Fashion and Beauty

Ferragamo’s ‘Iron Man’ has swallowed nails

CULTURE VULTURE - Therese Jamora-Garceau - The Philippine Star

Italian shoe brand Salvatore Ferragamo recently flew in its resident “Iron Man” — aka master shoemaker Floriano — from Florence to show Manilans just how much skill and care goes into making a Ferragamo shoe.

There are 185 steps, to be exact, and one of them involves a high risk of swallowing nails.

The master craftsman, who’s been working in Ferragamo’s workshop for 30 years, made from scratch a Varina, a ballet flat based on Ferragamo’s runaway bestseller, the Vara, designed in 1979 by Salvatore Ferragamo’s daughter, Fiamma.

“When the Vara was created, the boutique collection needed a shoe that was both casual and elegant, so Ferragamo’s designers began working on a shoe with a low heel and round toe, known for being comfortable,” Fiamma has said in an interview.

The Vara’s trademark is the grosgrain bow it sports on the toe of the shoe, threaded through a gold plaque bearing the Ferragamo name. The Varina, meanwhile, is a modern take on its predecessor: it also features the gold plaque and fabric bow but with grosgrain ribbon stitched along the trim.

Floriano, who’s been making shoes for 50 years, even knows how to create the last, the foot-shaped wooden form so crucial to the fit and comfort of the shoe. One of only 15 artisans making shoe prototypes for Ferragamo in Florence, we watch him stretch leather onto the last and fix it with glue. Different designs require different lasts, and Ferragamo makes four shoe widths, with “A” being the narrowest and “D” the widest.

Floriano then hammers in eight-millimeter nails, all the while speaking Italian through a mouthful of the tiny spikes. Swallowing nails is an occupational hazard and he has gulped down a few, which he jokes makes him Iron Man. Before we get too horrified, however, he explains that the nails are made of special steel that corrodes in the stomach, rendering it harmless.

He nails in the heel, pointing out that the last has a metal bar underneath to prevent nails from sticking into the shoe.

Continuous pulling and adjusting of the leather is necessary to make the shoe fit perfectly on the last, which ensures a good fit on the foot. In Ferragamo’s factory in Florence they have machines perform this task, but here Floriano does it by hand.

To become a shoemaker like him requires training for four or five years in Ferragamo’s school. He knew he wanted to become a shoemaker when he was 11. Going home from school he would pass by a workshop and stop to watch a shoemaker craft high-end shoes. One day the shoemaker caught him staring in the window and asked if he wanted to learn — a good way to earn some extra pocket money. Floriano did, and thus began a lifelong vocation.

For him, the hardest part of the process is engineering the shoe in the beginning, when they study how to convert a design into a last. “The designer will make a sketch, drawn onto the last, and we see how we can put in different elements and fit them,” he says. Making shoes is almost too easy for him, so translating a design into reality is the most rewarding aspect.

Floriano then proceeds to remove nails from the front part of the shoe — the flexible part that people walk on — and cuts off any excess leather. Ferragamo imports its leather raw from different suppliers, choosing only the best skins and tanning it themselves.

Hammering to even out the sole, Floriano glues on the heel and heel cover. Each heel is subjected to thousands of durability tests to make sure it doesn’t break while walking. Inside their high heels, for instance, are real stilettos to give them strength.

Floriano decides to give this particular Varina a kitten heel. From his tool kit he extracts a special wooden rod for smoothing the leather that doesn’t scratch it. Apparently, “Iron Man” even makes his own tools.

Smoothing the leather further with sandpaper, Floriano addresses the sole, which Ferragamo maintains in a natural tan color so no flaws can be hidden; the workmanship has to be perfect.

To make your Ferragamo shoes last, keep the paper it comes with to absorb sweat, put the shoes back in the dust bag and keep them away from heat sources so they retain their shape. Don’t walk in rain and avoid puddles. Use brushes or cloth to clean suede shoes. The best shoe wax to use is a cream that’s beeswax- or natural oil-based.

Floriano’s final steps include applying screws on the heel and removing the shoe from the last to put in a soft inner lining. While a shoe normally has to stay on the last for four days so the leather molds around the shape, for demonstration purposes off it goes, and, as the last step, he affixes the famous Vara bow.

Voila, a sky-blue Varina shoe with a kitten heel and extra cushioning. These shoes were definitely made for walking.





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In the Philippines Salvatore Ferragamo is exclusively distributed by Stores Specialists, Inc., a member of SSI Group, Inc., and is located at Rustan’s Makati, Rustan’s Shangri-La, Greenbelt 4, Power Plant Mall, Newport Mall and Alabang Town Center. Visit www.ssilife.com.ph for more information.

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Follow me on Facebook (Therese Jamora-Garceau), Twitter @tjgarceau and Instagram @tj108_drummergirl.












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