If there was ever a real-life story that read like a Hollywood film script, it would be that of Salvatore Ferragamo. A story that sees me pick up my camera once again to follow in the footsteps, this time clad in my Viva's, of the famed shoemaker to the land of dreams where Mr Ferragamo would cement his legend as “shoemaker to the stars”.
I suppose you could call this the prequel to where our last story ended; under the ancient fresco covered ceilings of the Ferragamo palace, The Palazzo Spini Feroni. It seems odd to rewind from the cultured enchantment of Florence to the glamour of Hollywood, but that is where we are headed. When we hear the Ferragamo name we think of Italia fashion royalty, but before there was an empire there was simply a boy with a passion and a dream, to hand craft the most elegant and comfortable shoes ever worn. A dream that started at the age of nine in one of the poorest villages of Italy as a cobbler’s apprentice. His skills quickly outgrew the cobbler, as did his creations for those living the life of a village woman; something his brothers living in America would remind him of often. Under their encouragement to start a new life, Salvatore now 17 with only a few pennies to his name emigrated by ship to Boston Massachusetts, where he joined them. Disillusioned by the industrialisation of the boot factory he was working in, he convinced them to move west to where our story begins.
Sheree wears Ferragamo (not inc swim)
My connection to California is somewhat of a mystery that I do not intend to unravel. Perhaps I might be as bold to say Mr Ferragamo and I might have more in common than our love for Italian chicness. I, from a very young age, have been drawn to the sunny state for all that it represents and all that it actually delivers. Understandably many cannot see it, but for me its magic is in the obvious and the not so obvious. It has called my name for the best part of my life and now it is my second home. Retracing Salvatore Ferragamo’s time in California was like taking time with an old friend. Unravelling the great stories and iconic creations of his legacy in American cinema became the perfect road trip companion. Just as Paul Andrew (Ferragamo’s Creative Director) had been inspired by today’s ingénue to create the Hollywood campaign for VIVA, it was Ferragamo’s relationship with the stars of the silver screen that became my trusted road map.
Geographically there is nowhere more iconic on the Pacific Coast of California than Malibu, and historically there is no one more iconic in American film history than Marilyn Monroe. Mr Ferragamo’s most famous and loyal client once said, “Give a girl the right pair of shoes and she’ll conquer the world” and god damn I believe her. The proof is in her 40 pairs of Ferragamo shoes, which she wore in many of her famous scenes; from the rhinestone encrusted red stilettos in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, to the white heels she stood in during the indelible dress blowing scene in The Seven Year Itch. Yet it is the images below of her barefoot and completely free that bring me here; as well as a little rule that all great road trips must include a great roadside hotel. And wouldn’t you know it, right across from the famous Surfrider Beach on the Pacific Coast Highway sits another American icon. The Surfrider Hotel.
The original Surfrider Hotel and Bruce Brown filming Endless Summer at Surfrider Beach, 1965
Ferragamo Trifolio bag
“Give a girl the right pair of shoes and she'll conquer the world.” - Marilyn Monroe
Marilyn Monroe by George Barris, 1962 and André de Dienes, 1946
THE SURFRIDER HOTEL
Built in 1953 The Surfrider Hotel, once the Malibu Shores Motel, featured in the cult surf film Endless Summer; cementing its own place in American film history. Time has not diminished its cultural significance to surfing, or the area. If anything, it has surpassed legends of old with a recent fresh new code of coastal conduct that pays homage to a legacy of laidback living; but this time it’s more beach house than motor inn.
Sure, the place is mighty comfortable and my utopia of roadside rests but don’t be fooled by the textural labyrinth of plush whites and creams and salt stained woods as the only drawcard. Some places just have the magic that can capture the heart of a community and The Surfrider Hotel is one of those enigmas. By keeping things real Malibu local Matthew Goodwin and his Aussie wife Emma Crowther Goodwin have combined their creative and hotelier skills to give a new generation of roadside explores, surfers and celebrity an understated intimate experience that is a little bit luxury, and a little bit local.
Trifolio bag and Viva shoes
THE AMERICAN RIVIERA
With one last look back at the legendary surf break, we hit the famed highway 101 North and my thoughts once again are with a young Salvatore also bound for Santa Barbara. He spent six nights and days in a transcontinental railroad car, the youngest passenger on board; a boy at best. Alone, he headed into the vast lands of the Midwest along this same coast I drive now. It must have seemed a mirage, arriving into the American Riviera along never-ending beaches under the sway of palm trees. It is a vista I see now as as cruise down Channel Drive pulling up to the Biltmore Hotel. Originally built in 1927 the Spanish colonial hotel was the playground of choice for film stars and politicians of the era. You must remember that before Hollywood and the Beverly Hills Hotel there was Santa Barbara and The Biltmore. Walking through the majestic gardens and under the Spanish tiled arches, it feels like time is standing still. In fact, the restoration of the hotel is so exact that if I close my eyes I can hear the Ferragamo clad feet of his film star friends Joan Crawford, Greta Garbo, Gloria Swanson, Mary Pickford and Rita Hayworth dancing across the ceramic tiled terrace; a moonlit ocean as their backdrop.
