Review: ‘Salvatore’ fetes a life devoted to feet and fashion

Nov 3, 2022, 6:59 AM | Updated: 7:27 am
This image released by Sony Pictures Classics shows Italian designer Salvatore Ferragamo with some ...

This image released by Sony Pictures Classics shows Italian designer Salvatore Ferragamo with some of his shoe shapes. Ferragamo is the subject of the documentary "Salvatore: Shoemaker of Dreams." (©Archivio Giuseppe Palmas/Sony Pictures Classics via AP)

(©Archivio Giuseppe Palmas/Sony Pictures Classics via AP)

Next time you arrive home with aching, blistered feet after a long day, take heart: It’s not your feet that are the problem. It’s your shoes.

And that comes from the master, the late Salvatore Ferragamo, who pronounces in director Luca Guadagnino’s loving documentary “Salvatore: Shoemaker of Dreams” that in his entire career, “I have found there are no bad feet. There are bad shoes.”

Now, whether you can afford a pair of Ferragamos to let your feet live their best lives is another question. But it’s fascinating to learn how obsessively Ferragamo, born into a poor Italian farming family at the turn of the 20th century, studied the human foot in his quest to create the perfect shoe, combining creativity with, crucially, comfort. “I love feet,” he wrote. “They talk to me.” He even studied anatomy as a night student at the University of Southern California, peppering the professor with questions about the skeleton — but only the feet.

That’s just one of countless lovely anecdotes packed into Guadagnino’s often fascinating, unabashedly adoring and also perhaps somewhat overly stuffed study of the designer, using Ferragamo’s own voice from recordings, and his 1955 memoir narrated by actor Michael Stuhlbarg. Working with the Ferragamo family, the director had an astonishing wealth of material to choose from: Between the family foundation and museum archives, numerous family members to interview, a slew of top cultural commentators and also some wonderful old Hollywood footage, you can almost feel Guadagnino efforting to get it all in. Then again, he knows some of us could watch films about Hollywood, about fashion, and especially about great shoes all day long.

And these ARE great shoes, especially if you like shoes that tell a story. For example, the famous “rainbow” shoe produced in the late ’30s, a glistening gold sandal perched atop a platform of layered suede tiers on a sole made of cork — a welcome innovation at a time when leather could be hard to come by (Ferragamo pioneered platform soles and the wedge heel). Shoe lovers will enjoy a segment where we watch this shoe being constructed today, looking stunningly contemporary, step by step: the cutting, the gluing, the hammering. (The shoe later stars in its own mini-film, a whimsical animated “shoe ballet” closing the documentary.)

Then there’s the almost dangerously, rebelliously sexy shoe worn by Gloria Swanson in the 1928 “Sadie Thompson,” a pair of high-heeled black pumps with an ankle strap and large white bows that scream out: “Look at me!”

We begin, though, with Ferragamo’s youth as the 11th of 14 children, in Bonito, a village near Naples. Pushing back against his father’s views that shoemaking is a lowly career, he proves his worth by producing overnight a pair of spiffy shoes for his sister’s confirmation. He apprentices with a cobbler at age nine, is making shoes by 11, and at 16 boards a ship to America. After a quick stop in Boston he hops a train and heads west — to Santa Barbara, California, where a fledgling movie industry is emerging. As director Martin Scorsese says — the best of many commentators here — in California, “anything goes. You could make yourself over three or four times.”

Watching early Westerns, Ferragamo knows he could make better cowboy boots — and he does. Then he graduates to all sorts of movie shoes, including 12,000 sandals for Cecil B. DeMille’s 1923 silent epic “The Ten Commandments.” His name grows and his fans include the biggest stars of the day — Swanson, Mary Pickford, Lillian Gish, Douglas Fairbanks (and in later years, everyone from Greta Garbo to Audrey Hepburn to Marilyn Monroe.) He relocates to Hollywood, where he lives near Charlie Chaplin and Valentino stops by to chat in Italian. He establishes his own store, a magnet for stars.

Guadagnino gives us a lesson in the history of Hollywood itself, not to mention the birth of the “movie star” and the role fashion has played in that. (It’s great fun.) Then in 1927 Ferragamo returns to Italy, choosing Florence as a base for his plan to use Italian artisanal labor to make shoes destined for clients in America. It’s a plan fraught with risk and early setbacks. In 1933 he declares bankruptcy, then rebuilds and eventually buys a lavish 13th-century palazzo for his company — a triumph of self-belief.

Despite seemingly countless interviews with family, there’s still a feeling we’re not always delving deeply into the man’s character or personal life. That finally changes when, late in the film, through lovely footage shot by Ferragamo himself, we meet his bride, Wanda, a young woman from his village.

