Inside the Salvatore Ferragamo “Women in Balance” exhibition


Inside Salvatore Ferragamo’s New ‘Women in Balance’ Exhibit

The new exhibition in Florence explores a moment of change in post-war Italy, framed by the life of Wanda Ferragamo, who ran her husband Salvatore’s business after the cobbler’s death in 1960

Wanda Ferragamo was a permanent presence at Salvatore Ferragamo, taking over the family business in 1960 after her husband’s death (she married the house’s founder at just 18; he was 23 years her senior). Over the next six decades, it was she who became the custodian of the cobbler’s legacy as chairman and then president, guiding the house to its contemporary status as a leather goods powerhouse and expanding its offering in the areas of ready-to-wear. -to-wear and perfume. at a time when fashion has become one of Italy’s most prized exports. The years leading up to her death in 2018, aged 96, saw her remain the honorary figurehead of the house, still appearing in the office most days of the week.

A new exhibition at the Salvatore Ferragamo Museum in Florence, Italy celebrates this unique legacy, offering viewers an unqualified tribute to the late businesswoman – “a shining and firm hand”, as the exhibit notes describe. Titled “Women in Balance,” the expansive show situates Wanda in the rapidly changing social milieu of 20th-century Italy over two distinct chapters of her life: the first as a housewife, marrying Salvatore Ferragamo as a teenager and having six children with the cobbler, the latter as a rare female titan of industry in Italy’s post-war boom after her death. “We women do everything no matter where and where our office is,” she would later write in a letter to her grandchildren, a handful of whom would join the family business.

The Ferragamo family on the roof of Palazzo Spini Feroni, 1983. From left to right: Fiamma, Wanda and Fulvia; behind them: Giovanna, Leonardo, Ferruccio and a model. Courtesy of Salvatore Ferragamo

The exhibition itself takes 1960 as a turning point, not only in Wanda’s life – the year in which she was supported by the craftsmen of the house to maintain control after Salvatore’s death from cancer at the age of 62 – but also in post-war Italy, where a so-called ‘economic miracle’ saw a flood of women entering the country’s workforce. With it came a demand for products to appeal to these changing needs; “Women in Balance” uses Wanda’s own life as a starting point to explore society’s new desires. “This exhibit is based on the theory that history evolves through a plurality of creative and productive people,” the museum explains. ‘[It’s about] the reciprocal actions of individuals who develop new ways of life and new models of consumption, gender and work relations.

Curated by Stefania Ricci and Elvira Valleri, the various objects in the exhibition – which include ephemera from Wanda’s life, archival film and photography and, of course, a plethora of shoes – span the years 1955-1965. , exploring the personal and the political in a variety of ways. Moving through a series of rooms reminiscent of those found in a home, designed by Maurizio Balò, it charts a definitive moment of change in Italian society and the possibilities that such changes present to individuals – one that the organizers consider to be as prescient that the world is maneuvering out of a global pandemic.

“The objective of this exhibition is not only to tell a chapter of the history of our country, but above all to inspire contemporary reflection on the societal changes addressed”, indicates a press release from the museum. “The new social context in which we currently live pushes us to rethink many aspects of our lives… [it’s] an opportunity for the rebirth of society cured of the countless health and economic wounds caused by Covid, ushering in a new, more evolved form of equality. §


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