As one of the world’s most stylish, artistic and inventive countries, it’s no surprise that Italy has produced some of the most celebrated and respected fashion designers. From the suave suits of Italy’s Neapolitan tailors to being the birthplace of iconic fashion houses such as Armani, Prada and Gucci, there’s no denying Italy’s contribution to fashion– and these contributions certainly extended to the world of designer shoes. We look at the iconic, skilled and celebrated Italian shoe designers you need to know about.
Based in Petriolo in Marche, Alberto Fermani founded his company in 1960, starting out in a small workshop where he made shoes by hand with an aim to combine a classic understated style with a respect for craft and elegance. While the company may have grown dramatically since then, Fermani are still known for creating hand-finished footwear with an emphasis on traditional designs, casual styles, natural leathers and comfort.
An artist in every sense of the word, Elsa Schiaparelli was responsible for some of the most unique, unusual and forward-thinking shoe designs of her time. Schiaparelli’s vivid imagination and artistic fearlessness helped her create countless surreal and extravagant designs, but it’s her collaborations that have had the biggest impact. In 1937 she famously created a high-heeled shoe hat with the help of the iconic artist Salvador Dali, as well as creating incredible designs in collaboration with André Perugia and Roger Vivier.
Known in the 1920s as ‘the shoemaker to the stars’, Salvatore Ferragamo was arguably one of the most important shoe designers of Hollywood’s golden era. His bold and colourful designs were worn by the likes of Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford, Judy Garland and Marilyn Monroe, and his shoes were highly sought after for the entirety of his career. Ferragamo was extremely passionate about his craft, and eventually returned to Florence to study anatomy to ensure he could create the best-fitting shoes and the most innovative styles. Even shortages of raw materials failed to dampen his enthusiasm: such was his talent that when he could not get his hands on leather he turned to raffia, wool and felt to make shoes, famously using Sardinian cork to create the first wedge in 1937.
Italian artisans are known for respecting tradition and heritage, and Bruno Magli shoes embody this approach. A true family enterprise, the company came to life after siblings Marino, Bruno and Maria Magli learned how to make shoes from their cobbler father before setting up a workshop in the basement of the family home in Bologna. Since opening their first factory in 1936 the company has been a huge success, especially in the 1960s – an era when their Magli moccasin became extremely fashionable and it wasn’t uncommon to see the likes of Sophia Loren wearing Bruno Magli shoes. Despite this success though, the values of craftsmanship and design at the heart of the company are still as strong as ever; in fact, some 30 people touch each handmade shoe during the course of its manufacture.
Another shoe designer with an appreciation for heritage, Sergio Rossi is the son of a cobbler from San Mauro, Pascoli in the Romagna region. After studying in Milan in the 1950s, Rossi began creating handmade sandals –including his popular Opanca sandals – which he sold on the beaches of Rimini and to boutiques in Bologna. In the 1970s, Rossi began to collaborate with the likes of Versace, Dolce & Gabbana and Azzedine Alaïa, all of which helped to boost the popularity of his designs and ensured that Sergio Rossi shoes have been a mainstay at Milan Fashion Week ever since. Nowadays, Sergio Rossi boutiques can be found all over the world, with stores in Rome, New York, London and Brussels.