Salvatore Ferragamo: Equilibrium and what it means to walk

Museo Salvatore Ferragamo

Discover the ties between Salvatore Ferragamo’s research and the fields of science, art, architecture, archaeology, circus and dance. 

Ferragamo's in the exhibition

84 historic shoes created by Salvatore Ferragamo from the 1930s to the end of the 1950s

27 of Salvatore Ferragamo’s patents

100 wooden lasts for the feet of some of his clients from the Twenties to today: Bingham, Buitoni, Priyanka Chopra, Bette Davis, Marlene Dietrich, the Duchess of Aosta, the Duchess of Windsor, Kang Dong-won, Greta Garbo, Ava Gardner, George Alexander Louis di Cambridge, Rita Hayworth, Audrey Hepburn, Katharine Hepburn, Kim Hye-soo, Mr. and Mrs. Horenstein, Patty Hou, Angelina Jolie, Michael Jordan, Carina Lau Kar-ling, Wong Kar-Wai, Sonam Kapoor, Ayako Kawahara, Nicole Kidman, Mr. and Mrs. Kierman, Ang Lee, Tony Leung, Chi Ling Lin, Sofia Loren, Madonna, Anna Magnani, Riho Makise, Lee Mi Yeon, Carmen Miranda, Karen Mok, Marilyn Monroe, Margherita Pasquini, Dev Patel, Mary Pickford, Soraya of Persia, Claretta Petacci, Freida Pinto, Kim So Yeon, Gloria Swanson, Yoo Ji-tae, Takahashi, Lana Turner, Ken Watanabe, Kim Yunjin and Zhang Ziyi

Sequence of a women’s shoe fit in five sizes and a men’s fit in four

Development of a shoe from the last to completion in 11 heel heights

Plasters of soles, studies and a last meter from the 1950s from Jerry Ferragamo’s archives

One of the original plumb lines used by Salvatore Ferragamo in his studies, 1950-1960

Scales from the 1930s, originally from the pharmacy in via Porta Rossa, Florence, used by Salvatore Ferragamo to test the lightness of his shoes

Installation with the Viatica shoe in red patent leather, a 2012-2013 recreation of the original pump created in the Fifties for Marilyn Monroe

The exhibition: Equilibrium
The exhibition explores the theme of equilibrium, what to walk means, the function of the arch of the foot and the relationship between the foot and the mind, the horizontal and vertical, walking and dancing, posture and the vertiginous void, scaling a mountain and discovering oneself, lightness and fatigue, a walk and a landscape, travelling by foot and the town or city. These themes are examined in interviews, artwork, handmade objects, priceless volumes, like the first editions of Dante’s Divine Comedy and the anatomical essays of Andrea Vesalio and Jean-Jacques Manget. Another section of the exhibition is devoted to the phenomenology of walking. Exemplary walks will be shown in a spectacular setting: from the steps of royalty (Queen Elisabeth II of England) and those of world leaders (Mao Tse Tung, John F. Kennedy and Fidel Castro), to comedic walks (Charlie Chaplin), the steps of dictators (Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini), and, finally, those of Mohandas Ghandi and Pope John Paul II.
“When I began studying human anatomy, I found my first clue to the problem in the distribution of the body weight over the joints of the foot. I discovered the interesting fact that the weight of our bodies when we are standing erect drops straight down on the foot arch. A small area of between one and a half and two inches on each foot carries all our weight. As we walk, the weight of our bodies is swung from one foot to the other”
Salvatore Ferragamo’s answer to these questions.

Human history begins with the feet

According to respected palaeontologist André Leroi-Gourhan, human history begins with feet. And the arch of the foot has played a crucial role in the development of man: supporting the human body when it is both still and in motion, standing and walking. In this way, the foot is the keystone of the human story, more than the club or promethean fire, long before the wheel or plough.

Since man first placed his foot on the ground to walk upright, the arch of the foot has never stopped supporting the weight of the body in balance, making all motion possible, from the simplest movement to the most complex, from the lightest to the most difficult, from the slowest to the quickest: standing, walking, marching, dancing, advancing like an acrobat or tightrope walker.

