The three decades between the end of the Fifties and the Nineties were among the most formative in the history of the company. From the death of Salvatore Ferragamo in 1960 to the launch of ready-to-wear shortly after that and the retail expansion around the world, the company known for the genius of its founder and the innovative shoes he created grew into a full-fledged fashion house with the additional contribution of each family member.
“It was my father’s dream to see the brand become a fashion house that would dress ‘toe to head,’” said Ferruccio Ferragamo, chief executive officer of Salvatore Ferragamo Italia SpA and of the group holding company Ferragamo Finanziaria SpA.
“My mother carried out his dream with her new role as head of the company and each one of us contributed to shape the company — we kind of multiplied our bread and wine,” quipped Ferragamo in an interview. “None of us was obliged to join the firm, but we each wanted to help it grow.”
In 1959, Salvatore Ferragamo’s daughter Giovanna Gentile Ferragamo designed the first clothing collection: Giovanna by Ferragamo for Lord & Taylor. The collection exuded a holiday mood and was conceived for leisure time. Showing at Palazzo Pitti’s Sala Bianca in 1965 was her next big step toward establishing rtw — a move necessary to expand the brand.
“Even back then, clothes had a primacy over accessories and a company was not considered a fashion house if it offered only bags and shoes,” said Armando Branchini, chairman of luxury brands consultancy Intercorporate. “Also, there was the Gucci model, a company that already had a pretty well-structured retail network. Ferragamo wanted to achieve that status and needed more products for its stores.”
One year before his death, Salvatore Ferragamo asked his 16-year-old daughter, Fiamma, to work with him so he could pass his craft on to her. She was the only one of the six siblings to work with their father. Fiamma was also aided by her cousin, Jerry Ferragamo, who played a significant role in industrializing production.
“This was the only way to compete. The family had to shift from an artisanal mode and made-to-measure production to a more industrial shoe — something Salvatore himself had already understood,” said Stefania Ricci, curator of the Ferragamo museum. After Salvatore’s death, Ricci said, Fiamma became the feminine catalyst for everyone, just as her mother, Wanda, had become the family’s decision-maker.
Fiamma’s first official shoe collection was launched in 1961 in London. In 1967, Fiamma received the Neiman Marcus award for creativity in footwear — 20 years after her father. One of Fiamma’s main design legacies was the Vara shoe, a round-toe, low-heeled pump embellished with a grosgrain ribbon and a gold buckle stamped with the family signature. Created in 1978, the Vara remains an iconic style for the company and is still a bestseller around the world. She also designed such signatures as the Gancino, still used to decorate shoes, handbags and clothing.
“Salvatore was a genius in creativity and continuity and Fiamma knew she was not as creative, but she was extremely intelligent and not conceited,” said Ricci. “Fiamma knew how to enhance the brand’s assets: the traditions, the materials, the comfort, the fit and worked on the replicable values.”
While maintaining these qualities, Fiamma saw clearly how the company had to expand its customer base from the blueblood niche and Hollywood elite to a broader middle class clientele.
Fiamma, who married the marquis Di San Giuliano in 1969, also developed a web of intense relationships with retailers. When she died in 1998, retailers mourned her charming personality and her commercial talents. At the time, Burton Tansky, president and ceo of Neiman Marcus Group, told WWD that his “greatest remembrance of Fiamma was from the late Seventies through the Eighties when she made appearances at Saks” when Tansky was an executive at the retailer.
“She was very effective at meeting the customers and making friends with many of them throughout the country,” Tansky added. “She enjoyed it. She was really a leader in that area.”
In addition to further developing the footwear division, Fiamma started creating handbags in 1965 and, in 1971, her sister, Fulvia Visconti Ferragamo, began designing silk scarves and ties — a category tested years before by Salvatore himself with the aid of Florentine painters, who embellished the silks with gondolas and other Italian staples. Fulvia’s scarves featured flower patchworks, like intricate patterns of petals forming jungle-like motifs, for example. These soon became recognizable Ferragamo pieces.
In the Seventies, the company also began expanding into men’s clothing and accessories, a division that was fully developed by Leonardo Ferragamo in the Eighties.
After two decades of retail expansion and product diversification, Salvatore Ferragamo’s name started to become associated with art and culture. In May 1985, a Ferragamo exhibition was held at Palazzo Strozzi, in Florence — the first fashion retrospective in Italy. In 1987, a Ferragamo retrospective was held at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum, and, according to the company, it was the most visited exhibition of that year. These were followed by many others, including a show at Tokyo’s Sogetsu Kai Foundation to mark the centenary of Salvatore Ferragamo’s birth in 1998.