“Fashion with comfort . . . That’s what I give,” remarked Salvatore Ferragamo, the renowned shoemaker from Italy, in a 1958 Australian interview, clips of which are interspersed within Luca Guadagnino’s “Salvatore: Shoemaker of Dreams,” opening in a limited release this weekend.
Guadagnino, known for his painterly and loving eye for beauty and detail, applies those same skills to “Salvatore: Shoemaker of Dreams,” a documentary. The director takes us back to his early years to understand the man and his influence on women’s shoes.
The level of detail about the man about his life is breathtaking. For someone who knows of his impact on the world, the documentary educates and elucidates a life well lived. Of the fourteen children his parents had, he was the eleventh and the youngest, his name shared by his oldest brother, who died at a young age. Ferragamo took an interest in shoemaking; a trade considered one of the lowliest professions in Italy at the time.
As the documentary recounts his first encounter with shoemaking, that of a need by his sisters for their communion, Guadagnino vet Michael Stuhlbarg guides us through his early years and beyond. The actor’s steady, quiescent voice gently lulls us into an untapped world for the future shoemaker.
At age 11, Ferragamo took a boat over to America. Having grown up in the small village of Bonito near Florence, he was not exposed to a faster pace of life and of limited means, realizing in his journey westward that his parents 20-acre farm was simply a postage stamp compared to the openness and vastness of America.
The documentary does not reflect much time spent in Boston, his first port of call, where two of his older brothers had taken up residence working in a shoe factory. He continued his journey westward, landing in Santa Barbara. It was here where Ferragamo could cull his knowledge of shoemaking with his open-mindedness that the famed shoemaker attracted the attention of Hollywood’s elite, making shoes that fit the individual, not the individual. Early on, the point is that his work for the sole studio in Santa Barbara at the time was the basis for his future as stars and productions called upon his work.
Difficulties did not impede his craftiness, only fired his imagination and his dreams, as Ferragamo discovered that the way he’d learned to take measurements was incorrect. To solve the issue, he took courses at USC, taking a keen interest in the human skeleton. With this knowledge, he solved some of his most fundamental problems with his shoe designs, striking the right balance between the human feet and legs for the shoe wearer. As it turned out, it also saved his life. A car accident claimed the life of one of his brothers, and broke a leg in two places. The technology of the time would have left him in the wrong spot. With his recovery time, resourcefulness, and a doctor from Santa Barbara, Ferragamo developed patents based on a traditional traction system.
Guadagnino and writer Dana Thomas infuse a unique look at the past early to form the future, a guiding principle with which Ferragamo lived. The shoemaker returned to Italy when, after a tax situation forced the studio with which Ferragamo had gleaned business to move to Hollywood. It was again in Italy where he found his moment, even as fascism threatened to overcome the country in the 1920s. The Great Depression also affected the shoemaker, forcing him into bankruptcy at first.
These setbacks were a prelude to a successful career predicated on the lowliest professions. The documentary also focuses on the future, but not as much as it does on its subject’s history, working in “Salvatore: Shoemaker of Dreams” favor.
La Familia is an essential concept in Italy. Guadagnino spends as much time interviewing the shoemaker’s family and their progeny as it does on famous actors, curators, costume designers, and influential filmmakers. The collection of interviews, home camera footage, and the like are enlightening and educational, inspiring even. Without dreams, our realities are nothing. Without hard work, realities are nothing. Salvatore Ferragamo took nothing for granted and saw nothing but opportunity.
“Salvatore: Shoemaker of Dreams” primarily works owing to Luca Guadagnino’s caring eye as much as its subject. Its subject, though, is an inspiration to those who are still chasing their dreams. It relishes living in the moment while accepting the past and its influences on the future.