How Wanda Ferragamo’s Strength and Determination Built a Fashion Empire

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When I began working, there weren’t many women running companies in Italy. Things are different now and I am glad, although I am aware what this entails. All women work, the only difference is that some do their work outside the home. In any case, homemakers need to keep the books like an accountant, decorate like an interior designer, cook like a chef and run their home like a CEO, and they must do all this while also working as a wife and mother. We women do everything, it doesn’t matter what and where our offices are.” – Wanda Ferragamo

From 1960 until her death in 2018, Wanda Ferragamo was the driving force behind Salvatore Ferragamo. After the unexpected passing of her husband (who the company is named for), Wanda took over as president of the fashion house in order to carry on her late partner’s dream. “She was motivated by great love for my father and for what he had created. After his death she built the reputation for which Salvatore Ferragamo would come to be known around the world, a brand founded on sound moral values, respect for people and excellent product quality,” Wanda’s daughter Giovanna Gentile tells Vanity Fair. “She had incredible heart and passion and the most important thing I learned from her is to believe in a dream and do everything you can to realize it.”

Wanda Miletti Ferragamo, 1970s

At the time of Salvatore Ferragamo’s death in 1960, the brand was strictly a women’s shoe label. Wanda’s prowess would soon change everything. “Her approach consisted of love and concreteness. She has dedicated her life to the pursuit of what he wanted the brand to become and she achieved our father’s desire to dress a woman from toe-to-head. She always reminded us not to be scared of failing. If you are scared of making errors, you’re not going to go very far,” Gentile explains.

In honor of what would have been her 100th birthday, The Ferragamo Museum, the Foundation Ferragamo and the Salvatore Ferragamo company will commemorate her legacy with a series of initiatives, the largest being an exhibition. Titled “Women in Balance”, the exhibition opening in May “tells the stories of other women who, during Italy’s economic first years of the boom from 1955 to 1965 when [Wanda] was becoming a businesswoman, helped forge a different society from the historical context into which they had been born,” Gentile says. It will showcase women in business, arts and culture, science and those who shaped their own identities and played an integral role in Italian culture.

Wanda with her children Fiamma, Giovanna, Leonardo, Ferruccio and Fulvia Ferragamo on the rooftop of Palazzo Spini Feroni in 1983. Photograph by David Lees

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