Salvatore Ferragamo: is fashion art?

Museo Salvatore Ferragamo

Inside the exhibition 'Across art and Fashion' and Salvatore Ferragamo's artistic collaborations

The Case of Ferragamo
The first section of the exhibition is devoted to Salvatore Ferragamo and his shoes, which were considered genuine works of art as early as the Thirties, in accordance with a concept of art focused as much on technique as on conceptual creativity. Ferragamo used the Renaissance artist’s bottega as the model for his work, and Florence offered myriad examples of these. Moreover, the shoemaker proudly embraced the role of the craftsman/artist central to Italy’s artistic tradition. A video installation shows shoes with their source of inspiration: the Classical world, the Orient, the avant-garde art movement of the nineteen hundreds and Surrealism, as well as the city’s culture of craftsmanship. This room also includes the original sketches for advertisements that the Futurist painter Lucio Venna designed in the Thirties for Ferragamo shoes, the styles created for intellectuals and artists and Kenneth Noland’s painting from the late Fifties that inspired Ferragamo for the decoration of a shoe and its name.

A simple question conceals the complex universe of an articulated relationship that has long been investigated, but without arriving at a clear and unequivocal definition.

This project analyses the forms of dialogue between these two worlds: reciprocal inspirations, overlaps and collaborations, from the experiences of the Pre-Raphaelites to those of Futurism, and from Surrealism to Radical Fashion.

‘Pisanello’ court cape

The cape inspired by Pisanello, on generous loan from Palazzo Pitti’s Costume Gallery, is displayed alongside contemporary clothing inspired by other famous work of art in a room wall-papered with an article penned by Sergio Tofano, which appeared in Lidel in 1920, where the renowned illustrator imagined Italian clothing made in the style of Beato Angelico’s and Masaccio’s frescoes.

The video of the Florence Art and Fashion Biennale in 1996, directed by GermanoCelant, Ingrid Sischy and Luigi Settembrini, serves as a sounding board for this idea. Involving 40 international names in the arts and 38 in fashion, this film explored and revealed how they influenced one another, the creative relationship between fashion and the visual arts, design, architecture, film, photography, clothing and history, drawing the public’s attention to this theme.

Rosa Genoni, ‘Pisanello’ court cape, 1906, silk velvet with embroidery and lace appliqués, metal thread fringe, cylindrical and round beads. Florence, Gallerie degli Uffizi, Galleria del Costume di Palazzo Pitti.

Fashion and Art inspiration
Art and fashion often play off of one another today and have done so in the past. While artists are fascinated by clothing as an essential tool for bringing realism to their creations, tailors have often taken inspiration from the world of art and acted like artists themselves. Art historians use the clothing in a painting to date the work of art and, vice versa, fashion historians use the clothing in paintings to study the way garments moved, how they were held and how they fell. The history of modern Italian fashion began with the very first debates at the turn of the 20th century on the need to give Italian clothing production a national identity, and referencing Italian art was seen as a way to distinguish Italian fashion significantly from the French fashion that prevailed at the time. Rosa Genoni, a dressmaker and dressmaking teacher at a professional school for women in Milan, played a key role in this process. At the 1906 Milan Expo, she had two dresses made as manifestos for her ideas: one was inspired by a drawing by Pisanello at Musée Condé in Chantilly, and the other was a dress inspired by Botticelli’s Primavera. 

Museo Salvatore Ferragamo

The exhibition itinerary focuses on the work of Salvatore Ferragamo, who was fascinated and inspired by the avant-garde art movements of the 20th century, on several ateliers of the Fifties and Sixties that were venues for studies and encounters, and on the advent of the culture of celebrities. It then examines the experimentation of the Nineties and goes on to ponder whether in the contemporary cultural industry we can still talk about two separate worlds or if we are instead dealing with a fluid interplay of roles.

