Hermitage Finds Itself in Ferragamo’s Shoes

Hermitage Finds Itself in Ferragamo’s Shoes

Published: January 23, 2013 (Issue # 1743)


Giovanna Gentile Ferragamo, the company’s vice-president, pictured during an interview at the Hotel Astoria in St. Petersburg.

Salvatore Ferragamo, one of Italy’s most renowned and successful fashion companies, has become the first member of the association of the Friends of the Hermitage Museum in Italy. What will the alliance between the iconic shoe brand and the vast art collection bring to these venerable institutions — and indeed, their dedicated audiences? Giovanna Gentile Ferragamo, vice-president of the company and the daughter of its founder Salvatore Ferragamo, spoke to The St. Petersburg Times about this collaboration and the many connections between the Ferragamo family and the world of art.

“Naturally, we are fascinated by the Hermitage’s collections, and we would be thrilled to be able to get inspiration from the amazing artworks; our designers recently had the precious opportunity to study the archives of the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow,” Ferragamo said.

On the board of the Hermitage Friends in Italy, Ferragamo works alongside the heads of some of Italy’s most respected businesses, as well as scholars and members of aristocratic families, such as Contessa Maria Vittoria Rimbotti, president of the Friends of the Uffizzi Gallery Association; Claudia Cremonini, head of the external relations department of the Cremonini food processing holding; professor Stefania Pavan, a senior lecturer in Russian literature at the University of Florence; and Marquise Bona Frescobaldi.

“We are very honored by this opportunity to be so close to the Hermitage Museum; the Ferragamo family has always been affiliated with arts and culture,” Ferragamo said.

Most recently, the company sponsored the restoration of Leonardo da Vinci’s “The Virgin and Child With Saint Anne,” a newly restored oil-on-wood painting dating back to circa 1510 and left unfinished by the artist when he died in 1519. The painting was the focal point of the Louvre’s exhibition “Saint Anne, Leonardo da Vinci’s Ultimate Masterpiece,” which juxtaposed sketches and drawings from the last two decades of the master’s life.

The sponsorship earned Ferragamo the right to hold its first ever fashion runway show inside the Louvre, which took place in June 2012.

Yet of all the arts — just like in Russian revolutionary Vladimir Lenin’s famous declaration — cinema has been the most important art form for Ferragamo since the 1920s.

Hollywood would bring Ferragamo energy, inspiration — and the loyalty of distinguished clients such as Lauren Bacall, Audrey Hepburn, Ava Gardner, Greta Garbo and Sophia Loren.

Salvatore Ferragamo Spa has made it a tradition to work for big film productions, both by making accessories for them and by working closely and actively with costume designers on set. Collaborations in the last 20 years include Alan Parker’s “Evita” in 1996, which starred Madonna in the lead role, and Andy Tennant’s 1998 film “Ever After: A Cinderella Story,” starring Drew Barrymore, Anjelica Huston and Jeanne Moreau, and more recently on Baz Luhrmann’s “Australia” (2008), with Nicole Kidman in the lead role.

“Evita herself was a dedicated client of ours, and for the film we made exact copies of the models that she had ordered,” Ferragamo recalls. “So what Madonna wears in the film are in fact replicas of the very same designs that we had made for Evita.”

It was the same story with Meryl Streep and the film “The Iron Lady,” in which the actress portrayed former U.K. prime minister Margaret Thatcher. “We had the history of her orders in the archives, and we were able to produce copies of Thatcher’s shoes for Meryl Streep,” Ferragamo said.

During a visit to Italy for the launch ceremony of the association in July 2012, the Hermitage’s director, Mikhail Piotrovsky, visited the Ferragamo Museum in Florence, where he attended an exhibit dedicated to Marilyn Monroe.


Ferragamo made copies of Margaret Thatcher’s shoes for the film ‘The Iron Lady.’

Some of the items at the permanent collection of the Ferragamo Museum are particularly moving for Giovanna Ferragamo. For example, she has a strong emotional connection with the patchwork shoes that are associated with her childhood.

“Over the years, my father had made — he did it a few times — a patchwork flat shoe design which is made of many little pieces of leather sewn together with another piece of leather,” she remembers.

“The little bits had different colors and textures. These pieces could be lizard or suede, or anything else. When my sister and I were about 10 years old, he would make these shoes for us. I was a very shy child, and, of course, the other kids did not have shoes like those. So I hardly ever wore the fantastic shoes — or, when I did, I tried to hide my feet under the chair! When I think of those now, my thoughts are very different. If I had them today, I would love them.”

Salvatore Ferragamo used to divide his female clients into three categories: The Cinderella, the Venus and the Aristocrat. The division was not based on style, however, but solely on the size of the ladies’ feet. A Cinderella had a shoe size smaller than a six (39), the Venus took a size six, and the Aristocrat a seven (41) or larger.

Joking aside, when he created shoes for any great actress he was working with, he would start with their personality.

“Marilyn Monroe was a stiletto woman — and indeed, this shape comes to mind immediately when we think of her,” said Giovanna Ferragamo. “This was an ideal match between a woman and a fashion item, and stilettos are frequently even associated with Monroe. By comparison, Greta Garbo loved flat, somewhat masculine-looking shoes.”

Russian admirers of the Ferragamo brand are hoping that this cooperation will result not only in arts projects, but also new collections inspired by the Hermitage’s objects of art.

The Hermitage has already collaborated with considerable success with St. Petersburg designers Lilia Kisselenko, Tatyana Parfyonova and Ianis Chamalidy, who received permission to study the museum’s collections, consult curators and produce new designs inspired and influenced by the Hermitage’s treasures.

Is there anything that Giovanna Ferragamo really likes and remains faithful to that is not fashionable?

“A lot of things, actually, starting with this bag,” she replies, pointing at her elegant, compact, black leather handbag.

“The company first produced them about 25 years ago, and indeed, Ferragamo does not make these designs anymore. They do it for me, upon request, specifically — and I have a few of them, in different colors.

“Come to think about it, most of my wardrobe is not fashionable. If I opened my closet, people would think, goodness, this is all vintage!”

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