Inside Salvatore Ferragamo’s new exhibition ‘Women in Balance’

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

Ferragamo’s new footwear exhibition
A selection of Salvatore Ferragamo styles created between 1955 and 1965
(Image credit: Courtesy of Salvatore Ferragamo)

Wanda Ferragamo was an abiding presence at Salvatore Ferragamo, taking the helm of the family business in 1960 after her husband’s death (she married the house founder aged just 18; he was 23 years her senior). For the next six decades, it was she who became custodian of the shoemaker’s legacy as president and later chairwoman, guiding the house to its contemporary status as a leather-goods powerhouse and expanding its offering into the realms of ready-to-wear and fragrance in an era when fashion became one of Italy’s most prized exports. The years before her death in 2018, aged 96, saw her remain as the honorary figurehead of the house, still appearing in the office almost every day of the week.

A new exhibition at the Salvatore Ferragamo Museum in Florence, Italy, celebrates this unique legacy, providing viewers with a wholehearted tribute to the late businesswoman – ‘a bright and steady hand’, as the exhibition notes describe. Titled ‘Women in Balance’, the expansive show situates Wanda within the rapidly changing social milieu of Italy in the 20th century over two distinct chapters of her life: the first as a homemaker, marrying Salvatore Ferragamo as a teenager and having six children with the shoemaker, the latter as a rare female titan of industry in the boom of post-war Italy after his death. ‘We women do everything, it doesn’t matter what or where our office is,’ she would later write in a letter to her grandchildren, a handful of whom would go on to join the family business.

Inside Salvatore Ferragamo’s new exhibition ‘Women in Balance’

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. 

(Image credit: Courtesy of Salvatore Ferragamo)

The exhibition itself takes 1960 as a turning point, not only in Wanda’s life – the year she was backed by the house’s artisans to retain control after Salvatore’s death of cancer aged 62 – but also in post-war Italy, whereby a so-called ‘economic miracle’ saw a flood of women enter the country’s workforce. With it came a demand for products to appeal to these changing needs; ‘Women in Balance’ utilises Wanda’s own life as a jumping-off point to explore society’s newfound desires. ‘This exhibition is based on the theory that history evolves through a plurality of creative, productive people,’ says the museum. ‘[It’s about] the reciprocal actions of individuals who develop new lifestyles and consumption models, gender and labour relationships.’

Curated by Stefania Ricci and Elvira Valleri, the various objects in the exhibition – which comprise ephemera from Wanda’s life, archive film and photography, and, of course, a plethora of shoes – span the years 1955-1965, variously exploring the personal and the political. Moving through a series of rooms that evoke those found in a house, designed by Maurizio Balò, it charts a definitive moment of change in Italian society and the possibilities such shifts bring to individuals – one the organisers see as prescient as the world manoeuvres out of a global pandemic. 

‘The aim of this exhibition is not merely to recount a chapter in the history of our country, but above all to inspire a contemporary reflection on the societal changes addressed,’ says a museum statement. ‘The new social context in which we are currently living urges 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 and more evolved form of equality.’

Women in Balance exhibition

(Image credit: Courtesy of Salvatore Ferragamo)

Footwear Variety

(Image credit: Courtesy of Salvatore Ferragamo)

Ferragamo’s new exhibition ‘Women in Balance’

(Image credit: Courtesy of Salvatore Ferragamo)

INFORMATION

‘Women in Balance’ runs at the Salvatore Ferragamo museum in Florence from 20 May 2022 to 18 April 2023.

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Fashion Features Editor

Jack Moss is the Fashion Features Editor at Wallpaper*. Having previously held roles at 10, 10 Men and AnOther magazines, he joined the team in 2022. His work has a particular focus on the moments where fashion and style intersect with other creative disciplines – among them art and design – as well as championing a new generation of international talent and profiling the industry’s leading figures and brands.