Florence is a wonderful place for shoe shopping and shoe lovers, simply because of the extraordinary history that this fashion item has in this city.
Shoes have been an important fashion item in Florence since the late 1200s, coming in different styles from knee-high boots to Grecian style sandals, and in materials from leather to silk, adorned or simple. The export of Florentine shoes was a roaring business in this period, providing work to the 2,800 cobblers and shoemakers in the city – five hundred of these alone on the Oltrarno street of via Romana. The streets of Via dei Pepi, Borgo Allegri and Via Verdi of the Santa Croce area were also where you could find a concentration of cobblers’ shops. Now you can find some of the city’s best commercial shoe shops concentrated on Via degli Speziali, near Piazza della Repubblica.
Shoes were regularly handmade and made to measure until the mid 1800s when factories came into play. Florence, however, continues the art of handmade, made to measure shoes (particularly for men) with several workshops still dotted around the city, pop into Roberto Ugolini’s workshop in Piazza Santo Spirito or Saskia in Via Santa Lucia for some insight into handmade leather shoes. Or visit the Salvatore Ferragamo shoe museum, for this modern fashion giant’s story and some famous shoes.
Salvatore Ferragamo began his extraordinary shoe career as a teenage apprentice. Originally from the south of Italy, Ferragamo made Florence his home in 1927 after an enormously successful stint in Hollywood granted him his nickname, “shoemaker of the stars.” From Florence, where he could much more easily find the best materials and skilled artisan cobblers to work alongside him, Ferragamo continued making shoes for American cinema stars from Audrey Hepburn to Marilyn Monroe.
The Ferragamo museum is housed in the grandiose Palazzo Spini-Feroni on via Tornabuoni, where the Ferragamo store and bottega has been since the 1930s. The collection covers Salvatore Ferragamo’s covetable creations and projects from 1927 to 1960, a true archive of 20th century fashion.
Roberto Ugolini, Via de’ Michelozzi, 17r
Saskia, Via Santa Lucia, 24r
Salvatore Ferragamo museum, Via Tornabuoni, 2r