Sheree wears Artclub and Ferragamo shoes, bag
Sheree wears Albus Lumen and Ferragamo shoes, bag.
Without further ado I respectfully put on my Viva Ballet Flats in honour of the women who walked the grounds before me and imagine a bygone era of glamour and style. Croquet, a spot of tennis, a day at the Coral Casino on Butterfly beach perhaps? How could the young man, fresh from the Santa Barbara train station back in 1915, have known that during his time here he would create some of the most iconic moments in the history of cinema.
Flying A Studios, present day
FLYING A STUDIOS
I’m standing on the corner of Chapala and Mission Streets in downtown Santa Barbara. I have to circle the block a couple of times as my only reference is on old archival image of what was once the world’s biggest film studio. Flying A Studio is still here, well at least half of it is. Now it’s home to a group of architects, but quite wonderfully still the same as it was in 1913.
When Hollywood was still a cowboy town, Santa Barbara was the heart of the countries silent film industry and where Salvatore would get his big break. His brother Girolamo worked at the studio as a suit presser and when he heard the Wardrobe Head in a shoe despair over a pair of cowboy boots needed for a film, he immediately introduced him to Salvatore. Even though he was young and had never made a pair of cowboy boots before Salvatore convinced the man to let him make a pair for the actor, at no cost. The bet paid off and soon he was making shoes for the film studio full time. The demand was so big that his brothers joined him, and they opened Ferragamo Bros on State Street. I’m sad to say there is no sign of the tiny shop where history was made. I walked up and down that street looking for some small sign of the brothers working side by side in their repair shop, only to find the harsh reality of modern times and its lack of architectural beauty.
The Gladiator shoes designed for the film The Ten Commandments on Yul Brynner with director Cecile B DeMille, filmed at Flying A Studios
It was during this time that Salvatore designed the gladiator sandal for the Ten Commandments. Film director Cecil B. DeMille commissioned Salvatore to make 12,000 pairs of sandals for the film epic in less than two months. With no historical reference for ancient Egyptian footwear he designed what would become universally known as the Roman Sandal.
The Beach poolside at the Coral Casino, Santa Barbara, Hal Boucher 1950s
THE CORAL CASINO BEACH AND CABANA CLUB
More often than not, the Italians rule the lido. They own it, they are it, they created the ultimate coastal culture of “La Dolce Far Niente,” but no one does a poolside lounge like the Californians. Enter, The Coral Casino Beach and Cabana Club.
Sheree wears ARTCLUB, Ferragamo socks and shoes
It’s true, sometimes I base my travels around a good hotel pool. Well if we are being really truthful most of my destinations are because of a pool or a beach. This is where you thank me in advance as I am about to give you Willy Wonka’s winning golden ticket. In this case there are 600 of them, all members of the exclusive CORAL CASINO Beach and Cabana Club. Obviously I am not a member (shhhhh it’s rude to talk about money so let’s just say that is a six figure ticket) BUT I am staying at The Biltmore who’s owner back in 1937 wanted to build the grandest social club in all of America for the area’s most prominent families and Hollywood’s brightest stars. Still to this day both properties have remained as one which means rare admission to the beach club. Now a landmark and historical building, it has lost nothing of its original glamour and old-world grandeur. In researching Salvatore Ferragamo’s time in Santa Barbara I stumbled upon the club as a regular hideaway for screen star Lana Turner. Lana had gone to Mr Ferragamo to design a shoe just for her which she would later make famous in the film, “The Postman Always Rings Twice” roughly around the same time that these images of her were taken at the club.
Lana Turner in Ferragamo for the film 'The Postman Always Rings Twice', 1946 and poolside at the Coral Casino 1951.
I could not have found a more perfect setting for my location dressing obsession. With my mind overloaded with timeless imagery of Golden Age icons my Viva ballet flats were right at home alongside the coral striped awnings and lounges. There is a modern minimalist style to the beach club which is reflected in Paul Andrew’s re-interpretation of the house icon Vara. Inspired by American Artist Richard Serra, Paul Andrew has created something both timeless and modern in Viva that feels right at home here on Butterfly Beach.
"It's said in Hollywood that you should always forgive your enemies, because you never know when you'll have to work with them." - Lana Turner
HOLLYWOOD IS CALLING
What is it about this city? I feel it, Salvatore felt it. As much as I loved Santa Barbara I cannot wait to get back to the gritty allure of Hollywood where our story continues. Back on the highway again this time Southbound to one of Hollywoods infamous institutions, the Chateau Marmont.
The No-Tell Motel
Legends are made from great stories, even ones that are not true and the best stories are those that are supposed to be secrets. The real Hollywood can still be found if you look in the right places.
