Review: Salvatore: Shoemaker of Dreams Warmly Chronicles the Life, Work and Long-Term Impact of Salvatore Ferragamo

Carrie Bradshaw loved her Manolos. Anyone can spot a Louboutin a mile away what with that flashy red sole. And Ferragamos? Ferragamos, as one learns in Luca Guadagnino’s elucidating new documentary about the shoemaker, changed the game entirely, and before there even was a game. The eponymous brand from designer, inventor and businessman Salvator Ferragamo gets its due from Guadagnino in Salvatore: Shoemaker of Dreams, a charming and thoughtful chronicle that offers as much about the man and his work as his background, family and long-lasting impact on the fashion industry.

Curiously, Ferragamo himself is not often on screen in Salvatore, and though he was born in 1898, he lived until 1960, allowing plenty of time for home movies or TV interviews. Instead, Guadagnino relies on delightful interviews with Ferragamo’s wife, children and grandchildren, recalling their time with a man who was apparently irrepressibly productive and yet consistently present for his loved ones. Also interviewed are fellow shoemakers (Manolo Blahnik himself speaks about how Ferragamo influenced him) alongside costume designers, historians and others who describe Ferragamo’s indelible contribution to the evolution of the industry.

The mark of a good documentary of this ilk, focused as it is on one person, is if the filmmaker and their creative team can shed new light on their subject, if they can bring a sense of personality and charisma to a person who is no longer around to do so for themselves. Guadagnino, who is best known for narrative feature films like Call Me By Your Name and this year’s Bones and All, puts his talent for creating character to good use here, bringing Ferragamo to life by allowing space for the many aspects of his life and work. Actor Michael Stuhlbarg completes the picture, lending his warm narration to the film as Ferragamo’s voice.

As engaging as the interviews are, the most impressive moments in the film are when Guadagnino allows the shoes to do the walking, from the technical innovations Ferragamo pioneered in heel shape and arch support to extended scenes featuring his most famous styles in production and on the runway. The shoes are truly objects of beauty, works of art that are as functional as they are fashionable. That Ferragamo was also a shrewd businessman who took risky chances for the sake of his company and patented seemingly every thought he ever had only expands the portrait of the man.

A cynic might not see the value in Ferragamo’s contribution to the fashion industry (or in the fashion industry itself), but that would be a mistake, and would be selling this warm and interesting film short. Whether it’s fashion, music, sports or any other niche area, anyone can appreciate the value not only an expert in their given field but a game changer, creates by leaving the industry better than they found it. And throughout Salvatore, that’s the point that Guadagnino successfully drives home again and again: that Ferragamo, family man, innovator and artist, singlehandedly evolved the world of shoe design, fabrication and sales for the better, and for good.

Salvatore: Shoemaker of Dreams is now playing at AMC River East.

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Lisa Trifone
Lisa Trifone
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