MILAN — Greta Garbo only wore flat shoes, while Marilyn Monroe had a penchant for four-inch stiletto pumps. Marlene Dietrich never wore the same pair of shoes more than twice and was always on the lookout for new and trendy models. Eva Peron preferred shoes made with exotic hides from South America. Whatever their personal choices, however, these women’s shoes had to be made by Salvatore Ferragamo.
The relationship between Ferragamo and celebrities, ranging from movie stars to European aristocrats and the wives of statesmen, is the theme of an exhibition at the Salvatore Ferragamo Museum in Florence, scheduled to run until 2002.
“Ferragamo believed shoes reflected one’s personality,” says Stefania Ricci, director of the museum. “I thought it was a good idea to show some of the these celebrities’ favorite shoes, to highlight their preferences and how they inspired Ferragamo.”
The shoes are presented in chronological order, from the Twenties to the Sixties, and by celebrity, with a handful of more recent models designed for the movies. They are housed in protective cases set against enlarged photos of the stars — usually in the middle of a fitting with their favorite shoemaker. Up until Ferragamo’s death in 1960, all shoes were custom-made, so many of the cases also contain the wooden foot lasts of his famous clients.
The 2,700-square-foot museum is located in the family-owned Palazzo Spini Feroni, a 13th-century building in the center of Florence that also houses company headquarters, a boutique, a library and an archive with more than 10,000 historical shoes, orders and bills, ads and photos.
“Ferragamo was conscious of the company’s patrimony, and his heirs have over the years worked on this archive,” says Ricci, who explains that shoes are either donated to the family or purchased at auctions around the world. Most recently, in October, 14 pairs of Marilyn Monroe’s shoes were bought at Christie’s New York for a total of about $500,000.
Hollywood was a second home to Salvatore Ferragamo, who moved there from his native Bonito, a village close to Naples, in 1914 and was soon dubbed “shoemaker to the stars.”
“He went as far as studying anatomy to better understand the foot and add comfort to his shoes, a new concept at the time,” says Ricci. Ferragamo started making boots for early cowboy movies and then provided footwear for silent movies and their actresses, such as Mary Pickford and Pola Negri, whose shoes are displayed at the museum.
Colorful cork-wedge and sequin platform sandals for Carmen Miranda; no-nonsense sandals for Katharine Hepburn; Greta Garbo’s and Lauren Bacall’s favorite pumps and Sophia Loren’s satin court shoes are just a few of the 146 pairs on display. There are also more recent designs for Madonna, starring in Alan Parker’s movie version of “Evita,” and for Drew Barrymore’s Cinderella shoe in “Ever After.”
In addition, Ricci hand-picked a selection of Ferragamo shoes that have made history: an 18-karat gold sandal created in 1956 for an Australian woman, the wife of a local tycoon, and the famous “invisible” sandal, with transparent nylon threads forming the upper and an “F”-shaped wedge heel.
Ricci changes the theme of exhibits at the museum, which opened in 1995, every two years. In 1997, the show revolved around Ferragamo’s unusual choice of materials, such as fish skin, straw, paper and candy-wrapper cellophane. “He was a genius and had a good time designing shoes,” says Ricci. “Every pair has a story to tell.”