Nine-year-old Salvatore Ferragamo works through the night to make a pair of shoes for his sister at her confirmation. The year is 1907. The place is Bonito, a very small village in the Campania region of southern Italy.
Twenty years later, Ferragamo, having gone to Hollywood and become “Shoemaker to the Stars,” returns to Italy and sets up his business in Florence. The seeds for one of Italy’s great luxury fashion houses have been sown.
Today, the teller of this story is Vincent Ottomanelli, president and regional director of Ferragamo USA Inc. Ottomanelli oversees Ferragamo’s 39 North American stores, including shops in Honolulu, and maintains relationships with retailers such as Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus, Bloomingdale’s and, in Canada, Holt Renfrew.
Ottomanelli’s work ethic and passion for the business echo those of the Ferragamos. When founder Salvatore Ferragamo passed away in 1962, his wife, Wanda, carried on the business and now, in her 90s, she still goes to the office every day. Ottomanelli’s workday begins with a 5 a.m. commute into New York City from his home in New Jersey and lasts long after the evening rush.
A 1988 accounting graduate,
Ottomanelli is a businessman by training who followed in the footsteps of his father. “Numbers came naturally, accounting came naturally,” he says.
He joined a major accounting firm after college and got an inside look at businesses ranging from manufacturers to investment firms. He was invited to join fashion houses Coach, then Hugo Boss and, in 2003, Ferragamo.
Talk with Ottomanelli in the showroom on New York City’s Fifth Avenue and the ace businessman, a numbers guy, reveals himself to be a natural storyteller. The showroom, lined with shelves of shoes, handbags and silk scarves, is where buyers from Saks, Nordstrom and other retailers come to see the latest models and plan their purchases.
“Salvatore Ferragamo was an artist,” says Ottomanelli. He picks up one of the Ferragamo’s signature pieces, the Vara pump, designed by the founder’s eldest daughter, Fiamma. He runs his hands over the shoe, pointing out the lining, the signature (and patented) bow, down to the detailing on the sole. “Our motto is fashion, beauty, craftsmanship.”
These are not inexpensive shoes. There are no shortcuts, no compromises in materials or craftsmanship. Everything in the showroom … even the rubber jelly sandal … is made by master craftsmen in Italy. “There is absolutely a connection between the values Ferragamo employs at our company and those that my family and I share: loyalty, honesty, consistency, commitment,” he says.
The passion for the business is paying dividends. In North America, Ferragamo has expanded both the number of stores and retail partnerships. The USA region’s revenues, for which Ottomanelli is responsible, exceed $300 million and represent approximately 24 percent of worldwide revenues for the Ferragamo group.
The tale continues
The company has been celebrating its story and history. To mark the Vara’s 35th anniversary, young women in the fashion and design world were invited to customize shoes for profiles on the company’s website and in an elegant coffee table book. The founder’s biography, Salvatore Ferragamo: Making a Dream, is available in company stores as a graphic novel by noted illustrator Frank Espinosa. Giant versions of Espinosa’s illustrations dominate the window of the Fifth Avenue store, the location with the highest overall sales in the world.
“I love retailing. And I love to compete,” Ottomanelli says. He also loves selling beautifully crafted items. And he loves the shoes.
“The things that we create, you wear on your body. It becomes personal. We are in the business of making you feel good. This is what you want to wear to a job interview, a wedding, an anniversary. We’re helping make life moments.” •
Eric Foster is photography editor of Bloomsburg: The University Magazine.
Shoemaker to the Stars
Salvatore Ferragamo shoes are famous for their originality and style. But the beauty of his creations is more than skin deep. Ferragamo researched the anatomy of the foot and was one of the first shoemakers to emphasize arch support with a hidden steel plate to carry body weight and relieve stress on the heel and toes. Other innovations include the wedge sole and the use of patchwork leather.
In his 20s, Ferragamo traveled to Hollywood and became a favorite of stars and filmmakers alike, earning the nickname “Shoemaker to the Stars.” His creations were featured in Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments and in recent films including Evita, Everafter: A Cinderella Story and Australia.
Ferragamo shoes were favorites of actresses Joan Crawford, Gloria Swanson, Audrey Hepburn, Ava Gardner, Greta Garbo, Anna Magnani, Paulette Goddard, Lauren Bacall and Sophia Loren. Marilyn Monroe (above) wore them in Some Like it Hot.
They remain in style today, with well-known fans including Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt, Gerard Butler, Penelope Cruz and Lady Gaga.