Florence, ah wonderful Florence….
I visit Florence each spring, using it as my base when attending Linea Pelle in Bologna (more about that in another post!). I absolutely love this city: the food, the buildings, the people, the dinky old shops and the leather. Oh my goodness, the leather!
For a lover of leather, this really is the place to be. Florence’s wonderful leather industry has been established for centuries and the skill of crafting the perfect shoe has been handed down through the generations. If you are wanting to make it in the shoe industry, doing an internship with the likes of Ferragamo will do you no harm.
Much has been written about the men’s shoe tradition in Florence (The Sartorialist, The Journal of Style, The Rake Online) but there’s surprisingly little about women's shoes. So here, ladies, is how to have very fine day with shoes in Florence!
Morning - Museums
First stop is the museums. I like to fill my mornings with culture – soaking up the history on the street and in the museums - before hitting the shops in the afternoon. I think of it as eating my vegetables before having dessert.
For shoe lovers, Florence provides both the Gucci and Salvatore Ferragamo museum. Both trace the history of the brands, the skill of their artisans and the ground-breaking inventions along the way.
The Gucci Museum follows the brand from its inception to the current day. There is everything from bespoke car interiors to their world-renowned luggage, handbags, shoes and all sorts of leather-trimmed accessories. The layout of the museum is stunning, taking you through the history as you move up the floors. There’s a gentle glamour to the brand that makes you feel incredibly stylish just looking at it.
In shoe terms, Gucci is best known for their iconic horsebit loafer. First created in 1953, it has been released in a huge variety of materials over the years – from the usual calfskin and suede through to exotic python, crocodile and ostrich.
Now, when doing anything in this part of the world, it is sinful not to stop for frequent coffee breaks. You can sit at one of the piazzas and pay a ton or make like a local and stand up at the bar. Grab yourself a latte macchiato and a pastry and pretend you’re in a movie.
Feeling nice and refreshed, it’s time to hit the Ferragamo Museum. I literally cried the first time I went there. There was a video projected onto three sides of a room, with shots alternating between a pianist and cordwainers (shoemakers) crafting a pair of high-heeled shoes.
Ferragamo was the shoe god of his day. As a young man, he moved to California and began making shoes for Hollywood stars – Audrey Hepburn, Marilyn Monroe and Greta Garbo among them – before later establishing his base in Florence. The museum is a treasure trove of Ferragamo shoes, from the master’s original work to the current day. There is a mixture of permanent and temporary exhibits, so it’s always worth dropping by even if you’ve been before.
Ferragamo truly understood that shoemaking was a science and an art – being obsessed with making stylish but comfortable shoes. After attending human anatomy courses at the local university, he discovered that the trick lay in how the body weight was distribute across the foot. The Ferragamo group has more than 350 patents – a mixture of designs (the iconic wedge and heels) and manufacturing technics. He incorporated lacework, straw and embroidery in his designs – making use of the local talents of Florence. Ferragamo is one of the only fashion labels to make shoes in multiple widths.
Next post we’ll hit the shops!
Gucci Museo – Piazza della Signoria, Florence
Museo Salvatore Ferragamo - Piazza Santa Trinita 5, 50123 Firenze