Wednesday, November 30, 2022

More than a simple shoemaker


  Director Luca Guadagnino (Bones and All, Call Me By Your Name) has made a laudatory documentary about Salvatore Ferragamo, the shoemaker who became a fashion icon. 
     Ferragamo's life-long determination to make shoes took him to Hollywood, turned him into a shoemaker to the stars, and led to the establishment of an innovative global brand. 
   Largely based on Ferragamo's 1957 autobiography, Shoemaker of Dreams, the move -- entitled Salvatore: Shoemaker of Dreams --  includes recordings made by Ferragamo, interviews with designers such as Manolo Blahnik, archival footage, and a narration provided by Michael Stuhlbarg
   It's difficult not to fall under the glamorous sway of the stars who wore Ferragamo's shoes: Gloria Swanson, Greta Garbo, Mary Pickford, Joan Crawford, Marilyn Monroe, and Audrey Hepburn among them.
   As director Martin Scorsese points out, Ferragamo's arrival in California coincided with the rise of the movie business. Ferragamo must have understood that putting shoes on famous feet would enhance his reputation. 
   Eventually, Ferragamo returned to Italy where he established himself in Florence, went through a bankruptcy, and -- of course -- re-emerged. 
   Guadagnino's film talks about the way World War II forced Ferragamo to utilize new materials but has little to say about how he felt about the rise of Mussolini. Ferragamo lived through tumultuous times but his attention seems to have remained on his work.
   Mostly an outline of a life that began when Ferragamo left home at the age of 12, the movie pays tribute to a man who thought his greatest contribution was to combine design and comfort -- maybe too much tribute because the film is overly long and sometimes digressive.
   Still, Guadagnino chronicles the career of a man who seemed to leave little to chance, fashioning his life with one calculation after another. He became an apprentice in Naples. He went to the U.S. to learn whether US manufacturing techniques could be married to an artisan's ethos. He returned to Italy to add a "made-in-Europe" cache to his wares. He was obsessed with feet, so he studied anatomy. He married when he decided it was time to marry. 
     Ferragamo seemed to be making focused decisions from the age of nine, when he made his first pair of shoes for a sister's first communion. He died in 1960 at the age of 62. The business is still family owned.*

*If you're ever in Florence, make a point of visiting  The Ferragamo Museum, where you'll find many interesting exhibits and learn a bit more about Ferragamo's connection to the artists of his day.

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