- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 4, 2006

Ninety years and thousands of pairs of shoes ago, a 16-year-old Italian cobbler named Salvatore Ferragamo came to Los Angeles hoping to find a little glamour.

He found a little — and then he created a lot more. So it seems fitting that the twin worlds of fame and fortune have honored him on the Rodeo Drive Walk of Style, on one of the ritziest shopping streets in the world.

Mr. Ferragamo’s plaque took its place last month with those belonging to Tom Ford, Giorgio Armani, Edith Head, Mario Testino and a handful of others at the corner of Rodeo Drive and Dayton Way, which award organizers describe as the intersection of fashion and film.

From the early days of his career at the Hollywood Boot Shop, which he opened in 1923 just as studios began to turn out lavishly costumed films, Mr. Ferragamo knew the link between Ferragamo — the man and the brand — and celebrities would be one of the keys to success.

He courted and won over stars such as Lillian Gish, Joan Crawford and Great Garbo and later Judy Garland, Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn and Sofia Loren, with his creative styles and innovative wedge heel. The big names even followed him to his palazzo in Italy for shoe fittings once Mr. Ferragamo returned in 1927 to be with his family and the fine craftsmen in his homeland.

“When he went to America, he was very young,” recalls his wife, Wanda, still an officer at the company. “He started to design very fantastic shoes. The movie actresses and artists started to be enthusiastic about them. Because of that, we have a great legacy with the cinema.”

Mr. Ferragamo’s youngest son, Massimo, adds: “They loved his charm and his shoes, and he knew how to make shoes comfortable.”

Ferragamo shoes first appeared on-screen on Miss Gish in “Way Down East” and on the feet of the entire cast of Cecil B. DeMille’s “The Ten Commandments.” Most recently, they were featured in “The Departed,” “Miami Vice” and “The Devil Wears Prada.” In between, Miss Monroe wore them in “The Seven Year Itch,” and Drew Barrymore’s princess slippers in “Ever After” were made by Ferragamo.

Mr. Ferragamo’s grandson James, who is charged with the brand’s handbag and leather goods division, says personal relationships with consumers set the brand apart from others that might find themselves with an “it” item one minute that becomes obsolete the next.

“Our customer has an understanding of fashion, is sophisticated. It’s not a customer who’s driven by a bag that could become a fad. We want you to be able to carry it tomorrow.”

Could that be a jab at the trendy accessories that command huge prices yet are fashion relics even before they show up on the pages of US Weekly? Maybe, but James is too much of a Ferragamo to say.

In interviews, Wanda, James and Massimo, chairman of Ferragamo USA, come across as warm, likable and surprisingly unstuffy. Even in conversations about Ferragamo’s celebrity ties, it doesn’t feel as if they’re name-dropping. They speak fondly of longtime friends and leave the rest up to a written filmography and history to be considered later by a reporter.

They don’t criticize competitors or pop culture.

The Ferragamos prefer to focus on the legacy left by Mr. Ferragamo and the importance of construction and quality materials in their goods.

“The spirit of my grandfather is part of any product we make today. He was always trying to do something unique, not trying to max out on a specific style or logo,” James says. “In the archives, there are 10,000 shoes. You can see history: the use of other materials during World War II, when they couldn’t find any leather, the use of color, the innovation in construction. It was innovation that stemmed from the desire to create a product that’s timely and timeless.”

Women who swear by Ferragamos say comfort is what they want.

“I love Ferragamo shoes,” declares Kate White, Cosmopolitan magazine’s editor in chief. “Though you will find Prada boots in my closet and Manolos and Stuart Weitzman shoes in there, too, I have mostly Ferragamos. Granted, they aren’t always as trendy as other brands — though they have definitely improved their hipness factor in the past few years — but what I love about them is that they are soooo comfortable.

“Ferragamos don’t pinch, bind or torture,” she adds.

Shoes are indeed the bread and butter of the Salvatore Ferragamo business — always have been, always will be. The Ferragamo clan largely has succeeded in creating the bigger brand that Mr. Ferragamo imagined, but they haven’t forgotten their roots.

Style.com’s review of the spring 2007 collection described it as inspired by Miss Monroe’s shapely silhouette in “Some Like It Hot,” another film for which Ferragamo provided shoes.

“When you talk about a legend of something, there couldn’t be anything more appropriate than Salvatore Ferragamo,” says Peri Ellen Berne, Walk of Style chairwoman.

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