Salvatore Ferragamo’s unlikely path from village cobbler in the Campania region of southern Italy to celebrity footwear designer to the likes of Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn, and Judy Garland was first explored in his 1957 autobiography Shoemaker of Dreams. More than six decades later, director Luca Guadagnino adapted the book into a documentary of the same name. But what hasn’t been widely talked about until now is that after Salvatore Ferragamo’s untimely death in 1960, it was his wife, Wanda Ferragamo, who over nearly six decades as president and later honorary chairman of the company that bears her husband’s name, helped build the Florence workshop he founded into the global luxury brand we know today.
Like many women of her generation, Wanda Ferragamo married young and was a devoted matriarch to her large family that included six children and 23 grandchildren. Now, four years after her passing at the age of 96, she’s being honored with an exhibition titled “Women in Balance” at the Museo Salvatore Ferragamo in Florence. The exhibition, which opened May 20 and runs through April 23, 2023, situatesWanda Ferragamo’s life and work in the context of the changing roles of women in post-war Italy. “The time has come to ‘give a voice’ to her modest reticence,” says Stefania Ricci, the show’s co-curator. “This was a world on the move—the complicated, multi-faceted, and contradictory progress that led to many women establishing new roles for themselves and that resulted in greater freedom for all of them, contributed significantly to the construction of Republican Italy.”
Through objects, clothing, works of art, videos, photographs, and Wanda Ferragamo’s letters to her grandchildren, the exhibit explores how she started to work with the help of her daughters, Fiamma (who designed the iconic low-heeled Vera pump) and Giovanna (who created ready-to-wear), together embarking on a singular journey of discovery in search of new modes of existence. Some years later, her third daughter, Fulvia, began to work in the company as well, making scarves and ties. “The three Ferragamo sisters were both businesswomen and mothers,” says Ricci. “They had many children—so Ferragamo’s designs had to reflect their needs and thus be suitable for a dynamic life. This is why Ferragamo produced more daywear and accessories than evening products.”
“We women do everything, it doesn’t matter what or where our office is,” Wanda Ferragamo wrote to her grandchildren, outlining a new model of an active modern woman that feels prescient. The exhibit also features a documentary short titled “Women in Balance Today,” featuring interviews with women under 35 about their own plans for balancing family and career today.
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