Tampere, the second largest city in Finland, used to justly boast its success both in textile and shoe industries. Times have changed, and these industries have ceased in the city. However, shoes and success are evident and to be enjoyed in the recently opened Museo Milavida –formely a private palace, and now beautifully restored by the city– and its first two exhibitions. At Milavida you get a fabulous glimpse of the milieu and the life of the late 19th century Tampere industrialist family, The von Nottbecks, and of the magical innovations of the “shoemaker for the stars”, Salvatore Ferragamo.
When you meld the ideas of Italy, glamour, luxury and quality, one of the first associations must be FERRAGAMO, a luxury goods brand recognized around the world.
The man behind the brand, Salvatore Ferragamo (1898-1960), grew up as the 11th kid of 14 children in Southern Italy. He found his calling in designing and making shoes already when nine years old, and by age sixteen, he had emigrated to Boston where his brothers worked in a cowboy boot factory. At Salvatore’s initiative, the brothers soon moved to California, opened a shop for shoe repair and made-to-measure shoes, and the rest is history.
The Hollywood film industry was on the verge of its first real boom, and eventually the top celebrities of the whole golden era of Hollywood became Ferragamo clients, both on screen and off. From Mary Pickford to Gloria Swanson, Lana Turner and Bette Davis to Marilyn Monroe and Sophia Loren. This man seemed to have an uncanny eye for giving powerful, influential women their finest shoes; a rewarding co-existence!
Salvatore Ferragamo was a brilliant innovator whose shoes at the most striking were like pieces of sculpture. He was inspired to search and find new technical solutions (many resulted in patents) and he experimented with combinations of materials sometimes most precious, other times quite ordinary, turning out clever and stunning creations. Science and technology were an important aspect of Ferragamo’s success, and to truly understand the relationship of feet to shoes, he wisely studied human anatomy on university level.
After thirteen years in the United States, Ferragamo returned to Italy. Settling in Florence and opening a workshop, he was able to utilize the Italian craftmanship, retaining and growing the celebrity clientele. In the 1930’s he had become successful enough to purchase the formidable Palazzo Spini Feroni in the heart of Florence. The palace serves today as a Salvatore Ferragamo flagship store and office.
In the basement of Palazzo Spini Feroni, there is an impressive museum, a favorite project of Salvatore’s gifted eldest daughter Fiamma (who died in 1998). Divided into two interlocking exhibitions, the museum tells the story of Salvatore with original desighs through the decades, and then turns into a fine art exhibition, changed periodically. The temporary exhibitions deal with key issues in Ferragamo’s innovations. The exhibition that I saw last spring addressed the aspect of balance. Smart and inspiring!
At the Ferragamo flagship store in Florence, some of Salvatore Ferragamo’s original creations, both for women and men, are recreated in limited edition. Elegant use of material, impeccable craftmanship, and prices fitting a luxury brand.
At the Museo Milavida opening in Tampere, it was delightful to meet Fiamma Ferragamo’s eldest son, Diego di San Giuliano who had travelled to honor the first ever presentation of Salvatore Ferragamo’s work in Finland.
We talked for a while, with intensity and enthusiasm, about his grandfather, whose enormous creativity and technical cunning had developed into a world wide luxury brand in just two generations. I felt that the exhibition’s message was loud, clear and joyful. It pays to take risks, to specialize, to build on creativity and passion for excellence. In these dire times with gloomy economic prospects, that message is more timely and important than ever.