FLORENCE — Tall candles twinkled in glass vases on the steps in front of the altar in the Santa Trinita church here filled to capacity and surrounding a delicate bouquet of colorful orchids, as a string quartet played Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s “Ave Verum Corpus.” A month after the death of Wanda Ferragamo at 96, a mass in her memory was held at the 13th-century basilica she helped restore and that stands opposite Palazzo Fini Speroni, headquarters of the Salvatore Ferragamo company.
The moving ceremony reflected Ferragamo and her legacy, attended by her children, Ferruccio, Giovanna, Leonardo and Massimo, their own numerous families and company employees. There were also former Prime Minister Matteo Renzi; the mayor of Florence Dario Nardella; Salvatore Ferragamo chief executive officer Micaela Le Divelec Lemmi and former group ceo Michele Norsa; Carlo Capasa, head of the Italian Camera della Moda; Pitti Immagine ceo Raffaello Napoleone, and the British Ambassador to Italy Jill Morris, as Ferragamo had received the Order of the British Empire recognition.
“My mother had become a grandmother at an early age, at 40, and she preferred to be called zia [aunt in Italian], which led her first grandson to call her Ta because he could not pronounce zia and that nickname stayed on until she was eventually called Nonna Ta [grandmother Ta],” said Giovanna Gentile Ferragamo. “She had a magnificent intuition to keep her grandchildren updated and informed and we’ve been generous in that production, not only in fashion,” she continued with a smile, to a round of slight giggles. “Since it was hard to contact them all, directly, she would send letters, messages and prayers by mail. Because she would think of everything, she provided them with a book bound in red leather where the messages would be put, and that became the red book of Nonna Ta.”
To wit, her grandchildren Diego di San Giuliano and Maria Sole Ferragamo read some of her thoughts, centered around the power of love. A message Wanda Ferragamo wrote, “The Prayer,” was distributed to attendees. “To help an old man cross the street is a prayer; to console, encourage and be close to those who are alone is a prayer. Also to forgive is an act of love, and is not love perhaps the hinge around which the world rotates and that we would always feel around us?”
Ferruccio Ferragamo, chairman of the company, said the family found his mother had left precise instructions for her funeral and a letter to be read on that occasion, dated March 16, 2003. The letter was dedicated to Florence, where she moved at only 18 from her hometown of Bonito when she married Salvatore Ferragamo. “I learned to love you and appreciate you little by little,” she wrote, citing the city’s artistic beauty, its traditional craftsmanship and its hills, its humanism that “influenced and enriched my spirit, giving me a serenity that I channeled in [the company], which my unforgettable Salvatore passed on to me and my children.” She concluded by embracing the city she admired from her terrace for 70 years, wishing the city could remain “always the precious gem of our beloved Italy,” read her son to a round of applause.
His brother Massimo Ferragamo, who helms the American branch of the company, talked about his mother’s “humility and modesty. We will write that book that she felt she did not deserve,” he said. He still marveled at how his mother was left a widow at 38 with six children to raise, between the ages of three and 18, and without ever having worked before, she built the company with her “incredible solidity, like an oak tree, with large branches to embrace us all, but that would let the light pass. She was the glue that bound us together.” He recalled how his mother would call him every day in New York. “She was firm at work, but very sweet with us.” He emphasized his mother’s resilience and passion for the company, by remembering how she would still come to the office every day until three days before her death. “Now I can do it on my own, but she used to defend me from Leonardo,” he said, looking at his brother in the audience, both smiling at the memory. “She would stop people wearing Ferragamo on the street and she would have marveled at the number of people in the church today — she would say that what she did in her life was only her duty. I thought hard about a fault, but I did not find one. She was my perfect mamma.”
Leonardo Ferragamo thanked everyone who was close to the family “in these long days,” and talked about his appreciation for the values and examples of a woman who was “head of the company and head of the family. We had two extraordinary parents, it was a long path and speaking in sports terms, my father passed on the baton to my mother, and then to us and to our children and grandchildren.” Perhaps addressing the white noise and ongoing speculation about the future of the company, which the family has repeatedly said is not for sale, he said, “The best way to fill this void and pain is to find a new and renewed positive energy as she taught us. She was an example, she gave us everything and we could not have asked for more.”