The creations that have changed how we think about footwear accessories and helped define ‘Made in Italy’ products
Patents and Trademarks: The history of Italian Design in the Central State Archives in Rome
The public administration archives preserves unexpected secrets and hidden treasures such as those in the Central State Archives in Rome, which gather together a huge amount of sources for contemporary research and creativity. Among these sources are the series of documents held in the Italian Patent and Trade Mark Office that amount to almost 900,000 files. These files reveal either the innovative technical abilities of companies, or the inventive talents of individuals.
The collection includes 171,000 Trademark files from 1869 to 1965; and 613,00 Invention Patents, from 1855 up to the year 1961. From these, the evolution of certain sectors can be traced. For example, the patented telephonic apparatus of Guglielmo Marconi. There is also another series relating to 100,000 Model Patents from 1874 to 1965. Here, apart from practical applications, the desire to create beautiful shapes or unusual designs and colors prevails.
Through these documents, we can follow the evolution of customs, fashions and language, and how the creation of new ideas has changed the daily lives of ordinary people and made Italians world-famous for innovative design.
The Salvatore Ferragamo Museum was involved for the first time for this occasion. Under the name of Salvatore Ferragamo, the greatest numbers of patents in the footwear section were found. The unexpected rediscovery of these documents was evidence of what Salvatore Ferragamo had previously written in his autobiography, in which he had claimed to have registered 350 patents. This posed a new problem; if 162 of these patents were registered from 1945 up to 1965, then the missing ones must have been registered before this date.
Further research of documents from 1945 to 1927 was pursued which entailed negotiations over an abundance of documents. These documents had never before been filed in a data bank. And, indeed 369 patents were found, covering the years from 1927 to 1964, the year in which the final design patents were still autographed by Salvatore himself.
The birth of an idea
Usually, the word “patent” doesn't really strike anyone as exciting. It immediately conjures up ideas of documents in dust-filled rooms, of boring technical descriptions. However, when we leaf through the Ferragamo patents, we begin to understand the sheer quantity of his inventiveness, contained in the hundreds of ideas that expressed his brilliant creativity.
A patent allows us to trace back the information of an idea: from the moment of its conception, to its design and to its application. It offers an objective historical testimony, which makes it possible for us to reinterpret a history we thought we had already completely understood. A patent also provides the opportunity to analyze the structural characteristics of designs and production models, often when the documents have not survived and there have been no examples produced.
The work of Salvatore Ferragamo was distinguished by the originality of his footwear designs and by a continuous experimentation with models, construction techniques, and materials. In some cases, his designs were simply avant-garde, while in others, they were perfectly in line with the general mood of the times.
At the end of the 1920s, Ferragamo’s creations could be situated in a stylistic context that had been in vogue since the early years of the 20th century. This style was formed in harmony with the art world and characterized by an acceptance of unusual materials, geometric designs and surprising color matching - the tangible signs of changing attitudes to clothing fashions and accessories.
The creative idea
Salvatore Ferragamo made footwear design a leading player on the world stage and created works of art not only to perfect the highest quality workmanship, but also to create an independent space for research into shape, material and color.
During these years, close attention was paid to the surface, to the creation of surprising effects through the use of color, or the paradoxical matching of contrasting luxurious and ‘poor’ materials. The sense of modernity for Salvatore Ferragamo - as for other couturiers in the same period, such as Elsa Schiaparelli - can be seen in the unexpected substitution of a material and with the research into surfaces, with surprising results such as corrugated, glossy, opaque, pleated or highly-polished surfaces, in order to realize a creative idea.
1930s: the Wedge
From the middle of the 1930s, many patents were concerned with shape and form, whether for functional or aesthetic considerations. The ‘Wedge’ is perhaps the most famous Ferragamo creation and was patented in 1937. It was designed with functionality in mind, to elevate the heel and give both the heel and the instep a stable support.
However, in its numerous variations, it gradually became pressed and rounded, grooved and painted, decorated with tiny mosaic mirrors or set with precious stones, allowing experimentation with shape and expression of an innate aesthetic sense. And this is an overall characteristic that is common to the entire history of Italian design, owing perhaps to the fact that whoever works in Italy is lucky enough to have a surrounding artistic and cultural heritage unequalled throughout the world. In Italy, one is continuously under the influence of beauty, good taste and a sense of harmony.
The ‘sanctions’ imposed on Italy after the invasion of Ethiopia in 1935 worsened the problems connected with shortages of material and energy resources, and launched the ‘autarchic programmes’. They also stimulated Ferragamo’s inventiveness, both in ornamental design and also in the technological field. Ferragamo patented special procedures for the preparation of leather substitutes, for a system to connect the uppers and wooden soles and for the production of uppers in raffia or knitted materials and soles in galalith, glass and other similar materials.
In the war year of 1943 he threw himself into the design of offensive and defensive war machines, such as the ‘Marine Fort’, the ‘Multi-Launcher Torpedo Boat’ and the ‘Anti-Aircraft Offensive and Defensive System’.
Certain invention patents involved the revolutionizing of centuries-old traditions of making shoes. For example, in 1931, a system of instep reinforcement in mental laminates, the ‘shank’, was created which was lightweight but able to provide a rigid support.
In 1946, Ferragamo designed children’s shoes called ‘First Steps’ made with a suction cup system that provided a better underfoot adhesion. In 1953, he created ‘Uppers Mounted on an Elasticized Support Structure’ which allowed the insertion of the foot into the shoe without openings or lacing.
The post-war years of economic recovery were especially prolific times for patent applications. 1947, saw the creation of continous weave uppers, made with a transparent nylon woven material; this led to the ‘invisible’ sandal with which Ferragamo won Neiman Marcus Prize at the Fashion Oscars. In 1950, he applied for the patent on a woman’s sandal combined with a sock upper which adhered to the foot - the famous ‘Kimo’. Its function was not only to protect the foot but also the introduce a new imaginative aspect to women’s fashion by varying colors and materials. In 1952, he created a shoe with a shank covered by the leather of the uppers and the sole restricted to the toe and the heel. This model was strong but highly flexible, like a glove, and the patent was called ‘Gloved Arch’.
1956 was the year of women’s footwear heels made with an external metallic stucture formed by ‘Caged’ woven elements, and the footwear with ‘Interchangeable Sheaths’. The patent for ‘Metallic Soles’, resulted in the celebrated 18-carat gold sandals originally made for an Australian customer. The ‘Shell Soles’ of 1957, had the special feature of rising the uppers and heel in such a way that gave an added stability to the shoe. This sole wa also used in a wide range of models and also for ballet shoes.
Today, many of these patents are a precious source of inspiration for designers and creative artists, who have based their own collections on works from these archives. Even after the death of Salvatore ferragamo, the company continued to devote enormous care and attention to its creations, and to patents, both ornamental and everyday wear models.
Take the men’s ‘Non-Slip Sole’ footwear of 1997, or the ‘Bag with Detachable Upper Sections’ of 1999 - allowing the body of the model to be changed -, ot the ‘Suitcase in Carbon Steel: one side concave and one side convex and rounded in the centre’ of 2000; or the ‘Heel with Suspension Element’ of 2002. These recent patents illustrate the main principle of the company’s culture, which has always bestowed great importance on materials and function, simultaneous with research into aesthetic effects.