1927 The Return to Italy

By Meghan Mary Fate Sullivan (Stanford University)

Salvatore Ferragamo – a name synonymous with luxury and high end fashion. Indeed, most people would recognize this name, even those with no interest in designers or fashion. But while the Ferragamo brand recognition is far reaching, the fascinating story behind its creation is not quite as visible. Perhaps this is why the Museo Salvatore Ferragamo has recently created an exhibit outlining an interesting facet of Ferragamo’s story: his return to Italy and subsequent rise to success.

In a city where there are countless museums to choose from, the 1927 Return to Italy exhibit offers something new. It’s a chance to view 1920’s art, fashion, and history, but what differentiates it is how it does so through the background narrative of Ferragamo’s compelling story. The exhibit begins with a description of Ferragamo’s voyage from the United States back to Italy. After spending 12 years growing his company and crafting shoes for popular film stars in the United States, Ferragamo decided to return to his home country of Italy and settle down in Florence. Here, he continued to grow his empire by perfecting shoe designs and styling the most prominent names of his time. However, as is the case with most art, his designs and inspiration were not free from the era’s influence. For while Ferragamo was building his company, there simultaneously began a wave of cultural and political change throughout Italy.

The 1920s saw the foundation of what would soon become Italy’s Fascist regime, and this ideological shift is evident in the art and style from the time. Fascist values such as modernity and strength are noticeable throughout the artwork on display, a factor which is described in depth throughout, further adding to the historical element of the exhibit.

The Return to Italy successfully blends together costume designs, original Ferragamo shoe designs, paintings, sculptures, history, photos and videos for a mixed media experience. The display includes Ferragamo’s personal items, such as travel papers, with corresponding background information that illustrates his history. However, there are also many artifacts and art pieces that don’t directly relate to Ferragamo and instead speak to the overall culture of the era. As one walks through the exhibit, they will observe paintings from well known artists of the time and stories of the socialites that Ferragamo dressed. The various displays are woven together through the exhibit’s nautical theme, a design choice which almost makes it feel as though you were part of Ferragamo’s fateful journey yourself.

The Museo Salvatore Ferragamo is located right off of Ponte Santa Trinita, wedged in between two dazzling Ferragamo window displays. From the street, one can see people trying on the designs and browsing the newest collections. This energetic and compelling scene is enough to draw anyone in, proven by the constant flow of shoppers moving in and out of the store. But much like Ferragamo’s story itself, there is more here than first meets the eye. Down a set of stairs, below the shoppers and the enthralling window displays, lies the 1927 Return to Italy exhibit. Here, participants are transported to a beautifully curated world of art, glamour, history, and one man’s journey to success. If you are looking for an exhibit that not only showcases art pieces, but also does so through a cohesive story, then look no further – The Return to Italy exhibit does just that.

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