I love seeing films that give me insight into the history of a time or highlight visionaries that might not be known to the wider world. SALVATORE: Shoemaker of Dreams is very much this type of film. While a visionary in shoe design and within Hollywood, he wasn’t someone I was very familiar with. So I was hopeful that the film would fill in the gaps in my education. The film was visually stunning, especially any time it focused on his designs and his ideas; it demonstrated what a genius with shoes he truly was and gave us the history of this unique individual.
SALVATORE: Shoemaker of Dreams is an Italian-English documentary directed by Luca Guadagnino that revolves around the life of Salvatore Ferragamo, an Italian shoe designer and the founder of luxury goods high-end retailer Salvatore Ferragamo S.p.A. It details how he became a shoe designer, beginning with learning to create shoes in Italy, his journey to America, where he became involved with the film industry creating custom shoes and special designs and his return to Italy to create his own business and shoe manufacturing company. It especially illustrates his impact on the design of shoes and his creative genius, his vision, and belief in making fashion with comfort.
The film really takes advantage of multiple resources. The director leans on interviews with family and those who know of Salvatore’s influence. There are interviews with critics and historians as well as those who are in the fashion industry. The mix of sources also includes pictures of Salvatore, news clippings, blueprints, designs, and footage. The style is done narratively with a voice speaking as though Salvatore telling us his words, quoting from his life or from those who knew him. Sometimes the voice is in English, and many times, it is in Italian. The visual scenes, especially the designs, are stunning, and the narrative pulls you into Salvatore’s life.
The historical aspects, how Salvatore learned his craft, how he came to America, and the difficulties that he had throughout his lifetime to follow through on what he believed, his desire to create fashionable shoes is engaging and interesting. I especially enjoyed listening to how he created his custom shoes and designs, what and how they were different from the others of the time, and how he maintained quality. His pursuit of quality and of learning was impressive. His drive to create his business was inspiring. The women in Hollywood he created shoes for and how he contributed to the landscape of early films are something that more people should learn about.
One of the balancing acts was the language used in the film. Since Salvatore was Italian, I appreciated that the narrative was so often in Italian. Interviews with his family, his wife, children, and grandchildren were all in their native tongue. While that could have made the story drag, the interviews were one of the most interesting aspects of the documentary, showing us his connection in current times and how integral his family was to his success, and how important they were to him as a man.
What did slow down the pace of the film was that much of the information presented would repeat and be told by different people. Even though there were different points of view, it was still repetitive. I also lost a sense of the timeline of his life and what and when certain events happened. The story was much more focused on his designs which I loved, but because the film begins with the timeline, it gets confusing. It would have been made better by balancing out the history and the time period with his work and creative talents.
If you love design, art, and history, especially those individuals connected with the rise of Hollywood, I do recommend this film. It will give you insight into Salvatore, his vision, and his creativity. If you don’t mind reading subtitles, you will enjoy learning more about the history of this man and his impact on the fashion industry. I know I loved the stunning visuals and the fascinating designs.
Rating: 4 out of 5 shoes
Official Website: SALVATORE: Shoemaker of Dreams | Sony Pictures Classics
SALVATORE: Shoemaker of Dreams
Growing up poor in Bonito, Italy, Salvatore Ferragamo began his career as a shoemaker before he was barely a teenager. Immigrating to America in 1915 at the age of 16, his work would soon help invent the glamour of Hollywood’s silent era as he created shoes for iconic films including The Thief of Bagdad and The Ten Commandments and for stars including Gloria Swanson, Mary Pickford, and Douglas Fairbanks, many of whom became his friends. Overcoming a Depression-era setback, Ferragamo rebounded and would define mid-century elegance for performers including Audrey Hepburn, Marilyn Monroe, Bette Davis, Rita Hayworth, and Ingrid Bergman — all while embarking on a love story and warm family life with his wife, Wanda, and their six children. In SALVATORE: SHOEMAKER OF DREAMS, Academy Award©-nominated and BAFTAnominated filmmaker LUCA GUADAGNINO (Call Me by Your Name, A Bigger Splash, Bertolucci on Bertolucci) tracks Ferragamo’s life from humble beginnings to California and to a storied studio in Florence, Italy. With Emmy©-nominated actor MICHAEL STUHLBARG (Call Me by Your Name, The Shape of Water) narrating Ferragamo’s 1955 memoir; a trove of 100-year-old archival footage; an extraordinary “shoe ballet” created by stop-motion artist PES; and incisive commentary by MARTIN SCORSESE, MANOLO BLAHNIK, CHRISTIAN LOUBOUTIN, Vogue Creative Director GRACE CODDINGTON, Variety Film Critic TODD MCCARTHY, WANDA FERRAGAMO and Wanda and Salvatore’s children and grandchildren, SALVATORE: SHOEMAKER OF DREAMS is a portrait of a man whose vision, passion, and craftsmanship made him “shoemaker to the stars,” an architect of Hollywood magic, and an enduring cultural, fashion, and artistic influence.
SALVATORE: SHOEMAKER OF DREAMS Directed by Luca Guadagnino. Written by Dana Thomas. Produced by Gabriele Moratti, Francesco Melzi D’eril. Executive Producer, Stella Savino. Directors of Photography, Clarissa Cappellani, Massimiliano Kuveiller. Edited by Walter Fasano. Head of Research / Interviews, Giuppy D’aura. “A Dream of Hollywood” Shoe Ballet by PES. Narrated by Michael Stuhlbarg.
“SALVATORE: SHOEMAKER OF DREAMS” is out in select theaters, and opens in Phoenix on Friday, November 11, 2022.
ONE-LINER: The life of Italian shoemaker Salvatore Ferragamo, who created shoes for Hollywood stars during the silent film era and for iconic films of the period.