The Italian Almanac


Italian Fashion - August 5

Salvatore Ferragamo, the Florentine fashion house owned and run by the Ferragamo family for 80 years, is about to take the historic step of putting an outsider at its helm. The group, one of the top names in Italian fashion, wants to exploit the cachet attached to its brand in order to expand international sales and move towards a stock market listing within a few years.

It announced this week that Michele Norsa, 55, the current managing director of fashion giant Valentino SpA, will take over as CEO on October 1. His arrival will mark a big step for the group which has been for decades a shining example of how Italy's traditional family-based business model can flourish even in less protected times. It has been headed by the founder's widow, Wanda Miletti Ferragamo, since Salvatore Ferragamo himself died in 1960. His son, Ferruccio Ferragamo, has been managing director since 1984.

Ferruccio will now move into the president's slot held by Wanda and she, now 85, will become honorary president. "With this important move we are steering our group towards the fourth generation (of the family)," the outgoing president said, referring to one of the key motives for the decision to bring in external expertise.

Salvatore Ferragamo, the founder, emigrated to America in 1914, at the age of 16. Nine years later he opened a shoe shop in Hollywood which quickly became popular with film stars. As his career blossomed he provided shoes to the likes of Audrey Hepburn and Marilyn Monroe. He even made the glittering ruby slippers that Judy Garland wore in The Wizard of Oz.

Finding it hard to get adequately skilled craftsmen in California, Ferragamo came back to Italy and decided to set up a factory in Florence, where leather goods were a longstanding tradition. Since then, the group has gradually expanded into accessories, perfumes, and ranges of ready-to-wear clothing.