Thursday, March 04, 2010


In 1927 a twenty-nine-year-old Italian shoemaker called Salvatore Ferragamo met a Swedish lady called Greta Louvisa Gustafson and a friendship began. The Swedish lady was better known, of course, as Greta Garbo or “The Face”. On that occasion Ferragamo designed a pair of shoes for her and she did not forget him.

Ferragamo, born in Bonito, Avellino [Campania] in 1898, had left Italy for the USA at the age of sixteen. In America he first set up a shoe repair shop but was soon making made-to-measure shoes which were coveted by the rich and famous. Ferragamo earned the title of “shoemaker to the stars” and returned to Italy later in 1927.

In 1949 Garbo visited Ferragamo’s shop in Florence and told him that she “wanted to walk”. She had come to the right person, for in America Ferragamo had studied anatomy so that he could be sure that his shoes would not hurt their wearers. After five sittings he designed a collection of beautiful, low-heeled shoes for Garbo, including a pair of red calfskin sandals which she adored. The actress purchased seventy pairs of Ferragamo’s shoes during this visit.

In 2008 Garbo’s great-nephew, Craig Reisfield, visited the Ferragamo Museum in Florence and told the Director, Stefania Ricci, about clothes and accessories of Garbo’s that were in his possession. Thus the idea for an exhibition was born.

“Greta Garbo – Il mistero dello stile” runs until 4th April at the Triennale, Milan. The exhibition tells the story of Garbo’s relationship with fashion and visitors will be able to see costumes from some of her films as well as some of her signature raincoats, hats, trousers and gloves in a section called “Everyday Elegance”.

Tailored jackets designed for Garbo by the Russian-born Valentina, who lived in the same apartment block during the actress’s retirement years, are also on show. The overall impression is that of a woman who, perhaps ahead of her time, dressed for herself, but elegantly. The exhibition includes film clips and a section devoted to photographs of Garbo’s face.

The Ferragamo autumn-winter collection for 2010 – 11 includes clothes inspired by actresses of Garbo’s era and Garbo-style shoes.

“Garbo – Il mistero dello stile” is at the Triennale, Milan until 4th April. Admission is free.

The exhibition will transfer to the Salvatore Ferragamo Museum in Florence in May and will run there until September.

(Story & images via Italy Magazine - words by Pat Eggleton)

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