It is Wanda who will, at 38 and a mother of six, take over the business when her husband dies suddenly of illness in 1960, overseeing an expansion into a global luxury brand. But that is not covered here. Wanda Ferragamo died in 2018, at age 96 (luckily she’d been interviewed for the film), and her years atop a business empire after never having worked in her life would have been a fascinating element of this story.

But that will have to be another movie.

“Salvatore: Shoemaker of Dreams” has been rated PG by the Motion Picture Association of America “for smoking and a suggestive reference.” Running time: 120 minutes. Two and a half stars out of four.

MPAA definition of PG: Parental guidance suggested.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


              This image released by Sony Pictures Classics shows promotional art for "Salvatore: Shoemaker of Dreams," a documentary about Italian designer Salvatore Ferragamo. (Sony Pictures Classics via AP)
            
              This image released by Sony Pictures Classics shows Italian designer Salvatore Ferragamo with some of his shoe shapes. Ferragamo is the subject of the documentary "Salvatore: Shoemaker of Dreams." (©Archivio Giuseppe Palmas/Sony Pictures Classics via AP)

AP

Hywind Scotland, the world's first commercial wind farm using floating wind turbines, is visible of...
Associated Press

1st US floating offshore wind auction nets $757M off Calif

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — The first-ever U.S. auction of leases to develop commercial-scale floating wind farms in the deep waters off the West Coast attracted $757 million in winning bids Wednesday from mostly European companies, in a project watched by other regions and countries just getting their own plans for floating offshore wind started. The […]
18 hours ago
FILE - Light illuminates part of the Supreme Court building at dusk on Capitol Hill in Washington, ...
Associated Press

Justices skeptical of elections case that could alter voting

WASHINGTON (AP) — At least six Supreme Court justices sound skeptical of making a broad ruling that would leave state legislatures virtually unchecked when making rules for elections for Congress and the presidency. In arguments Wednesday, both liberal and conservative members of the high court appeared to take issue with the main thrust of a […]
18 hours ago
Rapper and actor Ludacris, right, smiles with a student who received new shoes at Miles Intermediat...
Associated Press

Ludacris, Mercedes-Benz grant holiday wishes with new shoes

ATLANTA, Ga (AP) — Just in time for the holidays, Ludacris and Mercedes-Benz have surprised schoolchildren in Atlanta with more than 500 new pairs of shoes. “It’s all about giving kids moments that they’re going to remember for the rest of their lives,” Ludacris said Wednesday at Miles Elementary School. “And I think today is […]
18 hours ago
FILE - Former U.S. diplomat Bill Richardson speaks to reporters after a news conference in New York...
Associated Press

Slate of New Mexico regulatory candidates sparks concern

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Many decisions by New Mexico’s most powerful regulatory panel have had direct economic and environmental consequences for one corner of the state, and yet not one candidate nominated to fill the Public Regulation Commission is from northwestern New Mexico. Critics are concerned about the lack of representation as Gov. Michelle Lujan […]
18 hours ago
FILE - Florida state Rep. Joe Harding listens during a Local Administration and Veterans Affairs Su...
Associated Press

‘Don’t Say Gay’ Florida lawmaker indicted on fraud charges

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — The Florida lawmaker who sponsored the controversial law critics call “Don’t Say Gay” has been indicted on charges of defrauding a federal coronavirus loan program for small businesses, officials said Wednesday. Federal prosecutors said Rep. Joe Harding, 35, illegally obtained or tried to obtain more than $150,000 from the Small Business […]
18 hours ago
Associated Press

Pentagon splits $9 billion cloud contract between 4 firms

WASHINGTON (AP) — Google, Oracle, Microsoft and Amazon will share in the Pentagon’s $9 billion contract to build its cloud computing network, a year after accusations of politicization over the previously announced contract and a protracted legal battle resulted in the military starting over in its award process. The Joint Warfighter Cloud Capability is envisioned […]
18 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

...
Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Prep the plumbing in your home just in time for the holidays

With the holidays approaching, it's important to know when your home is in need of heating and plumbing updates before more guests start to come around.
...
SCHWARTZ LASER EYE CENTER

Key dates for Arizona sports fans to look forward to this fall

Fall brings new beginnings in different ways for Arizona’s professional sports teams like the Cardinals and Coyotes.
...
Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Here are 4 signs the HVAC unit needs to be replaced

Pool renovations and kitchen upgrades may seem enticing, but at the forefront of these investments arguably should be what residents use the most. In a state where summertime is sweltering, access to a functioning HVAC unit can be critical.
Review: ‘Salvatore’ fetes a life devoted to feet and fashion