first engagement with creation. Time and time again, the genius artisans have not yet come of age when they begin to challenge the status quo in the industry which would bring them success. Teenage novelists and child prodigies turn up one after the after with only the briefest glances into artistic evolution. Often the humble beginnings are overlooked for brighter lights later in life. For Ferragamo, these were the lights of the red carpet as Audrey Hepburn, Sophia Loren and Greta Garbo began to demand this particular Florentine’s Midas touch. From humble beginnings, Ferragamo moved as many do, to the United States to make his fortune.

It is this move which the Museo di Ferragamo celebrates in 2012, the fiftieth anniversary of the death of Marilyn Monroe, a Ferragamo devotee. The exhibition tracks her life: in one room, the red dress and sparkling shoes of Some Like It Hot; in the next, simple, white washed walls with an empty king size bed as a sombre reminder of her early departure. It is an exhibition which begs a smile, and complements it with moments of serious contemplation and of great beauty. But, like Ferragamo’s own life, the true beauty of Museo di Ferragamo lies in the permanent exhibition. Though the lights are on to celebrate Marilyn, and the mirror-adorned warhead showers the room in sparkles of light, there is a story to the way Salvatore Ferragamo grew as one of the many artisans of Florence, a story which hints at why he sought to return from Hollywood to Florence when so many others were leaving.

They say necessity is the mother of invention, and the phrase is usually tied to new creations which fill gaps in the market, which manage to satisfy everyday necessity with their simplicity. But Ferragamo’s necessity didn’t stop with clothing his sister’s feet. It became far more personal. Like all of the great artists, Salvatore Ferragamo’s necessity was a need to keep working, to need creating, to keep artistic innovation alive. When Mussolini’s prohibition saw a drastic reduction in the availability of materials, Ferragamo invented shoes with a cork sole, recycling the material in order to keep going. When he saw fishermen scaring fish away with their sandals near the shore, he was inspired to create ‘invisible’ sandals with transparent straps.

Later in life, when the hard metal fixture of his soles was unavailable in Italy, he created the wedge heel which distributes the pressure across the sole instead, a design which is now a staple in shoe design all over the world. When his wife began to worry that he was being copied, he simply responded that it was better to be copied and know you were doing something valuable. His response was not to fall apart in the face of competition, but to work harder, to work faster, to make more products.

Such drive and aspiration is the fuel of Florence, whose artisans push on despite a trend locals call Fuga dei cervelli (literally “escape of the brains”, a description of the emigrating genius in times of economic struggle). It is this passion that keeps the cultural breeding ground of Tuscany fertile. When the bright lights shone, Salvatore Ferragamo followed them so he might continue the dream. When he had grown enough to be an independent artist, he returned to Florence to continue in a city that spurred the passion. The Museo di Ferragamo underlines what they call an absence of artisanal thinking in modern Italy: “He decided to come back to Italy in 1927 because he was missing the craftsmanship, and the landscape… Florence was the most important city for the Italian lifestyle: for fashion, philosophy, for paintings and so on. There are many things that we have forgotten: craftsmanship, the simple work of being a shoemaker.”

Now, years after his passing, Florentines enter the now established Museo di Ferragamo and get a feel for just how powerful this ‘simple work’ can be. Some are even lucky enough to spy Signora Ferragamo herself as she inspects the operations, and feel a little closer to the genius of her late husband.

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1 Comment

  1. Tiana Kai • October 11, 2012

    I absolutely loved this Marilyn exhibit! It was my first time in the museum and I was really impressed with the size, collection and quality of care. I loved the video that played the documentation of his life-what an inpiring story. I'm looking forward to many future exhibits in the House of Sig. Ferragamo.

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