Shoemaker to the stars, Salvatore Ferragamo saw his brand become more of a lifestyle choice than an accessories line. I decided to go to Florence for the day and see how he accomplished that.
Salvatore Ferragamo may be turning 80 this year, but the Florentine fashion house shows no signs of slowing down just yet. Having made its name with leather goods (notably shoes and bags), luxury luggage and sunglasses, winning celebrity fans such as Claudia Schiffer and Nicole Kidman along the way.
It was the first Italian fashion house to diversify into travel and lifestyle. When the brand expanded to encompass boutique hotels, rural resorts, wineries and restaurants, it kicked off a trend that has quickly gained currency throughout the fashion world.
This forward-looking spirit is nothing new. Drawn to Florence by the city's long tradition of craftsmanship, founder Salvatore Ferragamo made fashion history by inventing the wedge heel in 1937, and went on to pioneer sandals and ergonomically correct footwear.
But the Ferragamo family has always had aspirations beyond footwear. And although justifiably proud of the brand and proud of the brand’s recent globalization, retaining its “Made in Italy” status is clearly non-negotiable.
Unlike Gucci, which was also founded in Florence, the Ferragamo brand thrives as a locally based, family-owned enterprise; the company is still ensconced in an ancient palace off the River Arno. Along with its shoe museum, its boutique hotels can be found all over the city. Above all else, this is an essentially Florentine brand -- if it didn’t hail from the city, it would surely have to decamp there.
Florentine style is characterized by distinguersi, a desire to be singled out for one's subtlety not flamboyance. Florentines are rarely fashion victims, and their stylishness transcends social status, wealth, taste, even beauty. More than any other house, the Ferragamo look embodies this ethos: craftsmanship above cool brands status, effortless chic and an understated urban elegance combined with a passion for rural living.
Dressed head to toe in Ferragamo, Salvatore's eldest son Ferruccio, pours scorn on the idea that, sartorially speaking, Florence lags behind Milan: "Florentines dress more elegantly than other Italians." he says. "The Italian fashion industry was born here, with the first haute couture shows in 1950s."
Now at the helm of the company, Ferruccio attributes the firm 's success to his mother, who despite being "a simple housewife, assigned the six of us to roles in different sectors.” He has adopted a similar approach. His son James acts as accessories designer, while James's twin brother, Salvatore Jr. runs Il Borro, the family's Tuscan wine estate and rural resort.
However, falling back on the family business is anything but an easy option. Only three family members from the third generation are allowed to work for the firm at any one time, and jobs are offered with the caveats that "they've proven themselves elsewhere and there's a suitable vacancy," explains Salvatore. As he points out with alacrity, the competition between his 25 cousins is considerable. The family founded the Il Borro estate on similarly meritocratic principles.
Tucked away in the hills near Arezzo, it was originally a medieval village left in ruins after World War II. Salvatore says his father "had a vision of turning it into a rural resort and wine estate for trailblazing Super Toscans, rather than the traditional Chianti Classico."
With its Geranium-clad cottages and geometric gardens, the resorts borders on perfection, but Salvatore insists on its authenticity. "It's a wine estate resort and restored medieval village, not Disneyland," he says.
Even so, it is featured in fashion shoots, even if the Ferragamo name is notably absent from the wine bottles here. As with the family's hotels, this is a deliberate effort to keep the integrity of the original brand intact.
It's perhaps not surprising that there's no Ferragamo fashion outlet on the estate. Instead, several activities and craft workshops have been set up for a goldsmith, a carpenter, a ceramist, a glass maker and, of course a cobbler -- a reminder of Ferragamo's shoe-making heritage.
And it's here that you'll find the very essence of the Ferragamo lifestyle. A typical day might start with a family football match against a Florentine team, followed by a lunch of Spaghetti alla Menta (spaghetti tossed in buttery mint) at the estate inn, washed down with Il Borro wine.
Rather like an Italian Ralph Lauren, the Ferragamo family offers romanticized idyll of rural life...
Except with slightly chicer footwear!
Source: Lisa Gerard Sharp - Bthere Magazine August 2008/ Photo Credit: Salavatore Ferragamo Museum all rights reserved
The store flagship: Salavatore Ferragamo: 4-14 r Via Tornabuoni
The Exhibition Creativity in Color: Ferragamo Museum Piazza Trinita 5r. Florence. Tel +39 055 33 60 475 Watch the virtual tour
The hotels and apartments lie on both sides of River Arno. Most are clustered around Ponte Vecchio. Some of these boltholes are designed for people watching, others for privacy
Fans of Interiors: Lungarno Details 4,Lungarno Acciaiuoli the family's Florentine design store. The objects can be found in the various hotels.