Past and present: The story behind Salvatore Ferragamo’s most emblematic shoes
Walk the talk
What were you doing at age nine?
For Salvatore Ferragamo—the founder of the Italian Maison that we’re all familiar with today—he made his first pair of shoes for his sister’s church confirmation.
He then opened his first shop at 13 years old in his hometown of Bonito, a small town in the region of Campania. Three years later, Ferragamo moved to the United States to learn the tricks of the trade. The shoemaker spent almost a decade in Boston and Santa Barbara, and by his early 20s, he had established himself as “the shoemaker to the stars”, counting leading ladies such as Joan Crawford, Audrey Hepburn, and Marilyn Monroe as some of his loyal A-list clients.
Ferragamo returned to his native Italy and chose to set up his workshop at Florence. Palazzo Spini Feroni has been the brand’s headquarters ever since. There, with 750 skilled artisans who produce over 350 shoes a day, the designer built up his eponymous label to become one of the most sought after internationally. He continued to innovate and produce ground-breaking designs throughout the next few decades, from the cork wedge sandals to the Cage heel.
The Italian Maison is now one of the most loved luxury fashion brands internationally, and it continues to champion the founder’s pioneering spirit by shining the spotlight on the iconic footwear that the House is known for, as well as reinventing designs that are icons in the making.
As Spring/Summer 2021 season is now in full swing, we delve into the birth (and rebirth) of the iconic F Heel, as well as the Viva shoes, which have both fast become the new favourites.
Salvatore Ferragamo designed the “invisible sandals” with F-shaped heels. Unlike anything seen before, the heels mirror the silhouette of a ship’s stern, which was said to be an ode to the liner on which the founder had sailed home from America two decades earlier. The design—which won him the prestigious Neiman Marcus Award that year—is a testament to the brand’s innovative craftsmanship.
2016 - 2018
When Paul Andrew took on the role of footwear director, one of his first designs was inspired by Ferragamo’s iconic creation. During the brand’s Autumn/Winter 2017 show, the designer debuted suede and velvet boots that come with an undulating F-shaped heel, and in the Resort 2018 collection, he introduced the F Wedge shoe.
After appearing in different collections on and off for the last four years, the iconic F-shaped heels is in the limelight once again this Spring/Summer 2021. The latest iteration doesn’t only embody the stylish spirit of the OG design. Determined to create a “modern sequel”, the brand introduced them in two different silhouettes: sandals and slingbacks. To stick to the brand’s commitment to technical innovation and sustainability, each fabrication—from the upper to the sole edge—is entirely monotone, and all crafted from a single piece of nappa leather. The crimping process alone has to be repeated up to 12 times to ensure a perfect fit. Talk about precision.
The sculptured heel sandal is available in eye-catching Hedren green, yellow, and marble white, but it’s the pair in black nappa, embellished with pearlescent beads, that has won our hearts. The slingback, on the other hand, is akin to modern art for your feet. The architectural shape features squared edges and a high neckline, creating contemporary lines that will lend a statement-making finish to the simplest of looks.
When Salvatore Ferragamo’s eldest daughter Fiamma took over the business after his death in 1960, she created a pair of footwear that went on to become the brand’s most popular design. The Vara pump is a low-heeled shoe with a grosgrain bow that’s equal parts casual and elegant. They are the perfect shoes for ladies who are always on-the-go.
A flat version, named Varina, was added to the mix.
An ode to the iconic design, during Spring/Summer 2020, the Maison introduced a new shoe that references the best-seller. Called the Viva pumps, the footwear embodies the brand’s past, present, and future. Made of soft nappa leather, the flats feature a pointed-toe and a teardrop-shaped heel that’s inspired by American artist Richard Serra’s sculptures. In addition, it includes the signature bow that’s topped with a tonal metal plate, giving it a sleek and chic finish.
This season, on top of the flats that are introduced in an array of saccharine colours, there are a slingback heel and a “responsible” design that are in the Viva family too. Instead of the usual nappa leather, the footwear from the "responsible" line are crafted using recycled mesh fabric with a grosgrain bow that’s made with recycled yarn. Regardless of your style, there’s a colour for you.
It’s been 94 years since Salvatore Ferragamo was founded. The Maison is now one of the most recognised luxury fashion houses globally, and it’s not only well-loved for its footwear, but for its leather goods and ready-to-wear collections too. With the F Heel being its key piece this season, we can’t wait to see what the brand has in-store for us next.