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Marta Innocenti Ciulli

June 25, 2018

The exhibition Italy in Hollywood

Salvatore Ferragamo’s American experience through film clips, artworks and photos. At the Ferragamo Museum in Florence

The new exhibition at the Salvatore Ferragamo Museum in Florence, Italy in Hollywood (May 25, 2018 – March 10, 2019; catalogue by Skira, edited by Stefania Ricci), takes a look at the years between 1915 and 1927, when Salvatore Ferragamo lived in the United States, splitting his time between Santa Barbara and Hollywood, in California. This was an intense period of experience and knowledge, both of which were to be had in constant succession, be it when he left Italy in 1915 to reach his brothers who had moved to North America a few years before – a preferred destination for many Southern Italian migrants at the time – or the opening of a shop alongisde his brothers for shoe repairs and made-to-measure orders in Santa Barbara. It was exactly this store that led to his collaboration with the world of cinema and the directors of the period. Ferragamo created footwear for the films’ protagonists and as a result, he earned the esteem of California’s high society. 

In just a few years, he was labelled a “shoemaker and shoe designer,” as the American press called him. When the film industry moved to Hollywood, it was only natural that Ferragamo would follow, opening a new store on Hollywood Blvd, Hollywood Boot Shop. “It’s as if I see a parallel between the film industry and my business… when the bigshots began to grow, my store followed the same course…” Ferragamo wrote in his autobiography. He developed not only professional rapports with the most famous stars of the era, like Mary Pickford, Pola Negri, Charlie Chaplin, Joan Crawford and Rodolfo Valentino, but also a genuine friendship. This was an important period in history, when the businesses of many Italian emigrants, almost all of whom were southerners with third-class tickets to a new life, set up shop in this part of America. Additionally, one cannot overlook the influence that Italian culture had in American craftsmanship, architecture, art, theatre and cinema in those years.

The exhibition route focuses on this and reconstructs that creative invasion, developing like a film plot. Italian silent film, as well as French, dominated international screens at the time. In particular, Italian cinema was characterized by its great many extras, evocative landscapes, authentic historic monuments and a production that emphasized the culture of “work done well” and underlined the image of the Italian emigrant. Some young Italians burst onto the scene with their charm, like Rodolfo Valentino, an early figure in the concept of stardom, and American cinema also welcomed directors who were born in Italy but emigrated to the United States, like Frank Capra. The exhibition also highlights the Italian contribution of passion, instinct and sentimentalism in music, like the important tenor Enrico Caruso and the beautiful Lina Cavalieri, present in the exhibition through 40 of the 300 celebrated ceramic portraits Piero Fornasetti made of her.

With photographs, film clips, objects, clothing and artistic depictions, prestigious donations from museums and public and private collections both in Italy and the United States, the exhibition illustrates the role of Italians and Italian art during those years of intense transformation. The exhibition route winds through nine rooms, each one with its own theme, like Italian emigration, the Italian citadel designed by Marcello Piacentini for the Expo in 1915, early Italian cinema, Italian charm, Italians in Hollywood, artisans and musicians, and, of course, the history of Hollywood Boot Shop, with a heavy focus on the work of Salvatore Ferragamo the artist and the bond he shared with his famous clients.  


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