The distinctive aspect of the exhibition layout lies in the collaboration with other cultural institutions, which took an active part in implementing this concept with the aim of inspiring joint reflection: in addition to the Museo Salvatore Ferragamo, promotor and organizer of the project together with the Fondazione Ferragamo, in Florence the Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale, the Gallerie degli Uffizi (the Galleria d’arte moderna di Palazzo Pitti and the Galleria del Costume), the Museo Marino Marini, and in Prato the Museo del Tessuto.

Shapes and Surfaces
For centuries, artists have depicted clothing down to the tiniest detail as styles have changed over time, leaving us with a visual history of movements, poses and tastes, as well as of the tailoring solutions, materials and decorations designed by nameless craftsmen and women. Artists have actively participated in this rivalry to create luxury goods, designing fabrics, laces, embroideries and even ballroom costumes and giving rise to what would become fashion communications with masterpieces in the art of engraving. During the eighteen hundreds, fashion was beginning to spread in the cities with the contribution of the textile industry and modern forms of commercial distribution. A complete transformation was seen, and new and original ways of interaction between art and fashion arose. The relationships between these two worlds grew closer and more intense with exchanges that were no longer limited to illustrating the upper class wearing the latest fashion. 

A series of examples is provided in this section to show visitors this interaction, which has now been taking place for over a century.

It begins with the English Pre-Raphaelites and continues with the Viennese Secession of Gustav Klimt and Wiener Werkstätte, followed by Mariano Fortuny, without overlooking the experimental work of the Futurists.

The section next explores the work of fashion-making artists like Sonia Delaunay and collaborative projects directly between artists and fashion designers, like Thayaht with Vionnet and Dalì and Cocteau with Schiaparelli, through to more recent collaboration. Specific attention is paid to the designers who, inspired by art, revolutionised fashion, such as Yves Saint Laurent with Mondrian.

This theme is analysed from various standpoints: the artists who created alternatives to current trends and those who collaborated with the fashion industry; fashion designers who sought out artists’ creativity and shared the avant-garde ideas they found to be the most original, but above all found inspiration in artwork of all ages for shapes and surfaces.

With his presence on New York’s cultural scene, attending parties, opening nights, retrospectives and fashion shows, he helped shape the relationship between art, fashion and celebrities that we recognise today. This concept is explored in a series of photographs showing Warhol at various New York social events and with the Makos Studio’s famous installation Altered Image.

There is no doubt that with his work, Andy Warhol unleashed high-impact - and frequently sacrilegious - aesthetic input, the most blatant example being The Souper Dress, a distillation of fashion, art and industry. Made in the Sixties out of paper, cellulose and cotton, with a silk-screen print of the famous Campbell soup can label repeating sequentially, this dress is on display as part of the exhibition.

