MILAN — Wanda Miletti Ferragamo died on Friday afternoon in Fiesole, near Florence. The matriarch of the Salvatore Ferragamo family, and honorary president of the company since 2006, was 96. She was the wife of the shoe designer and innovator Salvatore Ferragamo, who created the platform and cage heels. She was instrumental in developing the company after the death of her husband in 1960 at 62, which left her a widow with six children: Fiamma, Giovanna, Fulvia, Ferruccio, Massimo and Leonardo.
Giovanna; Ferruccio, who is president of the fashion group; Leonardo, and Massimo issued an internal company memo on Friday relating the passing of their mother “with enormous pain, together with our children and all of our family.” Calling their mother and “extraordinary person,” they said “her precious teachings and the memory of her will be for all of us an example of rectitude and great passion for life.”
In another company note, Miletti Ferragamo was remembered for “her intelligence, her strength of character and her clear economic and commercial vision,” which helped build a fashion group that included ready-to-wear, accessories and fragrances from a mono-product footwear company.
“I built on Salvatore’s very solid foundations,” Wanda told WWD in 2006. “He was a very special person, a man with great humanity, feelings and passion. He studied anatomy and learned that the weight of the body falls vertically on the arch of the foot. That’s how he made such great yet comfortable shoes.”
Born in Bonito, a small town in Southern Italy, the 11th child of 14 in a poor family, Salvatore made his first pair of shoes for the first communion of one of his sisters and became hooked on his métier. After studying shoemaking in Naples, Ferragamo opened a small shop. In 1914, he immigrated to Boston, where one of his brothers worked in a cowboy boot factory. He and his brothers then moved to California, first Santa Barbara and later Hollywood. He opened a shoe repair shop, and his own made-to-measure shoes became popular with the stars. He even studied anatomy at the University of Southern California to find out how to make more comfortable shoes. His autobiography was called “Shoemaker of Dreams.” Among his clients were Elizabeth Taylor, Greta Garbo, Audrey Hepburn, Marilyn Monroe, Sophia Loren, the Duchess of Windsor and Queen Elena of Italy. His daughter Fiamma later created another firm classic, the Vara pump, with a round toe, grosgrain ribbon detail and gold signature buckle. She was considered to have inherited her father’s talent as a shoemaker, but she predeceased her mother, dying at the age of 57 in 1998. Her sister Fulvia Visconti Ferragamo died last April, aged 67. She was creative director of men’s and women’s silk accessories, including foulards and ties — one of the storied core businesses of the house.
At 17, Fiamma had taken the reins of design. “We were also very supported by our U.S. clients, who liked matching shoes and bags,” said her mother. “I was never into that look, but the bags were a big success.” Fulvia moved to Milan with her husband, Giuseppe Visconti, where she was not far from the silk industry of Como, and she came up with the idea of doing silk scarves, also a winner. Men’s and women’s fashion and other products were added later. The Palazzo Spini Feroni, which Salvatore bought in the Thirties, later became the Ferragamo museum.
Born on Dec. 18, 1921 also in Bonito, Wanda Miletti married Salvatore Ferragamo at 18 when he returned to Bonito, where he had become a charitable benefactor. When she met him, she had told him, “My compliments for the large contribution you give to female elegance.” Her parents disapproved of the match because he was 25 years older, but the marriage was a success.
Although she did not get formally involved in the business until after his death, she told WWD, “We never got to the movies, so as a spectator, I would listen to lengthy discussions over a sketch. At the time, Salvatore designed, traveled, did public relations, shipped and received clients, all more or less on his own.”
Wanda herself continued working well into her 90s because, as she said to WWD, “I cannot not go [to the office], and I am passionate and the time flies when I am in my office.” At another point, she said, “They say work keeps our mind trained and young. Plus, there’s still so much to do. Our clients must continue to feel at ease with our products, conceived to exalt their femininity.” She still traveled from her estate Villa Maria in Fiesole into Florence each day to work and regularly attended the brand’s fashion shows in Milan, until most recently, always impeccably dressed and razor-sharp.
Throughout her life, she received many prestigious awards in Italy and globally. She was named “International Woman of the Year” at the Louisville Kentucky meeting of the Committee of 200, an association of women manager, in 1982; she was named a Knight of Industry by the Italian Republic in 1987; received the Fashion Group Award in 1991, and followed in 1992 by the “Mary Ann Magnin Award” in San Francisco. In 1995, she was bestowed the title of “Honorary Officer of British Empire.” In 2004, she was named a Cavaliere di Gran Croce by the Italian government.
The Salvatore Ferragamo company was publicly listed on the Milan Stock Exchange in 2011.