Staying at the Chateau is like a crash course in the evolution of Hollywood. Even the garage has its secrets. Early in my 20s my friends from LA introduced me to its magnetism. From parties to business meetings many of my great LA nights and days have been at the Chateau. I remember when I first started coming here I was in awe, and a little intimidated by the confidence of the crowd and their surety of belonging. Now checking into my room twenty years later, both myself and my relationship with the grande dame have matured. The famous and not so famous have always co-existed hand in hand at the notorious hideaway. It is what makes the magic, along with her discretion, authenticity and the fabled stories of its guests. Following the story of Ferragamo’s time in Hollywood through the famous feet of his clients often ended up here.
Helmut Newton at the Chateau Marmont and Natalie Wood, James Dean doing a read through for Rebel Without a Cause at the Chateau, 1955
SUITE 32-22 | Good friend of Ferragamo’s, Jean Harlow (who once famously threw a pair of his shoes out a window after he hand delivered them to her hotel room) moved into the Chateau at the age of 22 with husband number three. It was said to be an arranged marriage by her studio MGM to control publicity but you cannot be controlled at the Chateau which became the secret location for her affair with Clark Gable.
BUNGALOW 2 | The Chateau was home to director Nicholas Ray during the rehearsal of Rebel Without a Cause. The films teenage stars included Natalie Wood who was a fan of Ferragamo’s. It was here she had an affair with the much older director.
ROOM 59 | Both the Chateau and Ferragamo brands have endured the changing of the guards evolving in their relevance to the times. Something encapsulated by timeless and unique style of director Sofia Coppola whose film Somewhere was filmed at the Chateau, mostly in room 59.
Jean Harlow at the Chateau in 1933 with her third husband Hal Rosson and her mother Jean and Stepfather Marino Bello, 1933 | Sofia Coppola and daughter on set during her filming of Somewhere
Sheree wears ARTCLUB pants, Ferragamo shirt, vest and shoes
ROOM 5M | This is our room (a trip as such requires a best friend) and from here I can see the Chateau sign flickering over the strip which this morning on sunrise is eerily quiet due to the LA Marathon. Everywhere I look I feel the ghosts of those before me. Helmut Newton, John Belushi, Joan Crawford, Greta Garbo, Lauren Bacall and James Dean. Below our terrace we get a birds eye view of the notorious playground. Bungalows and garden cottages hide within the artfully overgrown garden wrapping itself around the pool which looks like it hasn’t changed since the 1930’s. I can only imagine the going on’s that were witnessed from here but that is to be expected from the hotel where stars hide out in plain sight.
Sheree wears vintage and Ferragamo belt
The HollyWood Boot Shop
In his book 'Shoemaker of Dreams', Salvatore talks of spending time with his Hollywood friends who by day would visit his store the Hollywood Boot Shop at the corner of Hollywood Boulevard and Las Palmas Avenue and, at night, welcome him into their palatial homes for decadent soirees. As the film industry grew in Hollywood, Salvatore knew that this was where he could truly make a name for himself and despite his brothers protests parted ways with his family for the bright lights of tinsel town. Soon studios would fight for his talents and the likes of Greta Garbo and Joan Crawford became regulars at the shop.
Greta entered the shop with an old pair of cord sandals. “I don’t have any shoes,” she said. “And I want to walk.” In five sittings, Ferragamo designed a series of low-heel shoes, including a red calfskin sandal with an ankle strap that she particularly liked. She left the store with 70 pairs of shoes, most of which differed only in color.”
From Shoemaker of Dreams
Even though the store no longer stands I stood there at the intersection trying to imagine a different time. It is as if the city grew up around him with the Grauman’s Chinese Theatre just down the road which ironically opened with the premiere of his old friend Cecil B. DeMille's film The King of Kings which he made the shoes for. It also sits along the now historic Hollywood Walk of Fame where many of his friends and clients have been immoratiseld through the films of which he help create.
Sheree wears Lee Mathews trench and Ferragamo accessories
Salvatore’s time here in Hollywood had been the making of his reputation as an artist. He had finally shed the demons of his past that led him to feel less than when it came to his craft. He was now a successful businessman, known across the globe. His name spoken of in the most prestigious homes, castles and political institutions synonymous with quality, luxury and elegance. As all good things come to an end so did Salvatore Ferragamo’s time in America. It was time to bring his name home to Florence and to begin a new chapter in the Ferragamo legacy. My road trip was sadly also coming to an end so I put my Viva’s on one last time and headed out to say farewell to what could be called the Boot Shop of the 21st Century, Rodeo Drive baby.
Jamie, you are my Thelma to my Louise. Thank you for the best real life road movies ever made xx
SHEREE WEARS SS20 COLLECTION | DISCOVER HERE
QUOTES AND STORIES THROUGHOUT FROM SHOEMAKER OF DREAMS: THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF SALVATORE FERRAGAMO
Photography Sheree Commerford and Jamie Blakey