Salvatore Ferragamo’s women’s and men’s shoes and leather-goods division director, James Ferragamo, is well placed to help the Italian business into its third and fourth generation of global success. The family-owned company was started by his grandfather Salvatore, a pioneer in his trade – he even studied the anatomy of the foot to understand the art of shoemaking. Salvatore left his Naples home and became a great success in 1920s Hollywood, returning to Italy seven years later with such a following for his stylish and comfortable shoes that stars such as Judy Garland and Marilyn Monroe came to him for personal fittings.
‘I really admire what my grandfather did in his life and I must say, for me, his passion for making shoes has been an inspiration,’ says James, 44, who gained his master’s degree at New York University’s Stern Business School and joined the Salvatore Ferragamo Group in 1998. While his innovation kick-started the success of the company, Salvatore’s premature death, in 1960, put his wife centre stage. James says Signora Wanda, as his formidable grandmother is known, ‘was and still is a great role model – an exceptional woman who has been able not only to take up the heritage of her husband but, as a mother, to take over the reins of the company and guide it towards development and international growth.’
As the company has expanded, it has remained true to its original principles, and while it now produces handbags and other luxury leather goods, its focus remains footwear. James describes its hallmarks as ‘quality, tradition and craftsmanship’ and, certainly, prestige detailing, clean lines, quality materials and, above all, comfortable fit distinguish the Ferragamo shoe.
One of the recent projects that James has spearheaded is the Tramezza Made To Order service. The tramezza (literally ‘partition’) is Salvatore Ferragamo’s most exclusive men’s footwear line. The traditional technique by which it is made requires each shoe to be handcrafted in the company’s workshops. ‘It’s a highly complex construction with 260 separate, standardised phases,’ explains James. ‘Our shoemakers spend over six hours working on just one shoe.’ It can take up to a week to construct a pair and four days to shape the upper on a last.
The tramezza’s three-point welt construction is key to its durability and fit. ‘The upper and the welt are sewn to the rib of the insole, then the welt is stitched to the sole,’ James explains. ‘Traditionally, a layer of cork is sandwiched between the insole and sole; however, in Salvatore Ferragamo’s tramezza, the cork is replaced with a thick yet flexible layer of leather. It naturally shapes to the foot, adding extra comfort and a long-lasting form that “memorises” the cast.
As the leather filler is breathable, the shoes can be worn all year round, regardless of climate, as the feet are insulated from the outside temperature and any humidity, keeping them dry in the wet and cool in summer.
If looked after correctly, the tramezza should last a lifetime.’ Salvatore Ferragamo’s made-to-order service offers a choice of nine models, which can be selected from a wide combination of leathers – including crocodile or textured hide – and colours. The process having begun with a thorough measuring session, the unique-fit shoes are delivered within 60 days of an order being placed.
To complete the personalisation, up to three initials can be engraved on the sole. Customisation is available both in person and via the company’s website. Using the online ‘configurator’ at tramezza.ferragamo.com, one can virtually customise a shoe, then print an order form to take into a store. James emphasises that ‘the excellence in the range stems from the high-quality materials and the expert craftsmanship of the shoemakers.’ These guiding principles have been handed down from generation to generation of artisans, all of whom are trained in-house. While the brand is always creating new footwear designs, it also revisits its archives to give vintage models a new lease of life by innovating with the latest technology. Whatever the elegant style and form, the offer of comfort for the duration of the shoe’s lifetime is what Ferragamo does best of all.