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‘Salvatore’ hails a shoe biz master



“Salvatore: Shoemaker of Dreams”

Rated PG. In English and Italian with subtitles. At the AMC Boston Common.

Grade: B-

A feature film-length commercial for luxury goods company Ferragamo, “Salvatore: Shoemaker of Dreams” was directed by Luca Guadagnino (“Call Me By Your Name,” “Bones and All”) and is narrated by the American actor Michael Stuhlbarg. The film begins by telling us of Salvatore’s humble origin in the southern Italian town of Bonito. Salvatore Ferragamo was the 11th of 14 children and the “second Salvatore” (the first died). We hear from none other than the likes of Manolo Blahnik and Martin Scorsese as we learn of young Salvatore’s apprenticeship and how he learned to make shoes from local cobbler Luigi Festa.

Still a teenager and with a salami and some cheese in his suitcase, Salvatore took a third-class cruise to Boston, where he had brothers who worked for a mass production shoemaker and where young Salvatore learned the business. To get into the United States, Salvatore pretended to have the requisite $20 in cash when he only had $1 wrapped around a roll of paper. Salvatore and his brothers moved to California and eventually found themselves making shoes and boots for the likes of Cecil B. DeMille, John Barrymore and D.W. Griffith and daintier footwear for Pola Negri, Lilian Gish, Gloria Swanson and Mary Pickford. Ferragamo found himself designing and making boots and sandals for DeMille’s 1923 classic “The Ten Commandments”

Thus, Ferragamo established the alliance of fashion houses and celebrities that continues to this day. Later, Ferragamo would make shoes for Marlene Dietrich, Katharine Hepburn and Sophia Loren. In an effort to make his footwear more comfortable, the maestro studied anatomy at the University of Southern California. After more than a decade in the U.S. Ferragamo and his family returned to Italy, settling in art capital Florence where Ferragamo eventually opened a business in the Gothic Palazzo Spini-Feroni with, at its height, 700 workers. Once again, Ferragamo sought out and found a celebrity and royal clientele such as Italian film star Anna Magnani. The artist would be credited with reinventing the platform shoe and creating the “wedgie” and “caged heel.” If this doesn’t strike you as earth-shattering, well, you probably don’t spend enough time gazing through shop windows and sighing. Costume designer extraordinaire (“Raiders of the Lost Ark,” Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”) Deborah Nadoolman explains the significance of a pair of black heels with bows that Ferragamo designed for the aforementioned Swanson to wear in “Sadie Thompson” (1928). After suffering a severe leg injury when he was 20, Ferragamo also patented a device that was designed to stretch the leg in increments as it healed. Unlike a 1981 New York Times feature, “Salvatore” has nothing to say about Ferragamo customers Benito Mussolini, who “had corns and calluses,” and Eva Braun.

We hear from Ferragamo’s children, who present themselves as Italian aristocracy, which some of them are, in spite of the family’s humble origins as subsistence farmers. While it has its pleasures, Guadagnino’s never unflattering film pales beside such recent insightful fashion adjacent films as “Iris” (2014), “Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel” (2011), “Dior and I” (2014) and “The September Issue” (2009). Lucagnino never gets beneath the surface of Ferragamo or his legacy.

(“Salvatore: Shoemaker of Dreams” contains a suggestive reference)


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