ARTICLE SARAH CRISTOBAL
INSPIRED BY THE IMPRESSIVE BEGINNINGS OF ITS FAMOUS PATRIARCH, THE ICONIC ITALIAN BRAND CELEBRATES THE ART OF SHOEMAKING WITH A DREAMY, YEAR-LONG EXHIBITION BRIMMING WITH FASHIONABLE FOLKLORE
Santa Trinita, in Florence, sits an art-filled oasis for shoe enthusiasts. On display at the site’s subterranean museum is a new multi-platform exhibition, entitled “The Amazing Shoemaker,” that explores the myths and psychology behind fairy tales as they relate to footwear. Nine separate rooms divide the cavernous space, which is filled with over 300 pieces, including original works in the form of short films, illustrations, photography, mixed-media installations, and even a comic book. Museum director and curator Stefania Ricci oversaw the realization of this epic project. “We found a lot of new legends and so many examples of books with special illustrations, all related with the shoemaker,” she says. “And the big discovery was that the shoemaker was like a philosopher.”
Ricci did not have to look far for inspiration, as the story of Ferragamo is legendary in its own right. Growing up the eleventh of fourteen children in an impoverished family, Salvatore was always drawn to the art of shoemaking. He made his first pair of shoes at age seven, for his sister to wear at her first communion. At the age of 14 he went to live with relatives in California, where he continued his trade, eventually becoming the go-to shoemaker for Hollywood’s grande dames, including Marilyn Monroe and Carmen Miranda. He returned home to Italy to set up shop in Florence in 1927, a full-fledged success story. The rest, as they say, is history.
What’s impressive about this exhibition (on display until March 2014) is its breadth: nearly every instance of fantasy stories in which shoes provide comfort, peace, or freedom is cataloged. “The right shoes are necessary to go beyond obstacles and better yourself,” says Sergio Risaliti, who curated with Ricci and Luca Scarlini. With that in mind, the trio set out to “reach the public in any form of expression.” From poetry to paintings, mixed-media installations, and films, no stone was left unturned. Among the highlights of artists’ reinterpretations of fables: a diptych of Merce Cunningham’s dance-worn feet next to an image of ruby-red slippers, by Timothy Greenfield-Sanders; watercolors based on Cinderella, Puss in Boots, and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, by Ann Craven; Liliana Moro’s Donkey Skin, a piece that invites you inside the hide of a donkey, based on the fable by Charles Perrault; and Jan Švankmajer’s interpretation of The Red Shoes. Ricci dedicated an entire room to New York–based artist Frank Espinosa’s comic book installation, which illustrates the tale of Signor Ferragamo himself.
Writer and director Mauro Borrelli was so inspired by Ferragamo’s early years that he collaborated with friend and Oscar-winning art director Rick Heinrichs to create a short film, White Shoe. Both men are renowned for their work with Tim Burton (Heinrichs took home the golden statuette for his work on The Legend of Sleepy Hollow). “I didn’t know much about Ferragamo’s story at the beginning,” says Borrelli.
“Then the bio arrived, and we could have made ten different movies. We extracted the essence, deciding to focus on the first little episode from his earlier life, and we made it a little fictional on that end.” The film offers an enchanting vision of a young Salvatore who creates a pair of shoes for a girl, which unlocks his imagination as he dreams up all the places it will take her in life. “I used to work for Francis Ford Coppola, and once he said, ‘If you want something to happen, you have to be able to imagine it first. Things don’t happen if you don’t see. You have to have a vision, and then maybe it happens.’ So I thought that was great advice. And I thought that Salvatore probably was able to see something to make it happen.”
With this exhibit, Ricci and the Ferragamo family extend that sense of the imagination’s power to some of those who are less fortunate: a portion of the proceeds from comic book sales will go to benefit Un Cuore, Un Mondo, a nonprofit that supports children suffering from heart disease in Italy and around the world. From its inspiring visuals to its philanthropic cause, “The Amazing Shoemaker” is a feel-good fashion moment, from head to toe!
ALL IMAGES COURTESY FERRAGAMO