Arts & Culture

Salvatore Ferragamo's Time in Hollywood Is the Subject of a New Museum Exhibit

A fascinating look at how the designer got his start-and the creative impact of Italian immigrants on American popular culture.
IMAGE COURTESY, SALVATORE FERRAGAMO
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Robert De Niro. Al Pacino. Frank Sinatra. Rudolph Valentino. Italian-Americans have a long and proud legacy in the movies, and a new exhibit pays tribute to their contributions to the business through the eyes of an early pioneering immigrant.

These days Salvatore Ferragamo may be best known as a leather goods brand with a regular presence on Hollywood red carpets, but its namesake's history with Los Angeles stretches back much further.

"Italy in Hollywood," a new exhibit at the Museo Salvatore Ferragamo in Florence, which runs through March 2019, explores the designer’s life in California from 1915 to 1927. This lesser-known but formative time in Ferragamo’s career is showcased through eight immersive rooms, each highlighting a distinctive theme of Italian-American culture.


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Travis Banton, Bolero-style “Suit of Lights” jacket, Designed by Natacha Rambova and worn by Rudolph Valentino in the movie “Blood and Sand” directed by Frank Niblo. Paramount Pictures and Famous Players-Lasky Corporation, B-W, 125', 1922, Courtesy of The Collection of Motion Picture Costume Design: Larry McQueen, Los Angeles

The young Italian designer emmigrated to America from his hometown of Bonito during World War I and quickly found his way to Santa Barbara. Ferragamo opened a shoe repair shop with his brothers and collaborated with the most famous names in cinema, including Raoul Walsh, James Cruze, and Cecil B. DeMille.

When the industry moved to Hollywood, he followed, becoming the self-professed "Shoemaker to the Stars." His new store, the Hollywood Boot Shop, attracted the likes of Charlie Chaplin, Joan Crawford, Mary Pickford, Pola Negri, Lillian Gish, and, of course, another Italian émigré, the original sex symbol, Rudolph Valentino.

Housed in Palazzo Spini Feroni, the 13th-century building owned by the Ferragamo family since the 1930s—the museum opened in 1995—the exhibit also recreates Ferragamo's original shop, and some of his designs, including the pair worn by Marilyn Monroe in the iconic subway grate scene in The Seven Year Itch.


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Salvatore Ferragamo, Prototype for laced shoe, 1927, Calfskin and suede upper. The model was designed for the actress Gloria Swanson, Firenze, Museo Salvatore Ferragamo

Curated by Giuliana Muscio and Stefania Ricci, "Italy in Hollywood" uses Ferragamo’s success story to thread a larger narrative about the burgeoning representation of Italians in American cinema. Film clips, stills, posters and other memorabilia point to a body of work by immigrants that formed the foundation of a then blossoming industry.

Music by Italian immigrants and Italian-Americans plays throughout the exhibit to create an interactive experience, highlighting the artistic impact of an immigrant creative community in the first half of 20th century America.


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Poster by Leopoldo Metlicovitz, Undated Advertising poster produced for the movie "Cabiria" by Giovanni Pastrone B-W, 168', 1914, Torino, Collezione Museo Nazionale del Cinema

After last year's "1927 the Return to Italy," curators sought to explore another early chapter of its founder's life, and it so happens that immigration happens to be a timely topic today.

“I look back now and see a parallel between the film industry and my own,” Ferragamo wrote in his autobiography. “Just as the motion picture industry has grown and developed from those fledgling days, so too, I hope, has mine.” 


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Photograph of the Original Dixieland Jazz Band, 1920s, Photograph GAB Archive/Redferns | Getty Images

Designed by Maurizio Balò as an homage to an early Hollywood soundstage, the exhibition space contrasts strikingly with its ornate home, the Palazzo Feroni, and, indeed, with Florence itself, a historic city that feels like a living museum. As guests stepped inside on a recent visit, it seemed as though they were walking into another time, in another world.

This story originally appeared on Townandcountrymag.com.
* Minor edits have been made by the Townandcountry.ph editors.

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