Greeted by a wall of impeccably made shoes, Women in Balance 1955/1965 at the Salvatore Ferragamo Museum starts with a display dedicated to Wanda Miletti Ferragamo (1921-2018). Salvatore Ferragamo’s wife caused his creations—and their family—to become household names, known for creative and business endeavours that stem from an enriching and supportive family life. This is the starting point for the show that explores Italy’s social history in the 1950s and 60s.
Descending into the basement of Palazzo Spini Feroni, women are explored with each section set up like the room of a domestic space. The years in focus correspond to when Wanda changed the course of her life as her husband passed in 1960 and she spearheaded the brand, forging the Ferragamo fashion house, with the balance between her work and family at the forefront of her mind. Her reserved nature meant she never boasted about her successes, of which there were many as evidenced by the wall loaded with her awards and accolades. Lady Diana and Queen Elizabeth are just some of the illustrious faces photographed. Family photos are lovingly displayed alongside personal items and letters to her six children.
Another section highlights trailblazing women who took the first strides in professions that had previously been closed to them. Quotes by Wanda are interspersed with contemporary voices heard in a video streaming the thoughts of today’s women on topics like family, work and gender discrimination.
Moving back to the era in focus, snapshots of daily life like a model kitchen alternate with a supermarket cash register, the garb worn by Alitalia air hostesses and secretarial accoutrements revealing some of the most frequently occupied positions by women. Household items speak to the trends, with advertisements displaying “perfect” homes and “perfect” women as plastic became the material of choice in homes, rivalling ceramics, and branding became a major market.
We follow the path to the “dressing room”, where gowns and garments grace the walls. Shoes once worn by stars like Audrey Hepburn, Marilyn Monroe, Greta Garbo and Sophia Loren are placed centrestage, with glittering style reflected in the large vanity.
With high fashion in mind and reflections on women’s role in the world, you emerge back into via de’ Tornabuoni feeling like you’ve grabbed a glimpse of a 1950s Hollywood set and had a peek into the private thoughts of women striving to make their mark on the world.
A few words with Vittoria Ferragamo
Favourite childhood memories of your grandmother Wanda Ferragamo.
We were always on our best behaviour because she insisted on that, but it made for a calm, safe environment and there were playful moments of laughter too. When I was little, I’d crawl into her bed (we lived next door!) and we’d make breakfast together. I’d try on her shoes and she’d brush my hair while she was getting ready to go into the office. We always had a lot of fun at her house.
How do you channel these memories into your daily life?
Our nonna was a guiding star in our lives, who gave us healthy, loving principles. She taught us a simple way of life devoted to the family, to work and hobbies. She loved flowers and reading as well as things that enrich the soul like religion and faith.
What’s the most important part of the exhibition for you as an entrepreneur and family member?
It’s hard to choose. Definitely the opportunity to look back at the different times and part of my nonna’s life. I really like the part that focuses on the talent and success of women at a time when it was hard for women to find their place in the world. Women are so versatile throughout their lives, varying between being gentle and determined, feminine and strong, shrewd and soft.
Women in Balance 1955/1965
Piazza Santa Trinita
8 euro, until April 18, 2023