The exhibition “Women in Balance 1955/1965” celebrates the figure of Wanda Miletti Ferragamo and the women that contributed to a significant change in Italian society during the economic boom. Displayed at Museo Salvatore Ferragamo, the project was curated by Stefania Ricci and Elvira Valleri.
From 1960 until she died in 2018, Wanda Miletti Ferragamo was the creative mind behind the Salvatore Ferragamo brand. After the death of her husband Salvatore, she decided to make an unusual choice for that time: she continued her husband’s business, transforming the women’s shoe company into a fashion house. Like many other women during the economic boom, Wanda Miletti Ferragamo searched for a balance between her private and working life, as the exhibition title suggests.
by Viola Pinori. Cover image: Claire Tabouret, Wanda Ferragamo, 2022, acrylic and ink on paper, Museo Salvatore Ferragamo, Florence.
BETWEEN PRIVATE AND WORKING LIFE
The first room we see when we enter the museum is the one dedicated to an idealised reproduction of Wanda Ferragamo’s office in Palazzo Spini Feroni: the desk is filled with family photographs, then there is the notepad where she used to write her ideas and the
“W” bag that Fiamma Ferragamo, the first daughter of Wanda and Salvatore, designed for her mother.
It is a very intimate space that becomes even more private thanks to a video of Wanda Ferragamo telling about the most significant moments in her life: the first time she met Salvatore, their wedding, and her choice to run the company.
The actual historical context of the financial boom years is what comes in the next space. In this period, Italian families changed completely: many people moved from the countryside to big cities, which caused the birth of the so-called “nuclear family”, consisting of two parents and two children.
Some videos of these years allow us to perceive the diversity of women’s ideas about their jobs: some preferred to take care of their families, while others wanted to affirm themselves through their careers.
In the Women and work section, we find examples of women who played crucial roles in the Italian economy thanks to their creativity and hard work: these include the Fontana sisters, fashion designers for the fashion house of the same name, Angela Maria Barbizzoli from Campari, the entrepreneur who took control of her husband’s company after his death, just as Wanda Ferragamo, and the Giussani sisters, who invented the famous Italian comic Diabolik.
The section dedicated to artist Giosetta Fioroni makes us understand even more the importance of women’s work in those years: she gets inspired by everyday images, art history references and private life, creating a connection with her life that she represents with symbols, words and the iconic silver colour in her paintings. All of these women contributed to a significant change in Italian society that finally started to look at the female identity from a different point of view: a new woman, able to reach success thanks to her ideas and skills.
A DOMESTIC SPACE
The entire exhibition is arranged as a domestic space, thanks to the work of scenographer Maurizio Balò. Between 1955 and 1965, the home started to become a private space to personalise. Women would decide how to arrange and decorate each room, especially the kitchen; it was where modernity met tradition, with new, colourful American-style furniture blending with Italian culinary traditions, as Wanda Ferragamo’s cookbook at the centre of the room suggests.
Another space inevitably linked to the feminine sphere is the teenagers’ bedroom: a safe area where young women could be alone or with their best friends, where they could express themselves and speak about their feelings, fears, and adventures. Today this is not so different from the past: the bedroom remains a private place, perhaps with fewer CDs or posters, but it still expresses teenagers’ identity, keeping memories, interests, ambitions, and dreams.
The connection with the present becomes even more evident thanks to the documentary Women in balance: today by Davide Rampello, where women of our times, aged from 18 to 35, are interviewed to talk about their relationship with home and work, identity and family, gender equality and the changes in society, highlighting the contrast between the role of women in the past and today.
Other collateral projects include a book about Wanda Miletti Ferragamo, Nel Libro Rosso di Tà. La vita di Wanda Ferragamo. It tells the story of Wanda Ferragamo through the eyes of her granddaughter Ginevra Visconti, who felt the necessity to reveal something more about the intimate side of the woman who started to rule her husband’s great business from one day to the next.
“A Feminine Lexicon” is an online exhibition aiming to generate a contemporary dialogue with “Women in Balance 1955-1965”. Curated by Pia Diamandis and Elena Tortelli, two Arts Curating students at Istituto Marangoni Firenze, the curatorial project gathers works by eleven female contemporary artists who explore the connection between language and identity through their own lexicons.
Finally, Salvatore Ferragamo also partnered with the Ethical Fashion Initiative (EFI) to improve the social and economic conditions of women in Burkina Faso, encouraging women’s independence and empowerment.
BIG OR SMALL OBJECTIVES
Learning the story of Wanda Ferragamo and women during the economic boom can help us open our eyes and compare the society where we live with the one of the past: those women taught us that it takes small steps to achieve big goals. My generation shouldn’t forget this because, as Wanda Ferragamo wrote, “One must set objectives, big or small, because they are the driving force that gets us out of bed every morning.”
Viola Pinori is an undergraduate student in Arts Curating at Istituto Marangoni Firenze.