Andy Warhol, Communication Strategies
Artists have often collaborated with fashion communications, as illustrators for magazines and advertising catalogues. The work of Andy Warhol is one of the most famous examples of this symbiosis between the worlds of art and fashion. Warhol’s career began in fashion when, in the early Fifties, he worked as a commercial illustrator for Glamour, Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar, designing subtle, elegant shoes. This section will include pages published in fashion magazines of the time showing his first pieces as a fashion illustrator. Warhol also directed Interview, a magazine that straddled the worlds of art and fashion. 18 editions of Interview are shown here.
5. Germana Marucelli, Rare Interpreter of Poetry
While Ferragamo’s atelier was modelled after a Renaissance artist/craftsman’s bottega, in which technique was as fundamental as creativity, Germana Marucelli’s atelier in the Sixties was a gathering place for fashion players, artists and intellectuals united in their search for new forms of expression that could interpret the spirit of their time. This section recreates Marucelli’s atelier/salon and shows the original works of art that hung on the walls, pieces by Pietro Zuffi, Getulio Alviani and Paolo Scheggi, along with the clothing created through the collaboration of these artists. Including documents, photographs, promotional brochures and publications, this section of the exhibition also documents the years leading up to this time, i.e., the post-war period, when the dressmaker established the San Babila poetry award, and writers and poets, including the most influential poets of the Italian 20th-century, like Ungaretti, Quasimodo and Montale, frequented her salon every Thursday
Yinka Shonibare
Yinka Shonibare, a British-Nigerian artist, shows us that art can use fashion to shape its critical language. His installations, film transpositions, offer a profound reflection on multi-culturalism, mainly through the exploration of colonialism. The figures in his work are mannequins in theatrical, dramatic poses, dressed in the clothing of the 18th and 19th centuries, but made out of batik fabric, clearly of African origin.
From the Atelier to the Mood board
This section moves from the atelier to the mood board to show how fashion designers are increasingly storytellers through the images that emerge from a flow of information, as they seek to stimulate the public’s attention and memory. Produced thanks to A MAGAZINE CURATED BY, this space provides the public with the imaginary, visual universe of brilliant creative minds, like Haider Ackermann, Martin Margiela, Yohji Yamamoto, Iris van Herpen, Dries van Noten, Giambattista Valli, Stephen Jones, Rodarte, Jun Takahashi, Kris van Assche, Martine Sitbon, Proenza Schouler and Riccardo Tisci, in a kaleidoscope of art, music, poetry and photography.
Today, it is clear that the relationship between paintings art and fashion has overcome the dualism (in which two separate systems sum each other up and interact but remain distinct) seen in the history of fashion throughout the last century. Like art, fashion reflects on the practice of the craft, and through the work of artists like Hussein Chalayan, Martin Margiela, Viktor & Rolf, Helmut Lang and Nick Cave, this section demonstrates how it is increasingly difficult in modern times to define and classify the various modes of creative expression. 
Italian Periodicals of the 20th Century
Connected to the fourth section at Museo Salvatore Ferragamo, the exhibition at the city’s national library shows how the relationship between art and fashion is depicted in the press, beginning with the early nineteen hundreds and focusing on Italy in particular. It includes the fashion illustrations published in magazines before the advent of photography to the work of avant-garde artists – the Futurists in particular – in the debate on clothing and the reassessment of craftsmanship in fashion. It goes on to explore the role that important names in fashion have played in fine art printing and art events and, vice versa, it also shows how fashion magazines have published articles on art exhibitions and other themes closely related to art, or even used artists themselves as models and spokespeople for fashion collections.
The Fashionable 19th Century
It was in the 19th century, with the rise of the bourgeoisie and industrial production, when fashion ceased to be the privilege of the ruling classes and aristocracy alone, that the exchange between art and fashion intensified. In the paintings of the early part of the century, the focus on clothing coincided with the conception of taste extended to every aspect of living and of appearance, reflecting the democratic climate fostered by the French Revolution.Women dressed in linen and cotton, preferably white, contrasting the ornate ostentation of the ancient régime with an ‘elegance’ based on the light, essential and simple forms reminiscent of classical sculpture.

A sign of the new and dynamic modernity

In the mid-19th century portraiture became the pictorial genre destined to introduce the new principle of truth into art, turning to character studies and the meticulous depiction of clothing and the surroundings, in keeping with the style of the naturalist novel.In the second half of the 19th century, figurative art, along with the nascent field of photography, recorded cross-sections of reality corresponding to aesthetics increasingly aimed at capturing the observed subject in order to offer a true rendering. Artists viewed fashion as the sign of the new and dynamic modernity, and in their art works they emphasized details and accessories that acquire the mysterious power of symbol.

The fashion of the period became endowed with an unprecedented professional structure (haute couture) that became the point of reference for a socially composite public of female consumers.With their art, painters such as Giovanni Boldini contributed to the growth of this phenomenon, striving to make the display of elegance and social optimism of the era as realistic as possible, in keeping with the effervescent climate of the Belle Époque and the aspirations of the middle class, which yearned for an International stage.