Discover the history of the magnificent exhibition Equilibrium with curator Stefania Ricci

"Helping people walk in comfortable shoes and feel happy was Salvatore Ferragamo’s greatest concern. But how could he do this? How could he help feet feel comfortable inside a shoe? How could he support the weight of the human body in motion while locking feet inside a pair of shoes, removed from their natural state, as man was made to walk barefoot?"
The arch of the foot
As a very young man in the United States, Salvatore took night classes in anatomy at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles because he was convinced that in-depth knowledge of the skeleton would help him create perfect shoes. As a result of his research, he patented the steel shank, which supported the plantar arch, enabling the foot to move like an inverted pendulum. The metatarsal joints and heel no longer supported any weight and in this way, Ferragamo’s shoes led the body’s equilibrium as it walked, rather than opposing it.
“In my shoes, [my clients] told me, they felt differently. In mine they could walk without suffering, which is surely no more than the function of shoes. In my shoes they were happy”

Salvatore Ferragamo’s greatest concern was the arch of the foot

Of the plantar arch, he wrote:
“Nature, the supreme architect from whom Man has borrowed and adapted so many of his ideas, has created the human foot in that shape and not allowed it to develop without an arch because, as any architect will tell you an arch can carry more weight than a flat surface. This arch, however, has to do more than carry a stationary weight, like the arch of a church door; it has to carry our moving weight as we walk. Therefore Nature has provided the foot with joints and swivels to allow us to walk in comfort. […] This simple mechanism moves and stretches as you walk barefoot: the joints and the toes perform their duties freely, falling back into their natural positions at the end of each step, ready for the next. You feel comfortable and free, as indeed you should. These are natural movements”.

“[…] many feet are injured by shoes. Does the answer lie, then, in the fact that when the foot is inside the shoe it is no longer allowed to perform its natural functions? Is it imprisoned like a bird in a cage, unable to work properly? If that is so does this imprisonment affect the arch? Again, if this is so does this mean that the arch not only should but must be supported?”

The plumb line

In his autobiography, Salvatore Ferragamo writes how his primary concern was to find a way to help feet rest securely on the ground, to support them and allow the entire weight of the body to be released correctly on the ground. In order to do this, Ferragamo devoted countless hours to studying the mechanics of the foot, its anatomy and the scientific laws that regulate walking, the architecture of the skeletal system and the way muscles function, in order to understand how the arch of the foot works, the importance of the golden ratio and the distribution of weight between the centre of the plantar arch and its extremities (heel and toes).

Ferragamo gave great importance to the plumb line, a fundamental concept in classical and contemporary dance. Indeed, he personally gauged the golden point of his shoes using the appropriate instruments: like architects and the builders of cathedrals and triumphal arches, Ferragamo used the plumb line to confirm that the weight of the body fell on the right point, to keep the body aligned. Salvatore Ferragamo found the median line that can be drawn from the top of the body (the head) to the horizontal plane (the ground) where the bottom of the foot touches down. This vertical line between earth and sky is the axis of equilibrium that leads to the centre of the arch of the foot and vice versa.

This reveals how Ferragamo the shoemaker followed methods similar to those of Medieval and Renaissance artists and architects, meaning, his knowledge of anatomy and the laws of physics, in relation to those of music and the cosmos, was indispensable to the achievement of formal perfection. Therefore, Ferragamo was interested in the mechanics of the foot, as he sensed that this was the basis for his clients’ wellbeing and physical - as well as mental - health.

"It is not upon design, style, or handicraft but upon foot comfort that I have founded my fortune”
Exclusive testimonies

Inside the exhibition: Ms. Wanda Miletti Ferragamo gives an exclusive testimony of the history of Equilibrium across the generations.

Inside the atelier with James Ferragamo

My grandfather was a genius, not just because of the creativity of his models, the selection of the materials and the ability to make a product that was lightweight, but also because he paid close attention to the fit.

Inside the exhibition: Cecil Balmond on the dynamics of Equilibrium

"You could think that the foot is an arch, which it actually is. But it's the most complex body part in my opinion."

Inside the exhibition: Artist Cecil Balmond on Equilibrium

"Equilibrium is a basis for life, it’s a balance in the way we perceive space as we move through. So we feel secure but a little at risk: when we move through a forest, or a mountain, or listen to music, or make a piece of architecture, we feel safe at the end of it but we know we have experienced a degree of risk. Equilibrium it’s for me a massive orchestration of parts being held together by a composition, be it static or dynamic."

Inside the exhibition: Eleonora Abbagnato on Tiptoe

"For a ballet dancer, the relationship with one's foot is of crucial importance. I still remember the first time I put on pointe shoes..."

Inside the exhibition: Reinhold Messner on instinctive equilibrium

When I speak of equilibrium, I'm speaking of inner equilibrium, which matures when a person is capable of knowing himself..."

Inside the exhibition: Philippe Petit on the mind and body in equilibrium of the wire

"The first step for me, as a wire-walker, is a point of no return."

The private view of Equilibrium at Museo Salvatore Ferragamo

Credits: All media
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