A century of success among Hollywood celebrities, art, Relais & Chateaux and wine
You can’t avoid it. At some point your eyes will happen to wander and focus on shoes. Even more so when the person wearing them is someone out of the ordinary like Ferruccio Ferragamo, who is leading an empire founded by his father Salvatore, shoemaker of the rich and famous. “They are actually comfortable, trust me. That is the most important thing when it comes to shoes,” he says.
Ferruccio Ferragamo, President of Salvatore Ferragamo Ltd. and CEO of Fer-ragamo Holding, leads a solid company with four thousand employees and a network of 640 retail stores. As of September 30, 2015, revenue reached 1021 million euros with a seven percent increase from the previous year. The core of the brand keeps beating through fashion, shoes, leather, clothing, silk products, eyewear, watches, and perfumes. The spin-offs of the Florentine company embrace chained-brand hotels, luxury boats, exclusive resorts and holiday retreats.
Ferruccio, who turned 70 last September, is Salvatore’s first child of six. His father (born in 1898) seems to have come out of a fairytale, for the extraordinary life he has had. Salvatore Sr. was the eleventh child of fourteen, and when he was a young boy he left Southern Italy to pursue the American Dream. “He left with very little money, not even enough to guarantee he would have been allowed to enter New York,” Ferruccio Ferragamo explains, and continues, “but he managed to pay the necessary amount to be upgraded from third class to second class. Once he arrived in America he started working with his brother in a shoe factory in Boston. With his creative urge he couldn’t last long working on an assembly line. It was a matter of mere days before he took off to California to open his tiny shoe repair store.” Thus began his conquest of the West Coast and Hollywood, making cowboy boots for western films and calceus footwear for period colossals. Movie stars were the first customers of the golden cobbler who studied anatomy and mathematics to enhance his intuition and talent. In 1923 he founded the Hollywood Boot Shop, creating shoes for Rodolfo Valentino, John Barrymore, and Mary Pickford. Unsatisfied with the American labour force, he returned to Florence, Italy, and the heart of shoemaking. He was the one to invent the stiletto heel that Marilyn Monroe would glorify worldwide, wearing the 11cm shoe in “The Seven Year Itch.”
What are Ferruccio’s memories of his dynamic father? “I can still see him as he moves his hands experimenting with a new shoe model. That’s the way he was. He tried everything, always starting with a scale model. He was relentless creatively and was always doing something. Strict and uncompromising, he would take me to school, but when it was time to pick me up I would spend hours waiting for him in front of the school entrance. At home we would eat together. That was when he would tell us about the people that visited his shop, from Audrey Hepburn to Anna Magnani. He was such a good-hearted man. My mother was worried that he might lose everything. I still recall that one day he modified a phrase on a plaque we had at home. The original expression was: ‘Don’t do evil because it’s a sin; don’t do good because it’s wasted.’ He changed it into: ‘Do good even if it’s wasted.’”
Ferruccio’s mother, Wanda Ferragamo, is 94 years old and is always busy organizing family reunions with her 93 grandchildren. How many of them work in the Ferragamo company? “Three, even though the board of directors is represented by the family branches of all six siblings. One of my children, for example, James, works in the company. Salvatore also could have joined the team, but he preferred to continue the Il Borro Relais & Chateaux project, which is not part of the Ferragamo group, but is my own business. The first rule in our family is that no one is obliged to work in the company,” Ferragamo says.
He describes Il Borro with enthusiasm. Located near Arezzo, the hamlet dates back to the Middle Ages and is made up of rural homes, two majestic mansions, an Italian garden, and a Spa. It’s entirely surrounded by 700 hectares of land that extend as far as the eye can see, and which have been converted into olive fields and vineyards. Above the wine cellar is an exhibition space that gathers paintings and engravings of Ferruccio Ferragamo’s art collection. There are 67 pieces, including two Bacchanalias by Mantegna, along with works by Piranesi, Rembrandt, Manet, Picasso, and Warhol. The enchanting Il Borro is loved by Americans (65 percent of visitors), including movie stars like George Clooney and Penelope Cruz, who spend their summers there.
The winery produces approximately 150000 bottles of wine under five labels. Salvatore Jr. is very proud of this business because he was the first to believe in the potential of Il Borro, and in just a few years the business will become 100 percent sustainable. “Some of our structures are already using renewable energy. All products are organic. From the wine, to fruit, as well as seasonal groceries that we also bring to Florence,” says Salvatore. Ferragamo has surely inherited his grandfather’s perseverance: “We never give up.”
Article by Piera Anna Franini