Nostalgia for the Future in Post-war Artistic Fabrics
In the nineteen hundreds, art, fashion and textile design intermingled and fed each other ideas, tones and styles that could be expressed through the new materials created by industry or discovered by experimenting in ateliers. A number of events helped them exchange ideas and grow, first the Monza Biennale expos (1923- 1930), followed by the Milan Triennale expos (from 1933 on), where artists and architects highlighted the need to give the decorative arts a function, a concept that is now considered an integral part of a design. This principle began to be applied in the post-war period when, as part of the necessary reconstruction, the reorganisation of Italian industry and flourishing arts movement led to interesting interactions between art, fashion and design.


The IX to XI Triennale events in the Fifties served as crucial testing ground for artists and designers: Lucio Fontana, Bruno Munari, Roberto Crippa, Piero Dorazio, Gianni Dova, Fede Cheti, Fausto Melotti, Gio Ponti and Ettore Sottsass participated in the competitions that textile companies organised, presenting their designs – patterns for fabric prints – in a variety of colour schemes for clothing and upholstery in the modern home.

Cultural events and initiatives like Carlo Cardazzo’s at Galleria del Cavallino in Venice, with special edition silk scarves designed by artists – wearable works of art – and tapestries – works of art for the home – bear witness to the mentality of applying aesthetics to daily life.

In this section, the scarves of Edmondo Bacci, Giuseppe Capogrossi, Massimo Campigli, Roberto Crippa, Lucio Fontana, Bruno Saetti, Franco Gentilini, Emilio Scanavino and Marino Marini interact with the tapestries of Alfredo Chighine, Enrico Bordoni, Atanasio Soldati, Silvano Bozzolini and Guido Marussig, textile art that reflects the concept of Total Art embraced in those years.

The boundaries between art and fashionThe boundaries between art and fashion became less clear in the Eighties, when the forms of relationship between the two worlds grew on an International level. Art institutions opened their doors to designers, such as the Metropolitan A new category of exhibition curators and dedicated museums emerged.

While art galleries and auction houses paid more and more attention to the phenomenon, major fashion designers created spaces specifically devoted to art exhibitions and funded shows and artwork around the world, contributing to their growing fame.

In turn, artists have collaborated with fashion for the most varied and complex reasons: from simple financial considerations to the desire for popularity, from personal relations to curiosity, and from the grand project of a total work of art to a revolutionary utopia.

Salvatore Ferragamo and Art

Salvatore Ferragamo represents an example of the collaboration between art and fashion, which is the consequence of a practice launched by the company founder in the Thirties.The themes of tradition, drawn from the brand’s history, stimulate reflection on contemporaneity, moving beyond fields strictly related to fashion.

Since 1996, when the fashion house supported the first Florence Biennale, “Il Tempo e la Moda”, curated by Germano Celant, Ingrid Sischy and Luigi Settembrini, and hosted a retrospective exhibition on Bruce Weber at the Museo Salvatore Ferragamo, which had just been inaugurated, the relationship with the art world has intensified. It got artists involved in communication projects, limited-edition pieces and works of art created especially for exhibitions and special events.

Credits: Story

Exhibition project at several venues curated by Stefania Ricci
Promoted and organized by Fondazione Ferragamo Museo Salvatore Ferragamo

In collaboration with
Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale Firenze
Gallerie degli Uffi zi, Galleria d’arte moderna e Galleria del Costume di Palazzo Pitti
Museo del Tessuto Prato
Museo Marino Marini Florence
with the fundamental support by
Ministero dei Beni e delle Attività Culturali
e del Turismo
Soprintendenza Belle Arti e Paesaggio per
le Province di Firenze, Pistoia e Prato
with the participation of
Fondazione Massimo e Sonia Cirulli, Bologna
with the contribution of
Centro di Firenze per la Moda Italiana
with the patronage of
Ministero dei Beni e delle Attività Culturali
e del Turismo
Regione Toscana
Comune di Firenze

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.