Salvatore Ferragamo, The Shoe Designer

Salvatore Ferragamo (1898-1960) is a Legend in shoe design history, his innovations and ideas are still inspiring shoe designers today. The metal-reinforced stiletto heels made famous by Marilyn Monroe, gold sandals, and the invisible sandals with uppers made from nylon thread, which in 1947 were to win Ferragamo the prestigious ‘Neiman Marcus Award’, the Oscar of the fashion world, awarded for the first time to a footwear designer.

Quote from the autobiography of Salvatore Ferragamo, the shoemaker of dreams, london, 1957.

‘but if designers must wait for their customers to become conscious of new styles who, then, determines fashion?…
the answer is: new fashion begin in the mind of the designer.
he must not stifle all his ideas merely because the world is not yet
ready for them. I have no season”.

Suede patchwork shoe


Salvatore Ferragamo was a great innovator in the style and fashion of footwear design. Like the big names in industrial design he invented new forms by basing himself on functional needs that defined appearance.


Certain Ferragamo invention patents involved the revolutionising of centuries-old traditions of making shoes. For example, in 1931, a system of instep reinforcement in metal laminates, the shank, was created which was lightweight but able to provide rigid reinforcement.

Drawing of shank, support for heel

Shell-shaped sole

Ferragamo’s important patent. This sole was used in a popular range of shoes including slippers, ankle boots, court shoes, and even ballet shoes. Borrowed from the pattern of the Indian opanke, the mocassin of America’s native Indians, in which the sole mounts the heel to become the upper, Ferragamo’s shell-shaped sole contained and caressed the foot its curved, embracing form.

Shell Shaped Soles

Gloved arch

In 1952 Ferragamo designed a high-heeled shoe, in which the arch of the foot was lined with the same leather as the upper, limiting the sole to the front and heel. The model proved to be tough but flexible, like a glove, and the patent was known as the gloved arch.

Gloved Arch shoe grawing



In 1951 Ferragamo patented a new kind of woman’s shoe. Underneath it revealed a close fitting sock in a variety of colours and materials, called a ‘Kimo’ and inspired by the Japanese tabi. This model was used by Ferragamo for the first ever Italian fashion show, featuring clothes by Schuberth, which took place inFlorence, at the home of Giovanbattista Giorgini, on 12th February 1951. The idea of a multi-purpose model has been used by Ferragamo several times over the years in its creation of accessories, from bags to eyewear.

Kimo shoes

Sculpted heels

After Salvatore Ferrahamo death, creativity in heels was carried forward by his daughter Fiamma Ferragamo, who produced a number of famous sculpted heel patents which won her the Neiman Marcus Prize in 1967, twenty years after her father had won it. This shoe reminds on of the contemporary take by United Nude.

Sclupted heel


The cork wedge is one of the most recognizable of Ferragamo symbols and originated in an autarkic period to answer a specific functional need, that of replacing the steel plate that Ferragamo had patented in the Twenties to support the arch of the foot. Without the right sort of steel, which Ferragamo used to import from Germany and which it could no longer purchase due to the economic sanctions against Italy, Ferragamo shoe construction was bereft of one of its main elements.
“I started working with bits of Sardinian cork,” wrote Ferragamo, “pressing it, gluing it, fixing and finishing it till the space between sole and heel was filled up”. This was the birth of the wedge, destined to be one of the most famous fashion inventions of the Forties.

The Cork Wedge

Platform Shoes

Plateform shoe


Tavarnelle lace

Before Salvatore Ferragamo, needlepoint lace was only used to decorate clothing, underwear and household linen. At the end of the twenties, Ferragamo created a totally new purpose for the lace by using it to form the uppers of his shoes. Tavarnelle, Mercatale and Greve, all small towns in the area betweenFlorenceandSiena, were the centres of production, relying on piece-workers. The great innovation made by Ferragamo was the introduction of colours. He adopted Tavarnelle needlepoint lace in 1930’s and 1950’s. Both periods witnessed a revival of Romanticism in fashion.

Drawings for Invisible shoe

Invisible Shoe

Invisible shoe

Invisible Sole/Vinyl sole

All text and image courtesy Museo Salvatore Ferragamo, and designboom



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